Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Alan Garner on TV: The Owl Service, Red Shift and The Keeper

Red Shift - Tom and Jan on the heath

The power or spirit of place is always central to Alan Garner’s novels and his television work. This power is enduring and remains on some level untouched by the transformations of time and human inhabitation. In Red Shift, Rudheath, Mow Cop and Bartholmey church are the loci of events in all three time periods. They each exert their own particular atmosphere, and seem to provide the natural stages upon which certain acts in eternally recurrent dramas are acted out. Rudheath is the cursed heath, the lifeless interzone through which the motorway ploughs in Tom and Jan’s time. In the civil war episode, Madge calls it ‘a terrible place’ as she flees in the night through its low-lying scrub of trees and bushes with her wounded husband Thomas and the renegade Thomas Venables, who has both betrayed and saved them. The blasted plain is a symbolic landscape betokening a psychological state of despair and hopelessness. It’s most famous literary use is in Shakespeare’s King Lear, which is alluded to in Tom’s comment in the book, when they are in Bartholmey Church, ‘Tom’s a cold’. This is a line repeated several times by Edgar, the beleaguered son of the Earl of Gloucester, who has donned the disguise of Tom, a wretched madman (a variant of the traditional character Tom o’Bedlam). Lear and his loyal fool meet him in a hovel as they wander across a heath. Tom in Red Shift is clearly and self-consciously (and perhaps even a little self-pityingly) casting himself in this role.

The Owl Service - Gwyn by the mountain stream
The high promontory of Mow Cop and Bartholmey Church tower mirror mirror each other across time, both sacred spaces and lookout points. They are sanctuaries which can offer the platform for a more expansive vision, but can also become traps if the sanctity of the place is defiled. Holy sites and cursed ground can be co-existant, the divisions between states a matter of spiritual affinity or tribal affinity, or some more metaphysical distinction. In The Keeper, the cottage is a cursed place from the perspective of Sally and Peter and the local populace, as haunted houses tend to be by definition. But the land beneath is sacred. The pervading sense of wrongness derives from its violation through human incursion and the presumption of control over the surrounding land signified by the building of a gamekeeper’s cottage. In The Owl Service, the river, the hill with its crowning copse, the mountain and the whole enfolding valley itself are all imbued with a particular power, humming with inherent history and myth. Each landscape feature conveys a discrete episode in the overall story. When Gwyn climbs to top of the mountain, with the intention of crossing the ridge and walking straight on out of the imprisoning valley, thus abdicating his role in the drama, he is confronted by Huw, who seems to know everything which is happening on the land he claims as his own. He babbles on about the time when they stole the hogs from the neighbouring lord with the help of his (or Gwydion’s) magical trickery. He is relating another of the stories from the Math Son of Mathonwy branch of The Mabinogion, hinting at further tales attached to other landscapes. There is a geographical and narrative continuum which extends beyond the valley, which harbours just one chapter of the ongoing universal drama.

Paul Nash - Landscape of the Moon's Last Phase (1943/4)
The standing stones, copses of trees on hills and recurrent circle motifs in The Owl Service are all characteristics of the late paintings of Paul Nash, in which he imbues the landscape of the Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire with a symbolism which is both universal and intensely personal. That sense of connection to a landscape, of an interior affinity with its contours and features, can lead to a deeper awareness of hidden aspects of the self. The possibilities (and dangers) of such self-knowledge are represented in The Owl Service by the positioning of mirrors in the woodland surrounding the house. This also adds a touch of surrealism. The props of the domestic interior (and we’ve seen the prominent dressing table mirror in Alison’s room earlier) take their place along the borders of the wild exterior. This is the landscape of the waking dream. The semi-cultivated forest of the unconscious shallows interpenetrating with the conscious furnishings of the ‘civilised’ mind. The boundaries between the interior of the house, the realm of Nancy and Alison, and the exterior patrolled by Huw and Gwyn is not clearly defined. Whilst Huw and Nancy, by now fixed in their roles, keep to their zones (Huw looks extremely awkward when he has to make a brief incursion into the house, his beatific expression temporarily dropping from his face), Alison and Gwyn are still flexible enough to pass regularly back and forth through (Alison creeping out of her room at night). Alison pleads with Gwyn to take her even further outside of her territory, to lead her along the ancient trackways which wind their way up the mountainside. These are the paths which the local inhabitants trod when they went to cut peat mountain’s flank. She wants to share in the connection to the land which Huw and Gwyn share through their ancestry. These trackways are a record of old human patterns of work and civilisation left on the land, lightly sketched traces scratched on the surface of the deeper temporal formations of geological and climatic forces. It is these forces which Gwyn refers to when they do make their ascent, leading Alison with the offhand order ‘let’s climb this metamorphic Welsh mountain’.

In The Keeper, the spirit of place is embodied (or disembodied). We are able to see through its eyes (or its point of view) without ever witnessing a visible manifestation. The spirit of place is the place. It’s also the place through time – what has been built upon as well as what has been built up. This spirit is a wounded and defensive entity, intent on guarding against further encroachment. It marks the increasing awareness of environmental degradation and the growth of the green movement, and is in tune with the sense of humanity’s disharmonious presence within the natural world. Sally and Peter fold out their own chairs and table in the cottage, and set out their scientific equipment all around. It is only when Sally finally sits on the chair in front of the fire, which we have witnessed the spirit of the place settling down into from the suggestive camera POV several times, that a connection is made. ‘All it wants is to be left alone’, she says. ‘The earth not broken’. The place has become cursed because of human presence. They are the ones who haunt it.

The Owl Service - red Alison with her coded snooker ball
There is a human rootedness in place which grows stronger over time (and so more difficult to break free from). In The Owl Service, Huw seems a part of the land, as much its guardian spirit as the invisible Keeper. He is generally rooted to the ground with rake or broom, which he leans on as a conductor of the earth’s power (wood being appropriate in this symbolic sense) as much as a contemplative and conversational prop. He rakes over the gravel of the drive as if to remove the traces of Alison’s father Clive and his wife Margaret’s invasive presence. His beaming face appears between the bracketing necks of a bronze statue of paired cranes, as if he too were a part of the fauna. After Gwyn has spent the night with Alison in the birdhouse in the woods, Huw, assured that the old tale is playing itself out once more, grows heady with his sense of his mythological nature, declaring himself to be the lord of the valley and that lives within it. Later, when Gwyn tries to escape the valley, Huw passes on his proprietorial position, along with the paralysing rootedness it brings with it (how long before he finds the equivalent of broom or rake?). ‘You are lord of the valley now’, he tells him. ‘The heir in blood’. The valley is likened to a reservoir of power, with the eternal triad her incarnated as Alison, Roger and Gwyn acting as conduits for its psychoactive narrative current. Stephen McKay, in his booklet notes to the Network dvd release, points out the colour symbolism running through the series. The three young characters are each represented by a colour corresponding to one of the wires in a plug (as they were coded in 1969). This is seen in the predominant colours of the clothes they wear. Alison dresses in red, Roger in green and Gwyn in black. There is also a scene in which they are all in the games room, rushing around the snooker table colliding their respective red, green and black balls against each other across the green baize surface.

In Red Shift, the atmosphere of place is associated with historical moments involving the clash of native and invading forces. There is a sense that the particularity of certain landscapes exerts a strong influence on human behaviour, and that they are stage sets waiting for certain acts in the dramas of the age to be performed. This is obviously the case in a military context, in which geography plays an important strategic role. Certain routes are ideal for an invading army, and certain elevated features offer advantageous positions from which to make a defensive stand. Rudheath is the place where the Roman legionary soldiers suffer ambush and attack, and are forced to retreat. In the book, on the other hand, it is the route they take on the way to launching a flash raid on the local ‘Cat’ village. It’s the direction from which the Royalist attack on Bartholmey comes. The heath is a transitory zone, steeped in an atmosphere of fear and uncertaintly. Tom lives adjacent to it in a static caravan with his parents, whilst Jan lives nearby in a bungalow with hers. Jan’s house is one of a series she has lived in as her parents move around the country according to the peripatetic needs of their work. Both are temporary and unstable homes, akin to the tents which the Romans set up.

Red Shift - John Fowler directs the church defences
Rudheath is an open and exposed place, both literally and symbolically, where lives are lived in a state of vulnerable uncertainty. Those who find themselves there are looking for the first route out. In contrast, Bartholmey Church and its surrounding village, set in its enfolding valley, is a place of retreat and entrenchment. Tom suggests that it could be ‘a Come to Britain poster’, a Batsford book cover rural idyll. The empty church becomes a sanctuary for Tom and Jan, a place apart from the judgemental scrutiny of his parents. It’s in the hushed surrounds of its nave that they both come to the realisation that Tom’s mother has been intercepting Jan’s letters and disposing of them. For them, it becomes a place where truth is revealed, an enclosed space of sacrosanct intimacy (despite Tom’s unstoppable flow of sardonically clever comments). In the Civil War era, John Fowler leads the villagers into the church in anticipation of the Royalists’ arrival. His attempts at an honest expression of his feelings towards Madge are firmly rebuffed, and we gain the impression that have become a frequent and unwelcome imposition. The church becomes a sanctuary besieged and eventually breached. John refuses to step forward when his name is called by the Royalist commander ‘for breach of the King’s peace’, even when his fellow villagers are killed one by one. It is his father who finally betrays him for the sake of the others (a futile gesture, as it turns out). The sacrosanct, sheltering space which has allowed Tom and Jan to find an element of truth and honesty is here defiled. John’s silence, which condemns his neighbours to death, echoes the silence which Tom’s mother tries to impose on Jan by stealing her letters. Her duplicity is uncovered by her son’s openness in questioning Jan, whereas John’s disavowal of responsibility is uncovered by the passive father. He is the local vicar and thus, in a sense, the guardian of the sacredness of the place.

Red Shift - Macey with the killing axe
Mow Cop, a holy site for the Celtic Cat tribe, also becomes a sacred space besieged and desacralised when the Roman soldiers make defensive camp there. They are safe while they remain there. Logan, their leader, who knows all about local customs and beliefs, sees the tribal heads carved from stone and realises that they have ‘touched sacred ground – blood can’t be shed on it’. In the Civil War period, too, the villagers are led out from the church before being lined up and slaughtered. We are witness to the bloody history running beneath the placid pastoral poster image of Britain. The historical episodes in Red Shift represent a progression from warring tribalism to settlement and towards an intimate and self-contained domesticity. This progression follows a geographical progression from Rudheath in the north (on the Cheshire Plain near Northwich), through Crewe (where Tom and Jan meet at the station), then east to Bartholmey and Mow Cop. Crewe was a town built around the railway and its manufacturing needs. As such, it can be considered an extension of Rudheath, in that it was inherently a transitory place, and one associated with the needs of a particular industry. We go from the open heathland where nothing substantial takes root and everything is vulnerable to external influence or assault, and then to Crewe, a no-place until its growth in the mid-nineteenth century to facilitate people getting elsewhere. Heading east, we come to the village in the valley, and from there to the cottage, the sacred cave and the tower on the hill. This progression is also reflected in the change in the status of the stone axe-head which is used by Macey in the Roman period and subsequently rediscovered in the Civil War and modern eras. It begins as a violent, bloodstained weapon, with which Macey fells tribal attackers left and right during one of his berserking frenzies. When he becomes close to the corn goddess, however, he rejects its violent use, telling her that the killing is ‘not from me’. When Thomas unearths it from the streambed in Bartholmey, it becomes a ‘thunderstone’, a talisman lodged in the fireplace to bring protection to hearth and home. Tom finds it still in place in the ruin of Thomas and Madge’s cottage atop Mow Cop. It then becomes the token of Tom and Jan’s intimacy, and of a continuity with a domesticised past, which offers the hope of a future in which they too are settled. When Tom sells it to a museum, he betrays their intimacy, and undermines that hope.

Holding history - unearthing the axe-head
The axe-head connects the characters from their separate times, bridging the divide of centuries. It also implicitly makes connections with inhabitants of more distant eras, since it is evidently an object which Macey has himself discovered and appropriated for his own use. Tom’s studies reveal that it was ‘a votive axe from the Beaker period. 3,500 years and it had survived’. Its smooth roundedness is designed for the firm grip of a hand, which gives it a symbolic weight and solidity, the conjunction of geology and history made tangibly real in the holding. This conjunction is given a further cosmic dimension as the camera circles its holed, sinusoidally curved oval form at the end of the story. It’s a shot which echoes the circling nebulae which we saw in the opening credits sequence, the axe a similarly illuminated form set within depths of surrounding darkness. Layers of human, historical, geological and cosmological time are embodied in this one simple yet symbolically complex piece of worked stone. It ends up encased beneath museum glass, an objectified artefact on display to all. But it can no longer be held or touched, and so the feeling of a direct physical connection to generations past is broken.

Artefacts charged with externally imposed meaning also feature in The Owl Service. Guilty relics associated with the betrayal and murder in the recurring Mabinogion tale are squirreled away in a rocky cleft on the top of the mountain. The arrowhead from Gronw’s spear and the brake blocks which Huw removed from Bertram’s motorbike, inadvertently leading to his death, lie side by side. Gwyn replaces the arrowhead with a cheap tourist gewgaw with an owl design, bought in the village but made in England. In a present in which the substance of local myth and ancestral history grows more attenuated, its form altered to sell as a romanticised and sanitised package to tourists and outside investors, the authentic is replaced with the manufactured facsimile. Deeper meaning has been drained away, the stories trivialised and their darker, more profound currents diverted.

The Keeper - the empty room
The cottage in The Keeper is also a place to which stories adhere. Peter’s grandmother had told him ‘tales’, and the suicide of the original gamekeeper, followed by his daughter’s decision to let the house fall into a natural state of ruin rather than profit from its sale, make it clear that there has been a foreboding atmosphere about it from the beginning, which has echoed down the years. There is a deeper substrata underlying the building which stretches beyond history and into geological expanses of time. The Keeper embodies and ancient, pre-human spirit of place. The generational stories attesting to its presence are reminiscent of the layered hauntings in Nigel Kneale’s 1972 TV play The Stone Tape, which are successively erased until only some formless, pre-historic abyss remains, along with whatever inhabited its dark depths. The cottage opens upon a similar abyss, and as in The Stone Tape, ends up becoming an ageless prison or tomb. In the final shot, Sally and Peter are no longer there, and their equipment has been cleared away. The chair in which Sally sat and the window which she looked out of and in which her face was reflected are both now bare. The fire burns in the grate once more, the chair still rooted in place in front of its warm glow. It’s as if they’d never existed, never crossed the threshold of the cottage’s front door. This has become a place of disappearance, of non-being. Sally’s reading book, Schindler’s Ark, which we glimpsed earlier, connects this metaphysical abyss with more particular historical disappearances and erasures.

The Owl Service - making owls in the doll's house
Garner’s characters often find themselves confined within enclosing spaces. It’s a confinement which is a reflection of psychological states as much as it is a delineation of literal limitations. In The Owl Service, the valley forms such space, albeit a fairly expansive one, with the house another set within it. House and valley are separate realms, as we’ve seen. Nancy seldom leaves the house, as if to do so would deprive her of some essential part of herself, which is inextricably connected to this dark interior. Huw, meanwhile, is rooted to the valley outside, only occasionally retreating to the shabby shed in the grounds where he sleeps. The two are often caught gazing at each other from their divided worlds, separated by panes of glass. Huw has become so accustomed to his limited horizons that he acknowledges nothing beyond the valley’s rim. Gwyn tries to remind him that ‘there’s a world outside’, but his own attempts at leaving the valley prove futile. Gwyn also attempts to point Alison towards farther, more expansive horizons when he finds her hunched up in the woodland hen coop. She has escaped the house and her bedroom sanctuary to retreat to this even more claustrophobic and constrained space. ‘You can’t spend your life in a doll’s house’, Gwyn tells her, with possible reference to Ibsen’s play about the frustrations arising from the domestic respectability expected of women of a certain class in late nineteenth century society. But the rather whiny and spoiled Alison shows little signs of having the individual will or strength of character to cast off the comfortable privileges which such a constrained life can afford. Roger is also to be found in the confined space of the basement, where he sets up his photographic developing studio. Hanging up the images he has taken through the ‘eye’ of the Stone of Gronw, he is able to ‘see’ further in this room with no windows than in the outside world of objective vision. This is an inner space, the confining white-washed walls of the basement those of his own skull. Clive, meanwhile, can generally be found polishing his car. This is the confined space he’d prefer to be inhabiting, mobile and heading away from this place. As his car would retreat down the drive, Huw would be raking over his traces behind him.

Red Shift - Tom in his headphone world
In Red Shift, Tom is marooned in the confined space of the family static caravan. This is not the forced proximity of the family holiday, however, but the permanent situation in which he must exist. The caravan is further subdivided, at convenient moments, into separate living spaces, everybody retreating into their own private cells. Tom retreats even further into his headphone space, blocking out the sound of his parents and their TV programmes. He goes so far inwards that he is in danger of losing contact with the world outside of his head altogether. We see the outside of Jan’s house (her parents’ bungalow) but never go inside. Her life is, to a certain extent, closed off to Tom. An essential element of mystery and separation remains. In the Roman period, the soldiers lie within their small tents upon the heath. These offer wholly inadequate protection when they are penetrated and slashed by the swords and spears of tribal attackers outside. Up on Mow Cop there is another enclosed, womblike space, in which the corn goddess is discovered. Macey and the tribal Celt enter through its narrow aperture to commune with her, the other soldiers blunder through to violate her. The church and its tower are the spaces into which people retreat in the Civil War period. All of these confining interiors are places in which to gain some necessary or protective distance from the world, to shut it out. But the world keeps forcing itself in.

The Keeper - Interstitial spirit
In The Keeper, the spirit of place whose perspective we share via the camera’s point of view crawls around the margins of the cottage’s central room, keeping to the crumbling and splintered interstices of the walls. It drifts about, looking out from the cold darkness behind the hearth. This spirit of the natural environment has been driven to the wainscot spaces within the larger confining space by human habitation, or civilisation, to take a broader outlook. If the cottage, like Roger’s basement, can be seen as analogous to the mind, an interior space, then this is the instinctive level of consciousness pushed to the borders by human intelligence. It represents the freedom of the pre-rational mind, before the development of self-awareness and the resultant separation from the surrounding world (the Fall, essentially); a dispersed consciousness free from the cage of rationality and the self.

The Owl Service - On top of the world
These confined spaces open up into wider universal perspectives, if only the characters are able to perceive them. In The Owl Service, Gwyn and Alison climb the mountain and rest against the Ravenstone outcropping at its peak. From here, they look out across the valley and to hills and mountains beyond, gaining a godlike view of their environment and the lives they’ve been leading within it, and a heady sense of new and unlimited possibilities. They temporarily rise above the restraints of inheritance and learned social assumptions. Alison’s desire to climb the old path, with all its associations with traditional manual labour, and to climb it with Gwyn as her guide indicates a desire on her part to rise above the limitations and expectations of her social and class status. Huw is also affected by his ascent to the mountaintop, the boundaries of his kingdom expanding to infinity as he proclaims ‘my land is the country of the summer stars’. The small, enclosed valley is suddenly one with the vast expanse of the cosmos.

Red Shift - cosmic perspectives in the local landscape
In Red Shift, too, events are seen within the compass of a cosmological scale. We move from the particular and the inwardly personal to the universal. Tom has a star chart on his wall in the caravan, beneath which he studies the Neolithic stone hand-axe which he has discovered with Jan on Mow Cop. The expanses of deep space and the layers of deep, geological time and human pre-history are all connected, each enfolding or unfolding within the other, and each encompassed by the human mind. Tom and Jan place themselves within the cosmological perspective, orienting themselves when separated in space by looking up at Delta Orionis in the belt of the Orion constellation. This is in fact a multiple star, with three stellar bodies orbiting each other, and thus also acts as a cosmological metaphor for the connection between Tom, Thomas and Macey across time. In looking at an object across such vast distances, Tom and Jan are also effectively looking back in time, the light which is focussed onto their retinas having taken many hundreds of years to reach them. ‘We’re looking at it as it was when the Roman’s were here’, Tom tells Jan. When they cycle out from Crewe towards Bartholmey, which will establish a further connection across time through the experience of the spirit of a particular place, we see the great white oval of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope. Its dish is tilted up to point at distances far beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and drink in the radiation emitted across the spectrum from all directions, connecting the Earth with the cosmos. The Jodrell Bank dish can also be seen in the documentary on Garner included on the Owl Service dvd, a grand big science construct in the rural landscape neighbouring the reconstructed medieval farmhouse where he lives. So these connections across time and space are ones which he makes in his own life, too.

The Keeper - weathering the storm
In The Keeper, Sally and Peter are subjected to a terrifying assault of banging noise reminiscent of The Haunting, as if something were trying to smash its way through a door or boundary wall to get to them on the other side. They are also cowed by a howling wind and what seems to be a crushing increase in the density of the local gravity, which forces them to the ground. They cling on to each other to prevent themselves being swept away into some netherworld. Their minds are forcibly opened to a dimension lying beneath the surface layer of human civilisation and its attendant boundaries built up by the rational mind. There is a deep series of substrata underlying the walls which humanity has built, beneath the very thin layer of history silted up on top.

The Owl Service - Bloduedd revealed
The opening up of space is accompanied by an opening up of time. In The Owl Service, the past is a part of the present. Again, it rises through like underlying, granitic substrata once the surrounding territory has been eroded away. This is directly represented by the disintegration of part of the wall in the games room, revealing the painting of Blodeuwedd beneath. This is actually a reproduction of one of the female figures from Boticelli’s Primavera, her eyes grown hollow and shadowed. Spring has entered her autumn. The use of this reproduction might have been due to time or budgetary restrictions, but it actually works quite well, linking the Mabinogion character to wider mythic traditions. Huw talks about the legend in the present tense. Indeed, his speech generally avoids the use of the past tense. He exists in a temporally transcendent state, the eternal present of mythic time. Hauntings and possessions, the stuff of supernatural fiction, are here a manifestation of the collapse of the temporal perspective inherent in ordinary human consciousness. Gwyn intuits this when he suggests that the re-emergence of ancient mythic archetypes is a temporal phenomenen - ‘not haunted, more like still happening’.

Oral history also keeps the past alive in the present. Huw’s telling of the legend makes it feel as if it is happening now. When such oral histories are written down, they are also fixed for future generations, and can be brought to life again in the minds of literate societies. Gwyn and Alison read the Mabinogion, and through it come to a better understanding of the present and their own part in the eternal story. Gwyn’s seemingly native knowledge of the valley is also a product of oral history and storytelling. He grew up in North Wales, but has learnt all about the place from his mother, who never really left in spirit, and knows it better then the landscape of his childhood.

Red Shift - Thomas looking out from the church tower
In Red Shift, the erosion of temporal boundaries is suggested by camera angles and editing. Film editing splices time within the same space. What is implied in the form and structure of the Red Shift film is also present in The Owl Service. Roger’s camera captures moments of frozen time, with the ‘eye’ in the Stone of Gronw forming a megalithic focal point, a locus of power which enables the collapse of temporal boundaries. In Red Shift, we see Thomas in the tower of Bartholmey Church in the Civil War period looking east to Mow Cop. We see Macey and the legion encamped there looking west, and then Tom looking out from the ridge of the outcropping. Thomas is like a fulcrum connecting these two distant eras together. The rubbled remains of his cottage, where he settled with Madge, are the ruins of time, implying a domestic life after they’d fled Bartholmey. It’s a life we never get to see, however. The shifts in time are brought about not by periods of quiet and contentment, but by moment of crisis, of personal and historical fracture.

Red Shift - the blooded axe
Blood and ancestry is another way through which different times are connected. Blood is used as a symbol in The Owl Service and Red Shift. In The Owl Service, Alison draws blood from Roger’s cheek soon after she has been ‘possessed’ by the mythic energy contained in the owl patterned plates. The three lines from her raked fingers are like the scratch of an owl’s razored claws. The blood on the axehead is also a mark of violence which connects Macey with Tom’s smashing of the caravan window, and his shedding of his own blood in anger. As mentioned before, the sacred space on Mow Cop is ground on which blood is not allowed to be spilled. The same goes for the church at Bartholmey. Rape and violation, which occurs in and around both sites, is a way in which the invader or outsider can impose or imprint themselves on the territory which they claim, both psychologically and genetically. So, the Royalist soldiers rape the village women whose husbands they have just killed outside the church, and the Roman soldiers rape the corn goddess in her holy cave. Logan, the legionary commander, makes things quite clear when he points to the goddess pregnant belly and says ‘that’s the legion in there’. This is more explicitly chilling in the novel, where they take her as a captive from the village they raid. In the television adaptation, she is already heavily pregnant when they find her in the cave. But the sense of a more insidious invasion, carried in the blood, is evident. At the end of Red Shift, Tom confronts Jan over her ‘betrayal’ of him. He has spied on her in London, where he intended to surprise her by meeting her at Euston rather than Crewe, and seen her with another man. Refusing her explanations, he attempts to claim her by having sex with her. It’s a scene which connects uncomfortably with the scenes of violation in the other eras which we witness. Jan makes it very clear that she feels she has been used as an object. ‘It would like to go now’, she says through clenched teeth.

Father figures - Macey and Logan
A certain ancestral connection between the characters in each time is also implied in their shared name, with its different variants: Tom, Thomas and Macey. Tom comes out with the old phrase ‘more know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows’ at the beginning of Red Shift. The Toms are in a sense aspects of the archetypal figure of the fool. The fool is not necessarily an idiot or jester, but can be seen as someone at the beginning of the journey through life, taking the first steps along the road. They have experienced little of the world, and have yet to accumulate any significant wisdom. They are, in fact, something of a blank slate. But their naivety and innocence can sometimes lead to insights which the more world-weary and cynical might miss. The three aspects of Tom are all attempting to set out into the world, to become themselves more fully. To do so, they have to gain some distance from the respective father (or mother) figures who have shaped their lives up to this point. Tom needs to get away from the moralising scrutiny of his mother and from his father’s weak attempts to assert his paternalistic authority. Thomas needs to get away from the baleful influence of John Fowler. And Macey needs to break free from Logan, his surrogate father. All three father figures have the aspect of military leaders to some extent or other. Logan is the legionary commander; John Fowler organises the defence of the church and is clearly the dominant voice in the village; and Tom calls his father the sergeant major, whether because he is in the army or just as a jocular mode of address is not made clear. In order to establish themselves in the world, to assert their individual, sovereign selves, the Toms must free themselves from this paternalistic authority.

To be concluded
PART ONE is here.


Anonymous said...

An excellent essay.

Anonymous said...

And excellent analysis.

Anonymous said...

An excellent analysis.