Sunday, 5 July 2015

How One Image Can Suggest An Alternate Reality

The other day I came across an image that I had not seen for thirty years:

It is a cover from the US version of 'Vogue' magazine of April 1918.  When I saw it last it was printed on a mirror, in a 'cloakroom' of a large house in a Surrey suburb.  I think this one from the 1970s as I remember more pink in it than the image above:

The thing is, I was very conscious that it had been produced in April 1918, at a time when the USA had been in the First World War for 12 months.  It seemed so wrong that something so decadent could have been produced when such carnage was being witnessed.  Aside from that, the portrayal of peacocks so large that they could be ridden on, was clearly fantasy.  Thus, the way my brain processed it was to envisage that somehow it had arrived from an alternate reality in which there had been no First World War; the USA or anyway, somewhere using cents, had a decadent society and rideable peacocks did exist.  

Then it reminded me of the 'Dancers at the End of Time' series of novels by Michael Moorcock that I read in the 1980s in an omnibus edition; I had a copy of the one shown below, so you can see where that idea might have come from:

The books were 'An Alien Heat' (1972), 'The Hollow Lands' (1974) 'The End of All Songs' (1976) and then as is typical with Moorcock the setting and characters featured in other books, notably 'Legends from the End of Time' (1976) a collection of short stories; 'The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming' (1977) and 'Elric at the End of Time' (1981) two short stories featuring Moorcock's most famous fantasy anti-hero turning up in the End of Time milieu.  The stories feature a range of bizarre though largely sympathetic decadent characters in a kind of soap opera of various activities.  They live a very baroque life with the ability to change any matter at the touch of one of their rings, drawing on the immense power of cities built millenia before.  The cover reminds me of the song 'Ride a White Swan' by T.Rex (1970).

No-one writes this kind of fiction any more and even, as I noted with Hal Duncan's 'Vellum' while publishers may permit Moorcockian style work to come out, its time is passed and anyway even in homage these days it is laboured when Moorcock was epigrammatic.  I have no idea if George Wolfe Plank (1883-1965), the artist who produced the cover ever had any thoughts of alternate realities or whether he simply wanted to produce elegant, fantastical imagery.  A 1923 cover of a woman with a household dragon and another one of a woman on a zebra-unicorn suggests certainly a love of the fantastic.

Anyway, my simple idea with this posting was to recall an image which though I imagine it never had that intention, triggered off many thoughts of very different worlds and also in terms of writing, how a single image can generate ideas for a short story if not an entire novel.

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