'Frye was a person of uncommon gifts, and very little that came from his pen is without interest.' So writes Robert Denham in his introduction to this unique collection of twenty-two papers written by Northrop Frye during his student years. Made public only after Frye's death in 1991, all but one of the essays are published here for the first time.
The majority of these papers were written for courses at Emmanuel College, the theology school of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Essays such as 'The Concept of Sacrifice,' 'The Fertility Cults,' and 'The Jewish Background of the New Testament' reveal the links between Frye's early research in theology and the form and content of his later criticism. It is clear that even as a theology student Frye's first impulse was always that of the cultural critic. The papers on Calvin, Eliot, Chaucer, Wyndham Lewis, and on the forms of prose fiction show Frye as precociously witty, rigorous, and incisive - a gifted writer who clearly found his voice before his last undergraduate year.
David Lodge wrote in the New Statesman: 'There are not many critics whose twenty-year-old book reviews one can read with pleasure and instruction, but Frye is an exception to most rules.' Northrop Frye's student essays provide pleasure and instruction through their comments on the Augustinian view of history, on beauty, truth, and goodness, on literary symbolism and tradition.