A letter from the editors

Welcome to Paraxis 04.

Reflections and distortions, vistas and visions, occlusions and enclosures. Mirrors, windows and walls have always fired the imagination of writers, musicians, filmmakers and visual artists.


Mirrors

Northern dreamer and musical innovator Bill Nelson makes an imaginative leap from reflection to illumination in his song 'Kiss of Light': "She gives me the kiss on light and all my mirrors are windows".

And French poet, filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau was equally taken with the notion that mirrors can become portals. In his magnificent Orphée, 1950, the surfaces of mirrors are transformed into water and they provide passage between the quotidian world of the living and the mythopoeic and oneiric realm of the immortals.

In Robert Arthur's 'The Mirror of Cagliostro', the reflective surface conceals not a gateway, but a trap that enables the notorious adventurer and occultist Count Cagliostro to survive for centuries and to commit atrocities in the guise of the Marquis de Sade, Jack the Ripper and Harry Langham, a contemporary scholar. A similar idea informs 'The Gatecrasher', the opening story of the portmanteau Amicus horror movie From Beyond the Grave, 1974, in which the deranged and haunted victim of a malign presence within a mirror is played with impressive conviction by David Warner.

Mirrors can be traps in another sense: they can create or strip away illusion. Orson Welles' 1947 film noir, The Lady from Shanghai , has a climatic shoot out in a hall of mirrors in which illusions are shattered, both literally and metaphorically.

Mirrors also play tricks in the work of Belgian Surrealist René Magritte. In 'Dangerous Liaisons', 1926, a naked woman holds a mirror towards the viewer showing an image of her from the rear. In the better known and more frequently reproduced, 'Not to be Reproduced', 1937, a man looks into a mirror which shows the back of his head rather than his face.

And then, of course, there's Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871. The book begins with Alice using a wall-hung mirror as a portal into another world and the entire story is a thematic mirror image of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).


Windows

In 'The Open Window', one of Saki's finest and best known short stories, a young woman uses the window of the title in conjunction with some fine nonverbal theatre to create an amusing, clever and cruel double-deception.

Andrew Sinclair's Gog, 1967, is a multi-layered investigation of English identity, politics and culture, through gothic fairy tale, Norse mythology, Arthurian legend and bawdy contemporary satire. In a pivotal scene the title character experiences a mythic vision while gazing at the Five Sisters window in York Minster.

There's no stained glass in Ambrose Bierce's 'The Boarded Window', just a portal occluded and a ghastly revelation inspired by the work of Poe.

Perhaps the best know window in fiction is the one 'Jeff', played by James Stewart, uses to watch his neighbours in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), based on a Cornell Woolrich short story. The injured Jeff, recuperating in a wheelchair, starts to see the neighbouring apartment block as a sort of Cornell box assemblage, stuffed with living people rather than inanimate objects. Jeff's voyeurism results in him witnessing a killing and, eventually, his open window is transformed from vantage point to a potential means of murder.

Marc Chagall, the twentieth century Russian artist who melded Symbolism, Cubism and Fauvism – with a nod to Surrealism – created spectacular stained glass windows in Metz, Jerusalem and Chicago. But 'Peace', a visual symphony in blue, his window commemorating the life of Dag Hammarskjöld, is perhaps his finest and most emotionally resonant creation.


Walls

One of H.G. Well's most strange and memorable stories is 'The Door in the Wall', a tale of longing for a lost paradise. In a tale with elements in common with M. John Harrison's 'Egnaro', high flying politician called Lionel Wallace recalls a childhood experience of passing beyond the wall of the title into a subtly beautiful, peaceful and innocent otherworld. Drawn back to grey reality by the pull of his own world, Wallace yearns for a return to his enchanted garden. A way back may be possible, in spite of the weight of his ambition and sense of duty, but at a terrible cost. Wells creates a powerful allegory of the delicate balance between hedonism and responsibility and the testing tightrope walk we make between the worldly and the spiritual. It would take a heart of stone not to be affected by Wallace's quest to regain a paradise occluded by the walls of urban life.

In Marcel Aymé's 'The Man Who Walked through Walls', the behaviour of Monsieur Dutilleul's bullying boss drives him to use his neglected gift for what might be termed extra-mural activity. Dutilleul turns to crime in this anarchic and witty story written during the Nazi occupation of Paris. There's a statue of Aymé, in the role of Monsieur Dutilleul, in Montmartre.

One of the most terrifying walls in fiction is the one built by Montresor in Edgar Allan Poe's short story 'The Cask of Amontillado'. It is Carnival in Rome, and Montresor promises his enemy and fellow nobleman Fortunato the taste of a rare Amontillado. Not to be fobbed off with a mere Medoc, Fortunato is lured into the depths of the catacombs, gets drunk and is shackled by Montresor in a niche in the stones. Montresor methodically lays layer after layer of stone and entombs the still-living Fortunato: "Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For half a century no-one has disturbed them. In pace requiescat."

If you type "The Wall" into a search engine you won't get the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China. You're more likely to come across a critique of Pink Floyd's eleventh studio album. The wall of the title is Roger Waters' steamroller of a metaphor for alienation, abandonment, isolation and the self-limiting worldview so many of us impose on ourselves in collusion with various forms of authority – family, school, government...


Paraxis 04

We were delighted with the response to our call for stories involving mirrors, windows and walls. We were treated to wit, fear, sex, revulsion, obsession and luxuriant body hair. What more could we have asked for? Apart from six powerful and absorbing tales by developing and established writers.

Stuart Snelson's 'Defacement' is a relentless and deeply unsettling reflection (forgive the pun) on mirrors, creative distortion and dangerous obsession. Snelson's is a fresh and compelling voice, and we think you'll relish his expedition into the claustrophobic world of the imperfect reflection.

'Saving Face', by Emma Seaman is a tale of the possibilities of escape. There are constraining walls, illuminating windows and mirrors that offer revelation and threat. It's an affecting and emotionally charged piece with a strong sense of atmosphere, feeling and location.

There are collisions of meaning in Dan Powell's 'Looking Out of Broken Windows' – metaphorical meets literal, structural damage converges with emotional fallout and a hirsute glazier offers crass comments and elliptical wisdom by turns. It's a witty and sharply observed story. And you won't forget the glazier Mike Zappa's dense beard, sharp teeth and a rusty Transit in a hurry.

There's another hirsute man in Emily Cleaver's story, but he's a very different fictional presence to Mike Zappa. The inhibited Min, troubled by her boyfriend's response to her mother, and overwhelmed by her mother's history of barely-contained sensuality, peers through the window of 'The House in the Woods' and experiences a vividly rendered and wonderfully ambiguous epiphany.

Windows offer views of a threatening world and walls heighten a sense of separation and alienation in 'Seclusion,' by Booker shortlisted author Alison Moore. Jane has left home and worries about her mother's deteriorating mental state, but elderly Maureen proves capable of planning a ruthless and outrageous act that might invest her life with meaning, perhaps at some cost to herself and others. Compassionate, provocative and lyrical.

Walls aren't a foregrounded element in Lorrie Hartshorn's 'The Rat-catcher', but they do play a significant role as symbolic parentheses. The story follows in the footsteps of Browning, Goethe and the brothers Grimm with its reimagining of Rattenfänger von Hameln. There is, of course, no shortage of riffs on the pied piper theme in film, radio and print, but we think you’ll be compelled and absorbed by the subtlety and confidence of Hartshorn’s in this urban retelling of a disturbing and perennially popular tale.

Andy Hedgecock, Carys Bray and Claire Massey
January 2013




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