Date of Award

2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Burton Hatlen

Second Committee Member

Tony Brinkley

Third Committee Member

Welch Everman

Abstract

Most popular narratives are composed of segments. A narrative segment is a sequence in which those narrative elements fundamental to the immediate progression of the narrative are resolved. These resolutions can be true resolutions, or they can be resolutions in part. If they are resolutions in part, the narrative elements in question must be sufficiently transformed so that their role becomes radically different, less fundamental. When narrative segments terminate, we become aware of that which is hidden by the logical progression of the segment itself: the author's authority to introduce new narrative elements without warning or apparent need. In short, we become aware of the author's ability to surprise us. The surprise we experience between narrative segments is quantiJiable. In popular literature, the termination of a narrative segment coincides with the appearance of an extra-textual element. Extra-texuality is a quality attributable to any event in a narrative not necessitated by any narrative segment prior to its appearance. If we are to be surprised rather than annoyed or confised by the appearance of an extra-textual element, its appearance must accomplish three specific tasks. The extra-textual element must signifj. the resolution of all matters particular to the concluding narrative segment. It must inspire real change in us so the concluding of the narrative segment does not coincide with the termination of our interest in the narrative as a whole. And it must herald the arrival of a new narrative segment, one that has something to offer that the previous segment lacked. If the extra-textual element accomplishes these three tasks, both our surprise at its appearance and our continued interest in the narrative are all but assured. Surely, there are countless ways an author can introduce extra-textual elements so that they accomplish the three tasks I've just mentioned. However, one method appears to be particularly good for surprising and pleasing contemporary readers of popular literature. This method is one that adheres to another threefold process: liminal transfornlation. In his work Betwixt and Between anthropologist Victor Turner defines the liminal as that which "is neither this that, and yet is both'' (9). When the extra-textual is presented in such a way so that it simultaneously appears to be something other than the logical product of the narrative and also something highly conducive to the progression of the narrative, our surprise at its appearance fhels our continued interest in the text. In this paper, I will examine how three enormously popular twentieth century authors have used liminal transformations as points of entry for extra-textuality. These authors are J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, and Phillip Pullman. By examining the ways in which these authors join their narrative segments, I will not only illuminate how these texts were composed, but also provide an answer to the more general question of why the popular texts of the recent past were so very popular.

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