ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe

prose fiction:

short stories Colquhoun’s short prose pieces tend to be straightforward in both style and content. Each is based on a single idea that often derives from a dream. Their success is dependent upon the strength of that idea and the author’s ability to make unexpected connections and adopt unconventional perspectives. In Nature Note, (1942) for example, she draws an unlikely comparison between the flight patterns of butterflies and aircraft: Airplanes are like them; a couple flying together are nearly always of the same clan. Good weather stimulates all their creative impulses. On their love-flights they soar and plunge through the air, leaving a dual trace of white, spun from cloud, which forms magnificent simple arabesques in space: they execute at once a drawing, an evanescent sculpture and a dance. Her subject matter frequently concerns some aspect of her enduring preoccupations: the occult and the transgressive. Some illustrations will make this clear. The Schooner Hesperus, (1963) based, as usual, on a dream, deals with a descent into a grotto that is an exact replica of the surface world. Visitors to this secret place are subtly but irreversibly altered, just as the initiates into an occult order are changed by their experiences: When we turned to regain the surface of the earth, the father told me with burning eyes that I should never be the same again; and I knew that I too must now bear about me the glow- worm lustre which I saw raying forth from his daughter and himself. A dream also gave rise to The Mars Reactor, (unpublished) in which scientists create a race of monsters, ‘50ft tall homunculi’ with the potential to turn against their makers. Colquhoun observes that as these creatures have souls, human kind cannot escape them even after death. Warden of the House of Quiet is set within a religious order where each Brother and Sister took a man’s name and a woman’s, to symbolise the perfection of the hermaphrodite. Images of Joy is a transgressive text, containing a voyeuristic description of a peasant defecating, and the beauty of the product. (1) The Goat without Horns (1955) features a heroine who wishes to join an all male ‘in-crowd’. As an initiation ritual, they engage in a little cannibalism using body parts provided by a medical student. The heroine collects her morsel: I tried to swallow, and part of the fleshy tubing did slide some way down my throat, but would go no further. Although Colquhoun describes the fleshy tubing upon which she gagged as ‘unidentifiable', most people will have a shrewd idea about its identity. Very few of the texts have an identifiable basis in the quotidian world, as opposed to the dreamt world. One example that does is the unpublished By Echo Unanswered. The protagonist, who hired a boy to throw stones at the nightingales, is based on the Scottish archaeologist Duncan MacKenzie, who worked with Arthur Evans at the Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete for over 30 years. Colquhoun must have heard the anecdote from Humfry Payne (see biography section) who had ceased excavating in Crete by the time he met Colquhoun (2).. notes 1. Typescripts of these two unpublished texts are at TGA 929/2/1/38. 2. The story is repeated by Payne’s widow, Dilys Powell in her book about Payne “The Traveller’s Journey is Done”, 1943, p. 34.
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