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Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development: 08/24/18

Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development

Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development by W.H. Matthews is a history of mazes and labyrinths from ancient times to the present (as of the time it was written). The book is available through the Internet Archive as a downloadable PDF.

The word maze and labyrinth can be used interchangeably but some scholars and aficionados prefer to keep the two concepts separately. Per points brought up in The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh as well as some discussion in Matthews's exhaustive study, I have chosen to differentiate the two.

Labyrinths are primarily circular paths with an ending in the middle. The goal is to walk the path and meditate. Mazes are primarily rectangular with numerous blind alleys with the goal being an outside exit that is different from the entrance after passing through the center.

Where things get tricky is the minotaur. The minotaur is a monster imprisoned in the center of a maze like dungeon. As there is no exit beyond the entrance where the sacrifices are sent to their doom and the goal is the monster in the middle, his prison is almost always referred to as a labyrinth. Matthews shows how the concept of the minotaur's prison has evolved over the centuries — as well as the minotaur's basic shape.

One place this book falls short (beyond its survey ending at the start of the 20th century) is the lack of new world examples. Here in the United States, there is the corn maze or maize maze, if you will. The corn maze is part of the fall / Halloween tradition but how corn and mazes are interpreted depends on the region and ethnic group. They are often associated with the dead and the underworld but again, whether or not that association is a positive one depends on the person telling the story.

I'm still debating whether or not nonfiction road narrative references should be classified in the spectrum. However, as I have already classified some, I have decided to classify this one. As it is a history of mazes and labyrinths and the use of minotaur iconography, I'm putting it in #9933CC (minotaur, maze, rural).

I have taken numerous notes from the book and will be transcribing them to Tumblr.

Three stars

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