World of wonders

by Robertson Davies

Book, 1975



Call number


Call number



New York : Penguin Books, 1977, c1975.

Original publication date


Physical description

315 p.; 19 cm

Local notes

Hailed by the Washington Post Book World as "a modern classic," Robertson Davies’s acclaimed Deptford Trilogy is a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven. World of Wonders—the third book in the series after The Manticore—follows the story of Magnus Eisengrim—the most illustrious magician of his age—who is spirited away from his home by a member of a traveling sideshow, the Wanless World of Wonders. After honing his skills and becoming better known, Magnus unfurls his life’s courageous and adventurous tale in this third and final volume of a spectacular, soaring work.

User reviews

LibraryThing member skavlanj
A Trilogy

As I got closer and closer to the end of this book (and the trilogy), I kept thinking, "what a contrived book." Consistent with the middle book, The Manticore, this book is a seemingly endless and highly unrealistic monologue where the telling of the tale takes significantly longer on the
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page than it would have in real life.

Paul Dempster, the son of the woman Boy Staunton hit with a rock-filled snowball in book one, entrances his listeners (but not his readers) with the tale of his life. First as a ten-year-old who was anally raped by a carnival performer and then kidnapped by the same man and forced to live for eight years inside a mechanical dummy performing vaudeville tricks. Next he is the doppelganger of an aging theatre actor. Finally, he is the world's greatest conjurer, Magnus Eisengrim, the role we first met him in at the end of Fifth Business.

Where Fifth Business was an entertaining book, this one was its antithesis. An egoistic blowhard talks for nearly three hundred pages, and at the end of it you still don't know why the people who listened to him wasted all that time listening to him (to say nothing of why you the reader listened, too). His tale just isn't that interesting. I also don't understand why Robertson Davies chose to tell this part of story through Dunston Ramsay in first person (a fact easily forgotten, because the book is 90% Eisengrim's first-person narration).

If you slog through this entire trilogy, prepare yourself for disappointment. While the final ten pages of the book return to the question asked at the end of Fifth Business: who killed Boy Staunton, the answer/ending feels like one of Eisengrim's illusions, one that is not very convincing and definitely not on a par with the magic of the first book.
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LibraryThing member tripleblessings
3rd of the Deptford trilogy. The story of Magnus Eisengrim the magician.
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
Having a natural curiosity for religion and particularly Catholicism, I abosultely recommend this book.
LibraryThing member sageness
As usual, the conceit of the storytelling doesn't work for me at all -- so clunky -- but the characters are engaging and fascinating. I like that these novels are so much about memory, what we choose to tell, what we falsely remember, what we refuse to remember, and what motives might underlie
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unreliable narration -- and also about how much and how little those issues matter to the various people involved.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
The third book of the Deptford trilogy gives us the story of how Paul Dempster became Magnus Eisengrim. While Dunstan Ramsay told us his story in the first book in terms of history (and saints!) and David Staunton told his story in the second book against a background of Jungian analysis, Magnus
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tells his story in the framework of theater and film.

Although I was eager to find out about Magnus's life story, I found that this third book was slightly less gripping than the previous two.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Part of Davies' Depford trilogy, we see things from yet another perspective in this book. This is my favorite set of books by Davies. We see how important perspective is and how it can color everything one perceives.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This is the third book of the Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies. I am sure I read them all at some point but so far back in time that I remembered very little. A few years ago I read Fifth Business, the first book. When I found a copy of this third installment at a used book sale I thought I
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would get it and try to read The Manticore, the second book, before I read this one. However, fate did not put a copy of The Manticore in my path and I've now read enough of Davies work to realize that is probably significant. Hence I picked this book up to read in tandem with The Merry Heart, a collection of Davies' speeches and writings published after his death. There was a speech in that collection that Davies delivered in 1992 in Stratford, Ontario where a play based on this book was presented. It provided significant insights into the book which I might not have gleaned on my own.

This book is all about the life of Magnus Eisengrim who was born Paul Dempster in the small Ontario town of Deptford. His birth was 80 days premature as a result of a snowball with a rock in it that Boy Staunton threw at Dunstan Ramsay. That scene was the opening of Fifth Business and it was to reverberate through the lives of all three men. Paul disappeared from Deptford when he was very young and through this book we learn of his life from the time he joined a travelling circus, through his time in the English theatre and his life as a repairer of watches, clocks and other clockwork mechanisms in Switzerland during World War II. Following the war he emerged as a magician and illusionist who was celebrated around the world.

In his essay on the book Davies mentions the following biblical quotes as being integral to the life Eisengrim led:
Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.

Robertson also mentioned that there are three ways of reading a book:
...a good novel is a tale to the simple, a parable to the wise, and a direct revelation of reality to a man who has made it a part of his being.
This book is certainly a good tale and I think many readers will understand it as a parable. Is it a revelation of reality if you make it part of your being? I'm working on that.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
An incredible finish to a great trilogy. This novel, like its others, managed to change characters and setting while still maintaining its aplomb and allowing Davies to fully explore his theme, which bridges across the entirety of the series. The prose is lucid and, at times, reminiscent of
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Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. I really liked this, as the others, and recommend the series to all those interested in literature- this is a Canadian classic!

4 stars!
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LibraryThing member streamsong
“Have you ever seen him read a book? He really thinks that whatever has happened to him is unique”. P 18

From the cover: "The lynchpin of the Davies trilogy is a winter staple – two boys and a snowball. After an an exchange of the merits of their respective fathers, Percy Boyd Staunton thows a
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snowball at his friend Dunstan Ramsay, but strikes the Baptist minister’s pregnant wife instead. "

Book #3 of the Deptford Trilogy follows the path of Paul Dempster, the boy born prematurely and befriended by Dunstan Ramsay. Dempster was mercilessly teased and outcast by the town’s inhabitants until he disappeared after a traveling circus visited the town. Although widely assumed to have run away with the circus, the story is much more sinister than that.

Dempster, now a world renown magician known as Magnus Eisengram recounts his life story to a group including Dempster Ramsay.

Beautifully written, and a great ending to the story (and yes, we learn the answer to Boy Staunton’s mysterious death). This one includes child abuse, including child sexual abuse and so is much harder to read.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
Liesl is the Deptford Trilogy's most intriguing character - so brilliant she belongs in a list of my all time favourites - but Magnus is not far behind, and this is effectively their combined story. I was disappointed at first by the original narrator's return in its opening pages, but this is only
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a framing device (like the therapy sessions of the previous book) and soon Magnus Eisengrim is describing how he ran away with the circus - or how the circus ran away with him.

The mystery that initially compelled me was wondering how he ever comes to harbour a grudge against Boy Staunton, since he begins with no knowledge about what triggered his birth and cares little for the family he's left behind. This is never explored until the end and winds up as window dressing, a bit disappointing in that respect; I like a "trilogy" to be tied more firmly together. This is still a strong story on its own two feet, in its exploration of Oswald Spengler's "magian world view": the medieval concept of the world as populated by angels and demons rather than the seemingly dull science-laden world we understand today, when only our most advanced scientists perceive the wonders still to be explored. The response to this loss of wonder has been met with an equivalent move from superstition to conspiracy, but Davies in the 1970s was looking at a different resulting challenge in his fiction: the necessary replenishment of wonder through clockwork, illusion and sleight of hand, as sustenance for the starving adult desire to be confounded. Perhaps the answer to social media is more stage magicians.
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