Of Magic: Ben Okri’s The Mystery Feast and The Magic Lamp

Keywords: magic, James Frazer, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ben Okri, The Golden Bough, The Magic Lamp, The Mystery Feast


Ben Okri does not seem to see African art in terms of “magic,” yet he constructs a magic/science/myth poetics in The Mystery Feast (2015) and The Magic Lamp (2017). In these two texts, intuitive creativity and the magic of being bring about a triangulated synthesis of rational, non-rational and supra-rational domains. In his discussion of magic, James Frazer conceives of two principles of magic: “like produces like” and things once in contact forever retain that influence. As a system of natural law, magic, science and religion form the triumvirate for Frazer. In its exploration of “magic,” this article adopts and adapts Frazer’s views on the nature of magic in his acclaimed The Golden Bough. The approach braids the magic, science, and myth triad for a reading of select ekphrastic prose-poems or “proems” from The Magic Lamp, each a microcosm reflecting a measured and orderly universe. The argument is supported by Okri’s storytelling aesthetics in The Mystery Feast. Each petit poème en prose (“little poem in prose”) in The Magic Lamp is a codification of naturalia and mirabilia (“the natural” and “the wonderful”). The broad framework upon which the discussion is premised is the visible/invisible theory of French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1928–1961).

Author Biography

Rosemary Alice Gray, University of Pretoria
Department of English Emeritus Professor