Carol _ Labyrinths

"A maze is designed so that we get to be part of the art... The whole thing about mazes is that they make perfect sense only when you look down on them from above... Mazes are refuges from confusion, really. An orderly path for the persevering. Procession without congestion.I just think that we need little stopping places now and then to crawl into. It's our scared animal selves pushing forward. Making burrows and then trying to find our way out again." Carol Shields, Larry's Party

Carol Explores Labyrinths

Carol was fascinated with labyrinths. She and Don went to Hampton Court in early 2000 with the camerman and the director of the film that was being made about her for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Life and Times biography series. It is in the maze at Hampton Court that the fictional Larry of Carol's novel Larry's Party has his epiphany regarding his place in the universe and his future as a maze designer.

Hampton Court Maze
Photo courtesy Jeff Saward.
To view his site click here.

Carol and Don had been there once before in 1956 when they were courting. Back then they had to push their way through the hedges (which Don claims was, technically, cheating) in order to get out of the maze. Now you cannot do that because there are wire fences hidden in the hedges. In 2000 Carol took a copy of Larry's Party with her. In the book there is an explanation of just how to find the centre of the Hampton Court Maze. With book in hand, Carol was going to show Don and the film crew how to get to the centre. Needless to say she kept going round and round in circles, coming back to her starting point without reaching the centre. Carol was convinced that the instructions in her book were correct - so she tried three times. Always with the same result. There is the wonderful moment in the Life and Times film where at the end of the third round Carol looks at the camera, bewildered, and says "I am completely lost!"

Help commemorate Carol Shields!

Larry Weller's Labyrinth Journey

"History, it seemed to Larry, left strange details behind, mostly meaningless: odd and foolish gadgets, tools that had become separated from their purpose, whimsical notions, curious turnings, a surprising number of dead ends." Carol Shields, Larry's Party


When Carol brings Larry to the centre of the labyrinth his confusion turns into revelation when he has an epiphany about his life. He discovers that he can move beyond what he is and this new-found courage results in his becoming a maze designer.

"He has never been able to identify what happened to him during the hour he wandered lost and dazed and separated from the others, but he remembers he felt a joyous rising of spirit that was related in some way to the self's dimpled plasticity. He could move beyond what he was, the puzzling hedges seemed to announce, he could become someone other than Larry Weller, shockingly new husband of Dorrie Shaw, non-speculative citizen of a former colony, a man of limited imagination and few choices." Carol Shields, Larry's Party

Larry follows the pathway to self-discovery that is embodied in the great labyrinth myths such as Theseus and the Minotaur, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, the Trojan War.

Knossis, Crete, Greece,
300 - 70 BCE
Associated with the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur

Tragleatella, Italy,
c. 600 - 630 BCE. Wine jar from an Etruscan tomb depicting the Battle of Troy

Native American
Man in the Maze Basket Design
representing the journey of life

Photos courtesy Jeff Saward. To view his site click here.

These myths exist in almost every culture and every continent and have been reaching out to us for thousands of years. They were what pulled at Carol's heart from the moment she stepped into Hampton Court Maze.This eternal story was, for Carol, a concept of the complexity of life.

'There is something frightening and at the same time, comforting (about labyrinths). The orderly boundaries. And there's an exit. You're promised an exit; you're promised a goal. These things are built into the maze sequence." 1997 Interview with Carol Shields when she was on tour promoting Larry's Party, for Boswell Literary Magazine.

Lipton Street, Winnipeg

After his epiphany, Larry comes back to his home on Lipton Street in Winnipeg. He embarks on a career as a labyrinth designer that takes him from Winnipeg to Chicago and then to Toronto. He designs labyrinths in Winnipeg's West Kildonan; River Forest, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee and Muncie, Indiana.

In his travels, he and his second wife, Beth, visit actual labyrinth sites. They start with the original site of the Hollywood stone, the oldest dateable labyrinth in the British Isles, 550 AD. Because the actual stone had been moved from the site, they visit the Museum of Antiquities in Dublin to see it. They also visit the Leeds Castle Maze and the labyrinth at Longleat House, Wiltshire. Winnipeg labyrinth designer Larry Weller moves out into the world and creates an international reputation for himself just as Carol created an international reputation and distinction for Winnipeg by featuring it in her novels.

Join the journey !