Marina in Wonderland

Marina Warner, Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self, Oxford University Press, 2002.

In this study of images of blending, shape shifting and splitting in European culture from Ovid to Lewis Carroll, Marina Warner dances close to the topics of interest to Magonia, but never quite engages with them. One gets the feeling that she remains imprisoned in the cage of high culture and cannot escape into the world of the masses' imagination. The world of popular culture clearly inspired much of the high art here discussed, whether it is the hell of Dante or the earthly paradise of Hieronymous Bosch. Warner discusses the impact of the zombie on Coleridge, and its construction in modern form by Zora Houston (though William Seabrook got there before her). The zombie with its evocation of ambulatory coma or vegetative state, or the appalling absence of end-stage Alzheimer's, remains one of the most unsettling of images.

The idea of the doppelganger or the mystical second self hints at the splitting of identity. Ideas of splitting emerged in the Gothic but reached fruition in the Victorian period under the joint impact of the new psychology and the new technologies of image capture. One of those captivated by these themes was the fairy story writer and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Dodgson's imagination was stirred at the age of nine by a museum display in Warrington Town Hall, one of the those cabinets of curiosities which would have delighted Jan Bondeson, full of weird birds and exotic artefacts. The museum becomes the realm of the imagination. Readers of this book will be surprised to learn that Dodgson in his later years formed a theory of alien encounters, that in addition to our normal consciousness of daylight reason and common sense, there are others: 'The Eerie' (in which , while conscious of actual surroundings [the percipient] is also conscious of the presence of fairies), and a "form of trance in which, while unconscious of actual surroundings, and apparently, asleep he (i.e. his immaterial essence) migrates to other scenes in the actual world, or in Fairyland, and is conscious of the presence of Fairies". For fairies read 'the other' or whatever token of the uncanny you please.

(If that surprises readers they will be astounded to learn that Dodgson, who died in 1898, was among the collectors who was delighted with the purchase of a copy of one of the Cottingley fairy photographs, taken in 1917. Was this through the mediumship of Mrs Leonard one wonders, or a judicious journey down the Daresbury time tunnel, or is that a good entry for the howler of the year competition?) -- Peter Rogerson

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