Reading List: Labyrinths in Literature

There is something about mazes and labyrinths that fascinates me – the sense of mystery while you’re solving a carefully constructed puzzle, the darkness enveloping you more and more as you wander its paths… And I am not alone in this. Many authors have used labyrinths as the setting for their stories, and some have taken it even one step further, creating abstract labyrinths that only exist in the mind.

Are you ready to get lost?

Follow me.

Metamorphoses (8 AD), Ovid – read here

Daedalus, celebrated for his skill in architecture, laid out the design, and confused the clues to direction, and led the eye into a tortuous maze, by the windings of alternating paths. No differently from the way in which the watery Maeander deludes the sight, flowing backwards and forwards in its changeable course, through the meadows of Phrygia, facing the running waves advancing to meet it, now directing its uncertain waters towards its source, now towards the open sea: so Daedalus made the endless pathways of the maze, and was scarcely able to recover the entrance himself: the building was as deceptive as that.

Labyrinths (1962), Jorge Luis Borges

Ts’ui Pe must have said once: I am withdrawing to write a book. And another time: I am withdrawing to construct a labyrinth. Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing.

The Tombs of Atuan (1970), Ursula K. Le Guin

I think they drove your priestess Kossil mad a long time ago; I think she has prowled these caverns as she prowls the labyrinth of her own self, and now she cannot see the daylight any more.

The Name of the Rose (1980), Umberto Eco

The labyrinth represents the world allegorically … Spacious for the one entering, but extremely narrow for the one returning.

“A Solar Labyrinth” (1983), Gene Wolfe - read here

It is, obviously, a maze that changes from hour to hour, and indeed from minute to minute. Not so obviously, it is one that can be solved only at certain times and is insoluble at noon, when the shadows are shortest. It is also, of course, a maze from which the explorer can walk free whenever he chooses.

Small Gods (1992), Terry Pratchettreview here

The labyrinth of Ephebe is ancient and full of one hundred and one amazing things you can do with hidden springs, razor-sharp knives, and falling rocks. There isn’t just one guide through it. There are six, and each knows his way through one-sixth of the labyrinth. [...] The furthest anyone ever got through the labyrinth without a guide was nineteen paces. Well, more or less. His head rolled a further seven paces, but that probably doesn’t count.

Larry’s Party (1997), Carol Shields

He observed how his feet chose each wrong turning, working against his navigational instincts, circling and repeating, and bringing on a feverish detachment. Someone older than himself paced inside his body, someone stronger too, cut loose from the common bonds of sex, of responsibility. Looking back he would remember a brief moment when time felt mute and motionless. This hour of solitary wandering seemed a gift, and part of the gift was an old greedy grammar flapping in his ears: lost, more lost, utterly lost.

House of Leaves (2000), Mark Z. Danielewski

The walls are endlessly bare. Nothing hangs on them, nothing defines them. They are without texture. Even to the keenest eye or most sentient fingertip, they remain unreadable. You will never find a mark there. No trace survives. The walls obliterate everything. They are permanently absolved of all record. Oblique, forever obscure and unwritten. Behold the pantheon of absence.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), J.K. Rowling

The towering hedges cast black shadows across the path, and, whether because they were so tall and thick or because they had been enchanted, the sound of the surrounding crowd was silenced the moment they entered the maze. Harry felt almost as though he were underwater again. He pulled out his wand, muttered, “Lumos,” and heard Cedric do the same just behind him.
After about fifty yards, they reached a fork. They looked at each other.
“See you,” Harry said, and he took the left one, while Cedric took the right.

The Battle of the Labyrinth (2008), Rick Riordan

“Thought you’d like to know, Daedalus got his punishment.” “You saw him?” Nico nodded. “Minos wanted to boil him in cheese fondue for eternity, but my father had other ideas. Daedalus will be building overpasses and exit ramps in Asphodel for all time. It’ll help ease the traffic congestion. Truthfully, I think the old guy is pretty happy with that. He’s still building. Still creating. And he gets to see his son and Perdix on the weekends.”

The Maze Runner (2010), James Dashner

A loud boom exploded the air, making Thomas jump. It was followed by a horrible crunching, grinding sound. He stumbled backward, fell to the ground. He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it for himself. The enormous stone wall to the right of them seemed to defy every known law of physics as it slid along the ground, throwing sparks and dust as it moved, rock against rock. The crunching sound rattled his bones. He looked around at the other openings. On all four sides of the Glade, the right walls were moving toward the left, closing the gap of the Doors.
Then one final boom rumbled across the Glade as all four Doors sealed shut for the night.

“A Lunar Labyrinth” (Trigger Warning, 2015), Neil Gaimanreview here

The finest things I have seen are dead places: a shuttered amusement park I entered by bribing a night watchman with the price of a drink; an abandoned barn in which, the farmer said, half a dozen bigfoots had been living the summer before.

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One thought on “Reading List: Labyrinths in Literature

  • October 12, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    For more (reading) stuff and literature see also:
    Melina Gehring, Reshaping the maze, Rewriting the Minotaur, 2013.
    Matthias Hennig, Das andere Labyrinth. Imaginäre Räume in der Literatur des 20 Jahrhunderts, 2015


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