When I revisited Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, I expected to find formidable scholarship. I didn't expect to find a literary experience.

On the first page of Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Northrop Frye irritably dismissed the “conception of the critic as a parasite or artist manqué … sometimes reinforced by a dubious analogy between the creative and procreative functions, so that we hear about the ‘impotence’ and ‘dryness’ of the critic, of his hatred for genuinely creative people, and so on.” As a critic himself, Frye might have been a bit touchy on the subject, but he had nothing to worry about on that score. It’s a rare novel that has anything like the “creativity” of Anatomy of Criticism. While few people care overmuch about the debates that roiled English departments in the years when Frye reigned at the University of Toronto (1939 to 1991), readers coming to Anatomy of Criticism for the first time might be surprised at what they find: a work of formidable scholarship, yes, but with a huge cast of characters (seemingly every writer who ever lived, from the tribal scribes of Mesopotamia to P. G. Wodehouse) moving in a dense network of interconnectedness in which every end is a new beginning, and genres as various as melodrama, farce, epic, satire, and romance live happily together on the same page. It’s rather like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, but with good prose. More… “Anatomy of Wonder”

Stephen Akey is the author of two memoirs, College and Library, and of essays in The New Republic, Open Letters Monthly, and The Millions.