Thursday, 30 July 2009

Kookaburra fossil exposed

A couple of months ago Felix at The Growlery had a post, Kookaburras and other fossils, about the words of an Australian folksong that was current in English schools in our childhood. Felix's version was this:
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
King of the whole wide bush is he.
Laugh! Kookaburra, laugh!
How gay your life must be.
Small world: see BBC News for Men At Work face plagiarism case, concerning the highly recognisable quote from the Kookaburra song (which, in the variant I know, sounds like this - reproduced as fair use) in a flute riff in Men at Work's number one hit Down Under (listen at 0:52 and 1:55 in the video here).

I'd always assumed the kookaburra tune to be traditional, but the legal issues arise from it being relatively modern, written by Marion Sinclair for a competition run by the Girl Guides in 1934 (see Wikipedia). There are many variants, including parodies, but this one appears to be definitive. Larrikin Music claimed copyright breach. As this Sydney Morning Herald article said - Riff row leaves Men at Work up a legal gum tree - it initially seemed moot who actually owned the copyright, but today the Federal Court of Australia ruled that Larrikin owns the rights to Kookaburra: a preliminary ruling that allows the case to proceed. Seems overkill to go to litigation over a witty in-quotation of a theme that isn't central to Down Under, and which has become so ubiquitous in the English-speaking world (see YouTube) that ownership is virtually never considered. goes into the ruling in more detail - Kookaburra sits in the courtroom - noting that it's remarkable that it took 27 years for anyone to notice, particularly given that Down Under was "immensely successful" while Sinclair was still alive and asserting her own ownership of the copyright. As a commentator notes, this raises the possibility of a defence of laches: the argument that an opposing party has "slept on its rights" and is no longer entitled to make the claim.

Such situations can be very convoluted. See the Social Sciences Research Network paper Copyright and the World's Most Popular Song (Robert Brauneis, George Washington University - Law School, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1111624) - click Download link for full PDF paper - about the musical and copyright history of Happy Birthday to You. Despite Warner/Chappell Music claiming hefty royalties in cases of performance for profit, Brauneis makes a strong argument that the copyright trail is so messy that Happy Birthday to You

is almost certainly no longer under copyright, due to a lack of evidence about who wrote the words; defective copyright notice; and a failure to file a proper renewal application.

Addendum: Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, I'm fairly baffled by the number of people saying they hear no resemblance (for instance, in the comments to this news item on YouTube). Maybe they're listening to the wrong part? Maybe it's confusing that the backing has been shifted to the relative minor? It's a clear quote of the first two lines of the Kookaburra song.

Update, February 2010: Men at Work plagiarised 'Down Under' riff ("Flute melody taken from 1935 'Kookaburra' children's song, Australian court rules", Kathy Marks, The Independent, 5 February 2010). This means Men at Work potentially owe millions to the copyright owners, Larrikin Music. See the previous Kookaburra fossil exposed for background. Personally I think the result stinks, and that the quotation in question, a tiny riff between verses, was nothing more than a nice homage to a tune that had become de facto public domain due to its obscure copyright status. Quoted in The Age, the founder of Larrikin Records and original owner of Larrikin Music, Warren Fahey, says exactly this:

He recommends the copyright owner, Larrikin Music, should "gift" the song to Australia, arguing that most Australians believe they already have public domain ownership of the song anyway.

"The past week has seen thousands of emails, letters to the editor, radio commentary and internet forums criticising the judgment," says Fahey, who sold Larrikin Music to Music Sales Corporation in 1988 and whose folk band is called the Larrikins.

"Many of these incorrectly criticise Larrikin Records and myself as the protagonist, asking, 'How could someone so dedicated to Australian music do such a thing?' The Larrikin brand has certainly been tarnished by what many see as opportunistic greed on behalf of Larrikin Music/Music Sales."

- Ray

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

To the Deep Web ... in search of Maxwell Gray

Maxwell Gray, image reproduced by kind permission of the Hathi Trust.

"Deep Web" isn't a term you see much these days, but it's quite a nice description of the vast amount of material online that isn't found by the obvious search engines (primarily Google). One common gripe is the failure of Google Books to provide full view of many texts that are clearly out of copyright, and the snippet view shows the scan exists. This is often a regional issue: in the UK, a naughty person might find accessing Google Books through a proxy server ups the access privilege. But keeping within legal/ethical options, last year Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log enthused: "All hail the Hathi Trust".

This is an initiative by a group of US university libraries, including that of the University of Michigan, where much of the Google Books scanned content was created, to coordinate search and hosting of historical texts. You can do title and author searches through portals such as Mirlyn or Miryln2, or go direct through the Hathi Trust catalog page or its experimental full-text search. There are nice facilities such as the ability of users to create customised collections of works (such as Gothic literature or Beer & Wings). A limitation is that many texts are still search-level only, but the level of full access is considerably higher than Google Books or the Internet Archive.

An example. A while back I wrote about the Isle of Wight novelist Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett, author of The Silence of Dean Maitland). It's been remarkable difficult to find what she looked like: an artist's impression (left) in Book News, No. 134, vol 12, October 1893, was findable through the Internet Archive, but I wanted a photo. However, Google Books showed the existence of a number of biographical sketches of Gray in The Bookman; a review of books and life. The Bookman is online in the Hathi Trust connection, and I rapidly tracked down this nice photo of Maxwell Gray from The Bookman; a review of books and life. v.3, March 1896 (which heads this post). I cleaned up raster patterns with a FFT plugin, but it's still rather grainy. Enlightening, though: she looks nothing like the pinched, ill individual as drawn in Book News. I've expanded on this in the addenda to The Silence of Dean Maitland post.

- Ray

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Värttinä again

Nothing to do with books, but just a current enthusiasm: Värttinä, a distinctly feminist Karelian folk-rock trio. I gather "Värttinä" means "spindle" - although personally I think "distaff", with its double meaning, is a translation more in the spirit of these deeply cool ladies who sing modern arrangements of material from women's Finno-Ugric singing traditions.

Knowing the translations helps understand the choreography. With Tauti (above), they're miming pain, and later relaxation, because "tauti" = "disease": the song is a traditional charm to cure illness. Nahkaruoska (below) = "leather whip". This isn't a fetishy thing but a "girl power" song about a philandering husband going through all the farm girls in town. His wife decides it's got to stop, so kicks him out, sending him on his way with a leather whip - "Nahkaruoska" - and hitting him with a cane ("vivi" = "whack"). I just love that Charlie's Angels pose at the end. It's their outro number: the "Kiitos" they say at the end = Thank you".

- Ray

Monday, 27 July 2009

Comic and uncomic destruction

From (also variously on the comics niche circuit) Marvelman to return: David Looney, the San Antonio Comic Books Examiner reports on the news from SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con) 2009 the news that Marvel Comics have bought the rights to Marvelman (aka Miracleman). This looks like the end to one of the most long-running wrangles over legal rights to a comic character, and it could mean we finally see reprints of classic work by Alan Moore (with later contributions by Neil Gaiman).

Moore revived this defunct character with extensive deconstruction: the unexceptional storylines of the original Marvelman (a British equivalent to Captain Marvel) were revealed to be dreams fed to a sleeping group of experimental subjects to keep control of them. One of these subjects, Mike Moran, is now a flabby middle-aged man who has migraines and dreams of flying, until he remembers the word, "Kimota", that gives him the ability given to him by the experiment: to swap to the alternate super-powered body that is Marvelman. As the piece says:
Marvelman was one of the first truly ‘realistic’ takes on the superhero genre, with Marvelman having a serious impact on the world once he appears in public, along with one of the earliest attempts to show what a superhero taking over the world would do to the world itself. In addition it stands as the earliest work of both Moore and Gaiman, which should be of interest to any comic book fan.
Unlike classic comics - Superman, say, operates in a world where the social order remains unchanged by his presence - Marvelman and others with the same powers eventually take over the world, acting effectively as gods. (It paved the way for works such as Watchmen, in which the world economy is radically altered by the godlike Doc Manhattan's ability to transmute and create rare elements). In one scene in the Marvelman seqquence, after the superhumans have disposed of all nuclear weapons by dumping them into the sun, Margaret Thatcher has to be comforted for her distress at realising she no longer has any power.

The series also featured probably the most apocalyptic imaginings of any comic seen, when Johnny Bates, a traumatised young boy whose own alter-ego is the psychotic Kid Miracleman, is bullied and abused to the point where he reverts to the latter and goes on a sadistic rampage in London. This, and the ensuing battle to destroy him, leaves 40,000 dead and central London in ruins (see the review of Miracleman 15, Nemesis, at Ink destroyed my brush).

Not that it takes super-beings to destroy a city. A recent post at Ptak Science Books, The Most Lethal Number: M-69 vs. U-235 (Japan, 1945), looked at the devastation to multiple Japanese cities - little-remembered compared to the nuclear attacks - caused by M-69 incendiaries. It's as good a reason as any to recommend Grave of the Fireflies, the anime adaptation of Hotaru no Haka (A Grave of Fireflies), Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel about an orphaned brother and sister who have to fend for themselves during the famine after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945. It's quite the antithesis of the superhero genre: the big events and battles are peripheral to its harrowing personal story - simple, yet weaving together imagery with a novel-like complexity. It's one of the most moving films I've ever seen. Roger Ebert - see his review, Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - says "it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made" and quotes the animation historian Ernest Rister, who compared it to Schindler's List and said of it, "It is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen". Google finds various trailers and exerpts, such as the above from the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema.
- Ray

Saturday, 25 July 2009


From the Guardian, news that John Ryan, Captain Pugwash creator and animator dies at 88, along with a fuller obituary. To those of a certain age, Ryan's creation was one of the classic British animated cartoons, one that cemented The Trumpet Hornpipe into popular consciousness as the Captain Pugwash theme, but he had a broad repertoire including other children's animations, Mary, Mungo and Midge (unusual then for its urban setting) and The Adventures of Sir Prancelot, and a cartoon for the Catholic Herald featuring the scheming but inept Cardinal Grotti. There's an extensive appreciation and bibliography at Steve Holland's Bear Alley.

A persistent accretion to the Pugwash story is the urban myth that the character names were double entendres and that "pugwash" is some archaic sexual slang: see Pugwash double meanings at This is all thoroughly debunked, but nevertheless Pugwash is a highly distinctive name with an interesting back-story.

Etymologically it's nothing to do with pugs 1 or washing: it's only pronounced pʌgwɒʃ (pug-wash) in the UK. The origin is ultimately Pugwash - pronounced pəgwɔʃ ("puhg-wawsh") or pəgwɑʃ ("puhg-waash") - the Nova Scotia port village, which got its name by characteristic Anglicisation of the Mi'kmaq word "Pagweak" (= "shallow water or shoal" - see Place names of Atlantic Canada, William Baillie Hamilton). Despite an attempt in the 1820s to change this "uncouth name" to Waterford, it stuck, and later gave its name to the Pugwash Conferences on nuclear disarmament (Pugwash was the home town of Cyrus Eaton, the Canadian financier who sponsored the first meeting).

A number of online accounts say Ryan got the name from seeing a newspaper article about the Pugwash Conferences, but I haven't been able to find a primary source for this. Nevertheless, a number of other writers appear to have been taken by the folksy nautical flavour of the village name, and the trail definitely starts in the New World. There's a Mrs Pugwash in The clockmaker, or, The sayings and doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville, Thomas Chandler Haliburto, 1840, which makes many references to Nova Scotia. There's an Isaac Pugwash, a shopkeeper who finds his soul in peril in The Chronicles of Clovernook, Douglas William Jerrold, 1846: although Jerrold wasn't Canadian, he was a newspaper editor, and he may well have seen Pugwash in the shipping news, where it regularly featured as a destination. In "The Confessions of Aristides Jinx", by Frederick Ward Saunders (Ballou's Monthly Magazine, v. 21-22 - 1865) the village of Pugwash is taken as the epitome of the uncosmopolitan. Now, however, the connotations are different: "Pugwash" is like the William Tell overture and the Lone Ranger: in the UK, only a true intellectual could see the word and not think of the pirate cartoon!

1. Whatever "pug" may be taken to mean: the OED has: "The husks separated in the cleaning of any kind of small seed"; "The refuse from the cider press"; "A term of endearment for a person (or, occasionally, an animal); also applied to a plaything, as a doll or pet. Obs."; "A courtesan, mistress, harlot, prostitute. Obs."; "Apparently: a ship's boy. Obs."; "A bargeman"; "Formerly, in the vocabulary of servants: an upper servant in a large establishment."; "Eng. regional. Any of various animals, as a hare, a squirrel, a ferret, a young salmon ... Now rare."; "A sheep in its second year. Obs."; "A name for a fox. Obs."; "A monkey, an ape. Also applied (like ‘monkey’) to a child. Obs."; "As a proper or generic name for an ape. Obs."; "A small demon or imp; a sprite; a puck. Obs."; "More fully pug hood. Apparently: a ladies' hood, or hood with short cape attached, fashionable around the middle of the 18th cent. Now hist."; "More fully pug dog. A breed of small dog."; "Any of numerous small geometrid moths of the genus Eupithecia and related genera"; "Brit. regional. Applied to any person or thing that is squat or stumpy. rare."; "Chiefly U.S. regional. A knot or bun of hair"; "More fully pug-engine. A small locomotive used chiefly for shunting; a contractor's engine"; "The footprint of an animal. Also more fully pug-mark."; "Clay or loam that has been pulverized, thoroughly mixed, and kneaded into a soft, plastic condition without air pockets for brick-making, pottery, etc"; "a pugilist".

- Ray

Thursday, 23 July 2009

More nice maps

Further to "A Buyers Guide to Maps of Antarctica", just a quick link (I'm quite busy helping set up the infrastructure for a music project): Cartophilia: Maps and Map Memorabilia. I particularly like the subcategory Maps as Art.

Stamps, postcards, advertising, coffee mugs, shirts, and other ephemera. I love maps, and maps as an element of design.

"I think that the constant study of maps is apt to disturb men's reasoning powers" -- Lord Salisbury

As explained in the post Empire: Striding Across Africa, Lord Salisbury was referring to the general British obsession at the time for gaining territory even if it made no strategic sense. He added:

Certainly the enthusiasm which has been evoked for this desolate corner of Africa has surprised me more than anything else in this controversy. We have had a fierce conflict over the possession of a lake whose name I am afraid I cannot pronounce correctly—I think it is Lake Ngami—our only difficulty being that we do not know where it is. We cannot determine its position within 100 miles, certainly not within 60 miles, and there are great doubts whether it is a lake at all, or only a bed of rushes.
- Hansard, 10 July 1890

- Ray

Monday, 20 July 2009

To the poles!

Further to South Sea shenanigans: I'm sorry to see Traprock/Chappell's 1923 Sarah of the Sahara isn't findable online, but the 1922 sequel to Cruise of the Kawa is: My northern exposure: the Kawa at the Pole (George Shepard Chappell as Walter E Traprock, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1922, Internet Archive mynorthernexposu00trap). As can be seen with the photo of Walter E Traprock and "Snak" (click to enlarge) it continues the joke of the completely non-ethnic women the explorers keep meeting.

I found a little more about the Traprock series: while Chappell did writing, the concept was a collaborative one instigated by the publisher and promoter George P Putnam (Amelia Earhart's husband, incidentally) who was well in on the joke, as were an astonishing lineup from the NY intellectual/arts scene. In his autobiography Wide Margins Putnam tells how:

A gang of celebrities posed outrageously for the illustrations of the Kawa— and "My Northern Exposure" and "Sarah of the Sahara," the other Traprock books. From Heywood Broun, who was Captain Ezra Triplett, the roster included Frank Crowninshield, Margaret Severn, Charles Hanson Towne, Wallace Irwin, Rockwell Kent, Frank Craven, Mary Nash, Bob Flaherty (?), Elsie Ferguson, William Beebe, Ruth Hale, Ralph Barton. Myself, I doubled as seaman William Henry Thomas and Lady Sarah Wimpole.
- Wide Margins, George P Putnam, 1942

My northern exposure takes the exploration ship Kawa to the north pole, with the help of a radical refit including a magnetic bowsprit, a design for complete flexibiity so that the ship slides over the ice like a seal or "a greased hot water bottle", and a heated waterline to melt the ice.

I decided on the straightest, just as I had decided, in Cambridge, to take the Kawa to the North Pole instead of the South because it was nearer. Obviously I must reach the polar ice-pack before making my beeline as my ship was adapted for but two elements, ice and water. Travel over bare ground was not contemplated. Wheels had never entered my head. How nearly this fact cost us our lives makes a thrilling story but one which comes later.

Once at the pole they run into wonders such as the "polar ditch", marking the edges of the world stopper that releases pressure from the grinding of its axis; the flocks of pemmican and reindeer feeding on the Christmas trees; and Eskimos 1 (who turn out to be blond and fair-skinned - their appearance to the contrary being down the protective layer of animal oil they wash off every Spring). Tensions grow, however, during the Arctic winter when the only diversions are an all-night card game (six months long) and the offer of the chief Eskimo's wives 1. Traprock finds himself in love with Ikik, Snak, Yalok, Lapatok and Klipitok, but is thwarted by the attentions of Mrs Sausalito, the ship's seamstress.

I didn't find the book quite as funny as Cruise of the Kawa. In part, some aspects of Arctic life are hard to parody: the food, for instance.2 Or maybe, giving the harrowing nature of polar exploration, some areas were just too dark to parody at the time.3 It was, after all, only a decade after the death of the Scott party returning from the South Pole. I was brought up on the Captain Scott exhibition, and still have the Ladybird Captain Scott: An Adventure from History I won as a school prize in 1964, and it unsurprisingly takes the traditional heroic line. Scott has since been the subject of a deal of revisionist attention, particularly Roland Huntford's Scott and Amundsen.

While there has lately been counter-revision too (arguing that Scott was unfairly neglected in favour of, particularly, Shackleton) I think it's still the case that the focus on Scott has tended to obscure a number of comparably harrowing stories of polar exploration. I recently ran into Hell with a Capital H, based on the diaries of Dr Murray Levick. As reviewed in the Telegraph - Limping up the glacier - it tells of the Scott expedition's Northern Party, six men who survived for six months in a snow hole in appalling conditions, psychologically as well as physically (privacy and social order was achieved through an imaginary barrier).

Some of these accounts are online. Man's best friend, at studentBMJ, tells of Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz, now generally viewed to have been poisoned by Vitamin A from eating husky liver after loss of their supplies. The full story comes Mawson's book Home of the Blizzard, which comes in various editions: from the 1914 version The Home of the Blizzard to "Mawson D, Fiennes R. Home of the blizzard, a true story of Antarctic survival. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000". A 1997 edition, This accursed land by Lennard Bickel, appears to be somewhat sensationalised: a section in it where a crazed Mertz bites off his own finger to show how dead 'ard he is doesn't appear in the other accounts.

A far more favourable outcome is that described in South! - the story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 expedition, where the entire stranded expedition was saved following the loss of its ship. South! is also online with its photos at Cool Antarctica. Another online book of interest is Alone, Admiral Richard Byrd's autobiographical account of his isolated stay in a weather station in Antarctica. Seriously ill from carbon monoxide poisoning from stove fumes, he managed to survive while hiding his condition from his home base to prevent anyone endangering themselves with a rescue attempt.

It's of related interest that the psychological themes of Antarctic exploration have inspired many plays, such as David Young's Antarctica, Marjorie Duffield's Ice Island: the wait for Shackleton. See Antarctic Theatre for more; the listing is at The Antarctic Circle, an interesting "non-commercial forum and resource on historical, literary, bibliographical, artistic and cultural aspects of Antarctica and the South Polar regions".

See Eskimo men lend their wives to strangers?. This covers, briefly, the issue of complex customs that do involve marital exchange where a strong degree of kinship exists, but which appear to have misrepresented/abused by non-native visitors. Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, and Robert J Flaherty all fathered children by Inuit women during the Arctic travels - but not, it appears, under the previously-mentioned circumstances. Henson was single, his partner Akatingwah formally betrothed (the nearest Western equivalent), and he continues to be held in high regard by his descendants - see The Eskimo offspring of Matthew Henson, Ebony, Jan. 1987). With Peary, it seems like plain adultery, despite the claim by some of his American descendants that he was forced into this by local custom (see Suffering for Science - but having two children by the same woman, Ahlikahsingwah, stretches this theory somewhat). With Flaherty, it was the common situation of director having an affair with leading lady (while filming Nanook of the North).

The Snopes piece also mentions the problem of the word "Eskimo". Moderately recently the standard claim has been that it's pejorative, derived from a Cree word meaning "eaters of raw meat". Replacing it with "Inuit" isn't ideal, because not all "Eskimos" are Inuit; there are also Yupik and Aleut. But nowadays that etymology has been debunked: it appears to mean either "snowshoe netters" or "people who speak a different language". Nevertheless, the folk etymology that it's pejorative persists. What to do?

2. Arctic and sub-Arctic food is generally monstrous to the average temperate-climate European taste. However, it's easy to forget that given the heroic calorie requirements to maintain body heat and exertion, fatty foods such as pemmican become strangely palatable. Furthermore, lack of plant life forces use of animal/fish products - narwhal skin, for instance, for its vitamin C - and lack of cooking fuel forces ways of using such products in various cured/dried/rotted forms (at Unreal Nature we were just talking about hákarl.

3. Not any more: see the Carling Polar Night Out ad.

PS: As a slight antidote to the surfeit of testosterone in this topic, check out:
  • Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, by Peter Høeg: a mystery thriller, with an Arctic setting and a half-Inuit protagonist, that also touches strongly on cultural tensions in the interaction of Denmark and Greenland.
  • "Sur: A Summary Report of the Yelcho Expedition to the Antarctic, 1909-1910", by Ursula Le Guin: a feminist SF story about a nine-woman expedition to the South Pole before Scott/Amundsen, hitherto unknown because they did it tidily and without the male urge to leave evidence of their accomplishment (their expedition brief is merely "to go, to see. No more, no less").
  • Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur: a fictional biography of Morgan Lamont, a woman who becomes fascinated with Antarctica to the point of re-creating the Scott expedition.
  • "A Buyers Guide to Maps of Antarctica", by Catherynne M. Valente, Clarkesworld, May 2005: a lyrical story telling, through map catalogue entries, of the rivalry between two cartographers, one devoted to realism and accuracy, the other to creating fantastical maps that tell strange invented mythologies.

    All ink sepia, compass is a seal's head peeking out of an iron pot, her flipper pointed south, the pot handles east and west, and her head, capped by the pot's lid, indicating north. Smaller versions of this creature dot the island chain, their faces intricately inscribed. The legend claims that these Footless Seals can be found on the sometimes-green shores of Isla Graciento, on the long Norwegian flensing plain that occupies most of the island: When the Iron Try Pots left to render Seal Fat are left to boil until Moonrise, it occasionally Happens that a severed Seal Head which has a Certain blue Tinge to its whiskers will Blink and open its Eyes, and with Cunning Hop Away into the surf, carrying the Iron Try Pot with it as a new Body. If an Explorer is very clever, he will leave a few of his campfire Embers burning and pretend to Sleep. If he is an Excellent Feinter of Slumber, the Queen of the Seal Pots whose name is Huln will come to rest upon the dying Fire and warm Herself. If he has brought three Pearls as tribute, the Queen will allow him to dip his Spoon into the Pot and drink of her Broth, which is sweeter than dandelion honey, and will keep him Fed and Happy for a fortnight and more. (translation: Furtado, 1971)

- Ray

Friday, 17 July 2009

To the Difference Engine!

For fans of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage: 2D Goggles. This is the site for animator (Melina) Sydney Padua's steampunk webcomic about Lovelace and Babbage in a pocket dimension where they become crime-fighting adventurers. The strip is under development and bit fragmentary so far, but for coherent sections see the introductions to the characters at Lovelace - the origin (drawn for Ada Lovelace Day) and BBC Techlab; the three-part story Lovelace and Babbage vs The Economy (parts 1, 2, 3); The Person from Porlock (which reveals the truth behind Coleridge's famous interruption).

Sydney Padua, who admits the whole thing is experimental, as she's not a comic artist by profession, describes it as:

either the agonizing birth pangs, or monstrous death-throes, of a comic.

I hope it proceeds to fruition. Her style is brilliant (akin to that of Posy Simmonds) and the commentary about the history and development process is worth reading too:

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was like the Wolverine of the early Victorians.
I read the extraordinary Charles Babbage’s comic masterpiece of an autobiography. I urge everyone to read it immediately. It has charts. CHARTS!

And there are generally interesting (if you're a bit geeky) Lovelace/Babbage links such as the Lego and Meccano Difference Engines. The merchandise is fun too, especially that with the nice ST:TNG pastiche of Ada working in the Difference Tubes.

- Ray

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

South Sea shenanigans

A while back I ran into a lovely and artistically brilliant hoax/pastiche, Parting The Veil of Faery, The Colmore Fatagravures, which purport to be time-ravaged photogravures of fairies taken by the Scots experimenter Neville Colmore with a "Spectobarathrum" in the 1890s. I won't say any more except to highly recommend it, and move on to the book connection: that Colmore is described as a friend of "the famed American explorer and author, Walter Traprock ... best known for the popular accounts of his scientific expeditions published in the 1920s, Cruise of the Kawa, Sarah of the Sahara and My Northern Exposure".

The Cruise of the Kawa is on Project Gutenberg (EText-No. 6586), where the real author behind Walter E Traprock is revealed as the architect, journalist and author George Shepard Chappell (1877-1946). He wrote a number of comic works as Traprock, but Cruise of the Kawa appears to be the most notable. From Gutenberg:

We get under way. Polynesia's busiest corner. Our ship's company. A patriotic celebration rudely interrupted. In the grip of the elements. Necessary repairs. A night vigil. Land ho!

A real discovery. Polynesia analyzed. The astounding nature of the Filberts. Their curious sound, and its reason. We make a landing. Our first glimpse of the natives. The value of vaudeville.

Our handsome hosts. En route to the interior. Native flora and fauna. We arrive at the capital. A lecture on Filbertine architecture. A strange taboo. The serenade.

A few of our native companions. Filbertine diet. Physiological observations. We make a tour of the island. A call on the ladies. Baahaabaa gives a feast. The embarrassments of hospitality. An alcoholic escape.

A frank statement. We vote on the question of matrimony. A triple wedding. An epithalmic verse. We remember the Kawa. An interview with William Henry Thomas. Triplett's strategy. Safe within the atoll.

Marital memories. A pillow-fight on the beach. A deep-sea devil. The opening in the atoll. Swank paints a portrait. The _fatu-liva_ bird and its curious gift. My adventure with the _wak-wak_. Saved!

Excursions beyond the outer reef. Our aquatic wives. Premonitions. A picnic on the mountain. Hearts and flowers. Whinney delivers a geological dissertation. Babai finds a _fatu-liva_ nest. The strange flower in my wife's hair.

Swank's popularity on the Island. Whinney's jealousy. An artistic duel. Whinney's deplorable condition. An assembly of the Archipelago. Water-sports on the reef. The Judgment.

More premonitions. Triplett's curious behavior. A call from Baahaabaa. We visit William Henry Thomas. His bride. The christening. A hideous discovery. Pros and Cons. Out heart-breaking decision. A stirrup-cup of lava-lava.

Once more the Kawa foots the sea. Triplett's observations and our assistance. The death of the compass-plant. Lost! An orgy of desperation. Oblivion and excess. The Kawa brings us home. Our reception in Papeete. A celebration at the Tiare.

It's very good. I can only describe it as doing for the South Sea Island genre what Cold Comfort Farm - see Further beyond the woodshed - did for the English rustic novel. Amid general pleasant whimsy, it's a thoroughly barbed skit on exotic flora, fauna and culture, nautical machismo, and cavalier attitudes to native culture and, particularly, native women, as in this scene where the crew of the Kawa justify their desertion of their Polynesian wives:

Little by little, however, the calm of the great ocean invaded our souls and that well-known influence (mentioned in so many letters of consolation), "the hand of time," soothed the pain in our hearts. I think it was the quiet, self contained Whinney who brought the most reasoned philosophy to bear on the situation.

"They will forget," he said one evening, as we sat watching the Double Cross slowly revolve about its axis. "We must remember that they are a race of children. They have no written records of the past, no anticipations of the future. They live for the present. Childlike, they will grieve deeply, for a day maybe; then another sun will rise, Baahaabaa will give another picnic--" he sighed deeply.

"The tragedy of it is that their memories should be so short and ours so long," I commented.

"Yes," agreed Swank, "but I suppose we ought to be thankful. They were a wonderful people, it was a wonderful experience. And no matter what art-juries of the future may do to me, my pictures were a success in the Filberts."

Blessed old Swank, he always looked on the bright side of things!

(The running joke is that the wives in the photographic illustrations - Kippiputuona, "daughter of pearl and coral", Lupoba-Tilaana, "mist on the mountain" and Babai-Alova-Babai, "essence of Alova" - appear to be all the same Western woman).

Herman Swank, the artist, alludes pretty strongly to Gauguin, and a number of authors and explorers get a collective cameo appearance:

Well, they were all there! O'Brien--dear old Fred, and Martin Johnson, just in from the Solomons with miles of fresh film; McFee, stopping over night on his way to the West Indies; Bill Beebe, with his pocket full of ants; Safroni, "Mac" Macquarrie, Freeman, "Cap" Bligh--thinner than when I last saw him in Penang--and, greatest surprise of all, a bluff, harris-tweeded person who peered over the footboard of my bed and roared in rough sea-tones:

"Well, as I live and breathe, Walter Traprock!"

It was Joe Conrad.

As with Cold Comfort Farm, Cruise of the Kawa is a close parody on some of its sources. I don't know who "Freeman" is, but "Fred O'Brien" refers to Frederick O'Brien, author of White Shadows in the South Seas, an account of his time on the Marquesas. A look at Gutenberg (EText-No. 14384) suggests this to be the prime target:

Thirty-seven days at sea; life of the sea-birds; strange phosphorescence; first sight of Fatu-hiva; history of the islands; chant of the Raiateans
First night in Atuona valley; sensational arrival of the Golden Bed; Titihuti's tattooed legs
A feast to the men of Motopu; the making of _kava_, and its drinking; the story of the Girl Who Lost Her Strength

(O'Brien's Fatu-hiva is an island; Traprock's Fatu-Liva is a bird that lays cubical eggs with dice spots (see Museum of Hoaxes).

"Macquarrie" is probably Hector Macquarrie, author of the travelogue Tahiti Days (of interest for containing one of the first detailed accounts of fire-walking ritual). The other rather obscure name-drop, "Safroni", is the Australian author and composer Arnold Safroni-Middleton, who wrote a number of books (available at the Internet Archive) with South Sea locations. These included his memoirs Sailor and Beachcomber, South Sea Foam and A Vagabond's Odyssey, as well as the novels Sestrina and Gabrielle of the Lagoon (both subtitled "A Romance of the South Seas", though Sestrina is set in Haiti). A quick dip is enough to get the flavour:

Across the skies of Bougainville the stars had been marshalled in the millions. It seemed a veritable heathen faeryland as the night echoed a hollow "Tarabab!" But even that heathenish word was only the tribal chief's yell as he stood under the palms conducting the semi-religious tambu ceremony. The tawny maidens and high chiefs, with their feather head-dresses, all in full festival costume, were squatting in front of the secret tambu stage, some mumbling prayer, others beating their hands together as an accompaniment. And still the dusky tambu dancer moved her perfect limbs rhythmically to the rustling of her sarong-like attire, swaying first to the right then to the left as she chanted to the wailings of the bamboo fifes and bone flutes. The orchestral-like moan of the huge bread-fruits, as odorous drifts of hot wind swept in from the tropic seas, seemed to murmur in complete sympathy with the pretty dancer. One might easily have concluded that Oom Pa, the aged high priest, was the "star turn" of the evening as he stood there enjoying his thoughts and performing magnificently on the monster tribal drum.

There was something fascinating and super-primitive about the whole scene. The very scents from decaying forest frangipanni and hibiscus blossoms seemed to drift out of the damp gloom of the dark ages. The presence of civilisation in any form seemed the remotest of possibilities. Even the fore-and-aft schooner, with yellowish, hanging canvas sails, lying at anchor just beyond the shore lagoons, looked like some strange-rigged craft that sailed mysterious seas.

But as the assembled tribe once again wildly clamoured for the next dancer to come forward and exhibit her charms, a murmur of surprise rose from the back rows of stalwart, tattooed chiefs a white girl suddenly ran out of the forest and jumped on to the tambu stage!

One aged chiefess who was busy mumbling her prayers looked up and gave a frightened scream. Even the aged philosophical head-hunter Ra-mai, who had one hundred and eighty skulls hanging to his credit in his palavana hard by, gave a mellow grunt, so great was his surprise. A white girl, lips red as coral, hair like the sunset's gold, standing by his old pae pae! It was something that he had never dreamed of. The tawny maidens squatting beneath the coconut-oil-lamp-lit shades on the right of the buttressed banyans, lifted their hands in astonishment. For a moment the white girl stood perfectly still. All eyes were upon her. She stared vacantly as though she were in a trance. Then she moved forward a few steps, her feet lightly touching the forest floor as if she were a visionary figure veiled in moonlight. Only the sudden renewal of the wild clamouring and guttural cries of "la Maramam tambu, papalaga!" ("A white girl will dance before us!") seemed to rouse her to her senses, reminding her of the reason she had responded to the swelling chorus of tribal drums.

- Gabrielle of the Lagoon; a Romance of the South Seas (c. 1919)

The dancer is the heroine, Gabrielle Everard, who has been brought up locally by her trader father. Only she got rhythm because

no one would have dreamed by looking at her that she was not a pure-blooded white girl. Her father had married a beautiful three-quarter caste girl in Honolulu, so Gabrielle had a strain of dark blood in her veins!

It really is "loam and lovechild" transplanted to an exotic setting. Those decaying forest frangipanni and hibiscus blossoms sound as risky as sukebind. As the old, and strangely Mummerset, chiefs say:

"'Tis a white girl suddenly up-grown and full of fever for love" ... "Had it been a full-moon sacred festival, 'twould have been well to slay her for such boldness, the cursed papalagi!"


I'm slightly surprised, given the date for Cruise of the Kawa, that Henry De Vere Stacpoole wasn't in the lineup of cameos, as his Blue Lagoon trilogy was well in the genre. I re-read it not long ago (see Gutenberg EText-No. 393) and it's actually not at all bad for a 1908 novel tackling a fairly edgy scenario (for those who don't know it, this is the one where cousins Richard and Emmeline Lestrange grow up from childhood alone on a tropical island after the elderly Paddy, with whom they were shipwrecked, finds a cask of rum and drinks himself to death; they eventually reach puberty and produce a child). It has nice touches, such as their calling their son "Hannah", the only other name they dimly recall. Stacpoole gave the book closure, as well as avoiding any problems of how they'd deal with life after rescue, by killing them off (they're found asleep in a boat, having eaten the plot coupon "never-wake-up" berries Paddy warned them about). The sequels, The Garden of God and The Gates of Morning, take the grown-up Hannah (renamed Dick) through various tribal adventures, the second having quite a right-on message about European exploitation of South Sea cultures. But I suspect Stacpoole got tired of the whole farrago when he destroyed the Blue Lagoon island with a tsunami.

Interesting character, Stacpoole: very large output, of which only The Blue Lagoon is widely known these days. Born in Ireland, he trained as a doctor; the Blue Lagoon series sprang from authentic knowledge of the South Seas from his travels as a ship's doctor. But his writing career was slow to get started (he described it as "more like a Malay fishing prahu than an honest-to-God English literary vessel") and began with several turkeys: The Intended (a Trading Places scenario handled seriously - this did succeed when, at the advice of Pearl Craigie, he rewrote it as a comedy, The Man Who Lost Himself); Pierrot, "a French boy's eerie relationship with a patricidal doppelganger"; and Death, the Knight, and the Lady

the deathbed confession of Beatrice Sinclair, who is both a reincarnated murderer (male) and a descendant of the murder victim (female). She falls in love with Gerald Wilder, a man disguised as a woman, who is both a reincarnated murder victim (female) and the descendant of the murderer (male).

Hmm. But The Blue Lagoon and its sequels made his fortune, after which he settled at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight.

P.S. While Googling to see if any of the native language in Gabrielle of the Lagoon was authentic, I ran into this curiosity: The Papalagi. This is the English translation of Erich Scheuerman's 1920 Die Papalagi, a purported account of the impressions of European society by Tuiavii of Tiavea, a South Sea Chief. It's most likely a hoax: see The Looniverse, which views it as a ripoff of Hans Paasche's The Journey of Lukanga Mukara into the innermost of Germany.

- Ray

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Going with the flow

Interesting piece in yesterday's Independent: Art that goes with the flow. It reports on Amy Sharrocks' artwork, Walbrook, in which a group of blue-clothed volunteers walked across London, following the course of the Walbrook:

Most Londoners could name only the river, but dozens of waterways used to feed the Thames. Centuries of building and paving has consigned many, including the Fleet, the Effra, and the Tyburn, to the city's bowels. Others, including the Walbrook, which once bubbled and flowed through the oldest part of the capital, are no more than dry voids.

The classic book on this topic is The Lost Rivers of London (Nicholas Barton, Historical Publications, 1992, ISBN-10: 094866715X): this is a revised edition from the original The Lost Rivers of London; a Study of Their Effects Upon London and Londoners and the Effects of London and Londoners Upon Them, a surprise hit of 1962 based on Barton's PhD thesis. We had a copy a while back, and I found it gripping, perhaps because of its combination of informative research about a (then) little-known aspect of London's origins and the strong air of nostalgia surrounding the topic (though the reality is that these rivers, by the time they were covered up, were ghastly open sewers). I wrote about this when JSBlog had just started up - see Underground London - but I'll repost for convenience.

There's a nice map at The Open Guide to London Lost Rivers page, and a good overview at Barryoneoff's Rivers that disappeared. This defunct Heritage Magazine article, The Underground City, with topological map, gives more context on how the main rivers interact with other features. London Geezer's series of blog posts, Reviewing the Fleet is a superb study of the complex history of the River Fleet (now a sewer / storm drain).

However, an interesting development since then has been the plan to restore many of these lost waterways - see Lost rivers of London to resurface in Boris plan (Danny Brierley, Evening Standard, 16 June 2008) and River rescue: project launched to breathe life into waterways buried under London concrete and brick (Juliette Jowit, The Guardian, 8 January 2009). Some of the ideas are bold and intriguing, such as the one to change Fleet Street, originally the course of the Fleet, into a Venetian-style waterway. This isn't a new-fangled concept; it was actually done as part of Sir Christopher Wren's redevelopment of London after the Great Fire. Wren converted the lower reaches of the Fleet (bordered by slums before the Fire) into the New Canal, with four decorative bridges. The canal basin's lack of commercial success, tendency to silt up, and the increasingly disgusting state of the Fleet ...

Now from all Parts the swelling Kennels flow,
And bear their Trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all Hues and Odours seem to tell
What Streets they sail'd from, by the Sight and Smell.
They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid Force
From Smithfield, or St.Pulchre's shape their Course,
And in huge Confluent join at Snow-Hill Ridge,
Fall from the Conduit prone to Holborn-Bridge.
Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnips-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.
- Jonathan Swift, Description of a City Shower, 1710

To where Fleet ditch, with disemboguing streams
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames
- Alexander Pope, Dunciad, 1729

... led to the New Canal being filled in and paved over in the 1730s. The Fleet's course is now well known; the Environment Agency, however, is pessimistic about it being restorable to surface view.

By the way, the Guardian piece about Walbrook mentions Ursula Fanthorpe's poem on the lost rivers of London, "Rising Damp": it featured as the Independent's Sunday poem for 20th June 1999.

While London is particularly iconic with respect to its vanished watercourses, the same picture applies to just about any major city. See, for instance, Lost River Walks and Construction will need to protect lost rivers concerning Toronto, whose underground legacy is the result of the original creek and ridge terrain; Montreal is similar, likewise Manhattan (as revealed by the Viele Map) and Los Angeles. Paris has the Bièvre and the Ruisseau de Ménilmontant; but as Céline Knidler's Sorbonne thesis Le Paris souterrain dans la littérature says, the Grange-Batelière appears to be mythical, though this story of a navigable underground river was part of the inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera. (Paris, of course, has its own vast underworld in the form of its famous Catacombs, tunnels of abandoned mines for gypsum - whence Plaster of Paris - and building stone).

Closer to home, a couple of pertinent books spring to mind: Secret Underground Bristol (Sally Watson, Broadcast Books, 2002, ISBN: 1 874092 95 8) and The Lost City of Exeter (Chips Barber, Obelisk Publications, 1982, ISBN 0 946651). The Watson book explores a city with a remarkably complex underlife resulting from its geology (cave-ridden limestone, red Triassic sandstone and Coal Measures): topics include Goldney and Warmley grottoes, Bristol coal mines, caves such as Pen Park Hole, Redcliffe Caves and Giant's Cave, sewers and drains, the Hotwells hot springs, the Clifton Rocks Railway, the River Frome, and mediaeval cellars and conduits (such as St John's Conduit and Temple Pipe).

Though we do have underground passages (a mediaeval water conduit), underground Exeter is rather less complicated. Nevertheless, The Lost City of Exeter has a chapter on The Lost Streams of Exeter; I didn't realise until recently that the broad cutting at Exeter Central Station, between Rougemont Castle and the prison, actually follows the natural Longbrook Valley, whose stream flowed to the Exe under the Iron Bridge. Another stream began near what's now Chute Street (tagged in the map below) and ran SSW along what's now Western Way.
It was called the Barnfield Brook, but its older name, the Shit Brook, indicated its use (as a fast-flowing stream emptying in the Exe downstream of the city) as a sewage conduit. (Paris Street, adjacent to Exeter Bus Station, was historically called Shitbrook Street). The stream itself went underground, as Barnfield Brook Sewer, following a cholera outbreak in 1832. It's commemorated in "The Chamber Atlas" ("in memory of John Richards of Exeter, surveyor, 1689-1778"), the first poem in James Turner's 2002 anthology Forgeries.

- Ray

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Imitate the action of ...

From the Independent, Pride of Da Vinci's genius walks again after 500 years: news of the reconstruction of Leonardo da Vinci's lion automaton for an exhibition at the Château du Clos Lucé. Although this appears to be the first full-scale physical reconstruction, the problem has been well-studied: see Leonardo Da Vinci's Lion Robot for the King of France, Year-1515 for a nice CAD animation. There have been a number of books, including Leonardo da Vinci's robots (aka I Robot di Leonardo, ed. Leonardo3, 2007, ISBN 978-88-6048-008-8) and Leonardo's Lost Robots (Mark Elling Rosheim, Springer, 2006. ISBN-10: 3540284400).

I think Leonardo would have liked Shiva, a ridable mechanical tiger made by Kezanti (Dirk Dewulf) of Brugge; Tippoo's Tiger, currently in the V&A; and the many automata of John Joseph Merlin and James Cox, who

... opened shops in Canton where mandarins could acquire mechanical clocks, mobile elephants, and automatic tigers ...
- The sciences in enlightened Europe, William Clark, Jan Golinski, Simon Schaffer, University of Chicago Press, 1999

Obligatory book connection: Kit Reed, who I'm pleased to see is still extant, as she was one of the authors who got me reading SF. One of the first SF stories I remember was her 1964 "Automatic Tiger" - about a man who achieves temporary self-worth through owning a robot tiger. He buys it as a gift to ingratiate himself with a rich relative, but on opening the box to test it decides to keep it.

It came in a medium-sized box with an orange-and-black illustration and the words "ROYAL BENGAL TIGER" in orange lettering across the top ...

.... As the sides fell away he dropped his hands, disappointed at first by the empty-looking heap of fur. The fur had a ruggy look, and for a minute he wondered if the packers at the factory had made a mistake. Then, as he poked it with his toe he heard a click and the steel frame inside the fur sprang into place and he fell back, breathless, as the creature took shape.

It was a full-sized tiger made from a real tiger-skin skilfully fitted to a superstructure of tempered metal so carefully made that the beast looked no less real than the steely-limbed animals Benedict had seen at the city zoo. Its eyes were of amber, ingeniously lit from behind by small electric bulbs, and Benedict noted hysterically that its whiskers were made of stiff nylon filament. It stood motionless in an aura of jungle-bottom and power, waiting for him to find the microphone and issue a command. An independent mechanism inside it lashed the long, gold-and-black striped tail. It filled half the room.

Awed, Benedict retreated to his couch and sat watching the tiger. Shadows deepened and soon the only light in the room came from the creature's fierce amber eyes.

(I've tracked it to the anthology where I first read it: The 10th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F, 1965, ed. Judith Merril, which also contained Norman Kagan's brilliant The Mathenauts). Kit Reed's artist husband Joseph W Reed later painted this illustration: Automatic Tiger (1973).

PS: Some examples on a more bijou scale. On eBay, there are currently pictures of an 1890s Leaping Tiger automaton by Roullet & Decamps. The same company also produced automata of cats - see The Automata / Automaton Blog - that might be viewed as the precursors of robot cats such as Sega Toys' Yume-Neko Smile.
- Ray

Friday, 3 July 2009

Looks and sounds bad

Interesting video from YouTube: Kate Bush's 1986 Experiment IV, a Quatermass-style story about the development of a lethal sound at a research establishment; it still manages to be scary despite the jokey treatment. I don't know if it's a case of conscious/unconscious allusion, but the scenario is remarkably similar to David Langford's "What Happened at Cambridge IV" (in the anthology Digital Dreams, 1990) about the development of a lethal image at a research establishment. The latter is within Langford's mythos that started with his 1988 "Blit" (originally in Interzone) and continued in "comp.basilisk FAQ" (Nature, 1999) and "Different Kinds of Darkness" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 2000).

See Motif of harmful sensation for many more examples of this idea. This is an Internet Archive document, because in March 2009 it was deleted from Wikipedia as original research. However, it's worth preserving as a catalogue of the myth, literature and culture concerning sights and sounds that can grab the mind in some harmful way (not necessarily fatally). This very common in SF and fantasy, which is no surprise (classically, Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and Robert W Chambers' The King in Yellow spring to mind), but it extends to other genres such as mythology (e.g. the Medusa) and comedy (notably Monty Python's sketch about a deadly joke). A lot of the examples outside SF are entirely new to me. I'd never read Mark Twain's "A Literary Nightmare", for example, and while I'd heard of the Paris syndrome that fazes Japanese tourists, I didn't know about two other forms of culture shock, Jerusalem syndrome and Stendhal syndrome.
- Ray

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Magical trains and London

Via Ansible #264, news of yet another tenuous plagiarism claim against JK Rowling: see Harry Potter publisher denies plagiarism (The Telegraph, 16th June), concerning a lawsuit on behalf of the late Adrian Jacobs, alleging that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire plagiarised Jacobs' 1987 The Adventures of Willy the Wizard No 1: Livid Land.

The Willy the Wizard title in question is a 36-page illustrated book; it has a website, with extracts apparently chosen to highlight the claimed resemblances such as "Strange Eye Wizard", "Wizards Prisons", "Wizard Goverment" and "Wizard Trains".

As to Wizard Trains, Ansible asks "did Jacobs nick the train concept from Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree (1977)?" Actually you can track the magical train motif even further back, particularly to Lord Dunsany's Edge of the World mythos, where the magical lands bordering the edge of the world can be reached by train from London by getting a special ticket:

So Neepy Thang set out. He bought the purple ticket at Victoria Station. He went by Herne Hill, Bromley and Bickley and passed St. Mary Cray. At Eynsford he changed and taking a footpath along a winding valley went wandering into the hills. And at the top of a hill in a little wood, where all the anemones long since were over and the perfume of mint and thyme from outside came drifting in with Thang, he found once more the familiar path, age-old and fair as wonder, that leads to the Edge of the World.
- The Bird of the Difficult Eye, Tales of Wonder, 1916

The ways to that town are winding; he took the ticket at Victoria Station that they only give if they know you: he went past Bleth: he went along the Hills of Neol-Hungar and came to the Gap of Poy. All these are in that part of the world that pertains to the fields we know; but beyond the Gap of Poy on those ordinary plains, that so closely resemble Sussex, one first meets the unlikely.
- The Long Porter's Tale, Tales of Wonder, 1916

In Dunsany, the train isn't the only way to the magical. Another route, in some of his stories, is the shop in Go-by Street, which leads through to The Lands of Dream. There's an evocative section in The Avenger of Perdondaris where the narrator, returning through the wrong portal, finds himself in a far-future London and is baffled by the language until he realises a stallholder is trying to sell him a cake:

...The door opened, and to my surprise I found myself in what seemed like a shepherd's cottage; a man who was sitting on a log of wood in a little low dark room said something to me in an alien language, I muttered something and hurried through to the street. The house was thatched in front as well as behind. There were no golden spires in front, no marvellous birds; but there was no pavement. There was a row of houses, byres and barns but no other sign of a town. Far off I saw one or two little villages. Yet there was the river; and no doubt the Thames, for it was of the width of the Thames and had the curves of it, if you can imagine the Thames in that particular spot without a city round it, without any bridges, and Embankment fallen in. I saw that there had happened to me permanently and in the light of day some such thing as happens to a man, but to a child more often, when he awakes before morning in some strange room and sees a high, grey window where the door ought to be and unfamiliar objects in wrong places and though knowing where he is yet knows not how it can be that the place should look like that.

A flock of sheep came by me presently looking the same as ever, but the man who led them had a wild, strange look. I spoke to him and he did not understand me. Then I went down to the river to see if my boat was there and at the very spot where I had left it, in the mud (for the tide was low) I saw a half-buried piece of blackened wood that might have been part of a boat, but I could not tell. I began to feel that I had missed the world. It would be a strange thing to travel from far away to see London and not to be able to find it among all the roads that lead there, but I seemed to have travelled in Time and to have missed it among the centuries. And when as I wandered over the grassy hills I came on a wattled shrine that was thatched with straw and saw a lion in it more worn with time than even the Sphinx at Gizeh and when I knew it for one of the four in Trafalgar Square then I saw that I was stranded far away in the future with many centuries of treacherous years between me and anything that I had known. And then I sat on the grass by the worn paws of the lion to think out what to do. And I decided to go back through Go-by Street and, since there was nothing left to keep me any more to the fields we know, to offer myself as a servant in the palace of Singanee, and to see again the face of Saranoora and those famous, wonderful, amethystine dawns upon the abyss where the golden dragons play. And I stayed no longer to look for remains of the ruins of London; for there is little pleasure in seeing wonderful things if there is no one at all to hear of them and to wonder. So I returned at once to Go-by Street, the little row of huts, and saw no other record that London had been except that one stone lion. I went to the right house this time. It was very much altered and more like one of those huts that one sees on Salisbury plain than a shop in the city of London, but I found it by counting the houses in the street for it was still a row of houses though pavement and city were gone. And it was still a shop. A very different shop to the one I knew, but things were for sale there shepherd's crooks, food and rude axes. And a man with long hair was there who was clad in skins. I did not speak to him for I did not know his language. He said to me something that sounded like "Everkike." It conveyed no meaning to me; but when he looked towards one of his buns, light suddenly dawned in my mind and I knew that England was even England still and that still she was not conquered, and that though they had tired of London they still held to their land; for the words that the man had said were, "Av er kike," and then I knew that that very language that was carried to distant lands by the old, triumphant Cockney was spoken still in his birthplace and that neither his politics nor his enemies had destroyed him after all these thousand years. I had always disliked the Cockney dialect and with the arrogance of the Irishman who hears from rich and poor the English of the splendour of Elizabeth; and yet when I heard those words my eyes felt sore as with impending tears it should be remembered how far away I was.
- The Avenger of Perdondaris, Tales of Three Hemispheres, 1919 (Gutenberg E-text No. 11440)

I must pass this example on to David Platt, who just contacted me with news of current updates of his Where London Stood project, which explores the meme of ruins in art and literature, particularly visions of the ruins of contemporary cities such as London.
- Ray