Page Seventeen III: Dream Warriors

In this rendering I have followed the accepted order first worked out by Furnivall (1868) and later confirmed by Skeat (1894). It makes a reasonably continuous and consistent narrative of a pilgrimage that seems to have occupied five days (16 to 20 April) and that led to the outskirts of Canterbury. At that point Chaucer withdrew from his task with an apology for whatever might smack of sin in his work.

Carter shrugged. ‘I had but five minutes with the President.’ He watched a pelican fly in a lazy circle by the lake. ‘Being a magician is an odd thing. I’ve met presidents, kings, prime ministers, and a few despots. Most of them want to know how I do my tricks, or to show me a card trick they learned, as a child, and I have to smile and say, “Oh, how nice.” Still, it’s not a bad profession if you can get away from all the bickering among your peers about who created what illusion.’

One problem stood out as the most challenging. The transplantation procedure involved stereotaxic surgery–that is, the use of a calibrated metal frame attached rigidly to the patient’s skull. By mounting the injection needle on the frame at a specified location and angle, it could be driven into the brain a predetermined distance and the surgeon would know that the tip was in the desired target, the striatum. Iacono was familiar with the techniques of stereotaxic surgery, but such surgery couldn’t be carried out at the Zhengzhou hospital–they simply didn’t have the facilities.

This task would have been hopeless to anybody else in the world, but Frenchie always managed to put a meal on the table. With food he was a true magician. Given a couple of short ribs, a wilting cabbage, a handful of soup greens, a bag of chestnuts and a pinch of spices, he could conjure up miracles. God, how fabulous the tenement smelled when Frenchie, chopping and ladling, sniffing and stirring and tasting, and forever smiling and humming to himself, got the kitchen up to full steam!

The remarkable coincidence is that of all other magicians it should be Pepper’s name that presents itself in this context. Had the illusion with which he made his name not been presented to the public until 1872 there would have been reason for supposing that Pepper himself had been inspired by Through the Looking-Glass. As it is, to know that the illusion involved the mingling of live action with what amounted to mirror reflected forms it is difficult to see how Pepper could have sent Carroll back to Hetton Lawn the following day without the framework for what would prove to be his most ingenious creation. But whether on that day Carroll saw Professor Pepper, the authentic Herr Dobler, or an impostor, he must have been familiar with Pepper’s phenomenon. As we have seen, he was a regular visitor to the Royal Polytechnic where eventually, after pepper had moved his own spectacle to the Egyptian Hall, another Carrollian haunt, the first dramatic presentation of ‘Alice’ tableaux using ‘dissolving views’ and dumb show took place in April, 1876.

In the darkness he would turn his eyes, for instance, from Craggmire, the acrobat, who crossing his apartment upon his hands might frequently be seen tossing from the sole of one foot to the sole of the other a small pig in a green nightdress – would turn his eyes from this diversion to the next mirror which might disclose the Poet, tearing at a loaf of bread with his small mouth, his long wedge of a head tilted at an angle, and flushed with the exertion, for he could not use both hands – one being engaged in writing; while his eyes (so completely out of focus that they looked as though they’d never get in again) were more spirit than anything corporeal.

There was much coming and going, much combing, and a lot of mirror work. The conversation was astonishing, shot with expletives. Thomas was amazed, didn’t know girls talked like this; he thought they were delicate things on plinths. One of them whistled, and another one farted; she was the only one to laugh, and said ‘Fuck that’ and spat.

Seven passages from seven page seventeen from seven books cluttering the place up.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, introduction by Nevill Coghill; Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold; When Science Goes Wrong: Twelve Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery by Simon LeVay; Harpo Speaks! The riotous autobiography of Harpo Marx by Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber; The Magic of Lewis Carroll edited by John Fisher; Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake; The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson.

3 Responses to “Page Seventeen III: Dream Warriors”

  1. “This task would have been hopeless to anybody else in the worLd”???

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

  3. Typo! Thanks, Chuck, fixing it now.

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