Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Labyrinths

Mazes and labyrinths have a long history: the archetypal maze was a pattern, usually cut in turf, to be traversed in a religious or magical ceremony, while the archetypal – though not of course the first – labyrinth was that built by Daedalus to hold the Minotaur. Usage has blurred the distinction, but mazes tend to be submitted to voluntarily as a Game or Ritual – William Shakespeare's "quaint mazes in the wanton green", and even traditional hedge-mazes like Hampton Court's, do not offer serious physical barriers; thus the narrator of Alasdair Gray's "Five Letters from an Eastern Empire" (1979) can choose not to play, stepping over the inches-high hedge. Further mazes in this sense include the Pattern in Roger Zelazny's Amber, the shadow-maze of Gene Wolfe's "A Solar Labyrinth" (1983), and Destiny's garden in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels – a knowing concretization of Jorge Luis Borges's "The Garden of Forking Paths" (1941), whose maze or labyrinth ramifies not spatially but through Alternate-World pathways in time.

The labyrinth tends to be (a) quite often three-dimensional, like the spaghetti corridors of the Mile-High Tower housing the "Egg of the Phoenix" in Robert A Heinlein's Glory Road (1963); (b) roofed or Underground or enclosed in an Edifice, as with the Stone Lanes region of Gormenghast in Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan (1946); (c) sometimes natural or part-natural, like the labyrinthine caverns threaded in Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1984); (d) always full of walls that block the intending solver's view; (e) physically imprisoning until solved. Some further labyrinth examples are: the Mines of Moria in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955); the deeply claustrophobic mine-workings in Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960); the infinite labyrinth of Avram Davidson's Masters of the Maze (1965), whose Portals open on all of space and time; the subterranean labyrinth focusing old powers of Earth and darkness in Ursula K Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan (1971); the Empty Palace mirror-labyrinth in Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree (1977); the Library in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (1980); the oily, ridged labyrinth which is the Mórrígan's thumbprint on her magic Map (> Great and Small) in Pat O'Shea's The Hounds of the Mórrígan (1985); and the booby-trapped Labyrinth of Ephebe (the Discworld analogue of Classical Greece) in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods (1992). There are many more. [DRL]

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.