Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Visitor

I have thought of compiling some lists. In each case, the heading would be the title of a short story and the list would comprise the titles of the volumes in which that story is collected: almost reverse contents pages. This would become rather tedious, however. But it is confusing and frustrating to re-encounter story titles when browsing through collections. It makes the collections seem incoherent although each is supposed to have a unifying theme.

I had intended to make some analysis of All One Universe and, as part of this, to read "The Visitor" - which I have no memory of ever having read before. However, I have instead read this story in Homeward And Beyond (New York, 1976) because that volume is a standard paperback size, thus more portable, fitting into a trouser pocket as I walked through Lancaster.

The story was based on a dream and its viewpoint character has unusually coherent dreams, recounting one of them for the benefit of two other characters and, of course, the reader. Here is another parallel with Neil Gaiman's graphic fiction series, The Sandman. Indeed, in some respects, there is an even closer parallel with a short story in a collection of original prose stories by other authors based on Gaiman's character.

One of the two minor characters in "The Visitor" is a researcher testing "'...Dunne's theory that dreams can foretell the future.'" (p. 169)

There is a very select list of literary works that refer to Dunne's theory:

JW Dunne knew HG Wells, sharing interests in time and aircraft;
Dunne's An Experiment With Time refers to Wells' The Time Machine;
Wells' The Shape Of Things To Come refers to An Experiment With Time.

Thereafter, works based on An Experiment With Time include:

The Gap In The Curtain by John Buchan;
Time And The Conways by JB Priestley;
Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.

And works crucially referring to Dunne include:

"The Dark Tower" by CS Lewis;
"The Visitor" by Poul Anderson.

(Tom's Midnight Garden belongs to a very distinctive sub-sub-sub-genre: British juvenile historical fantasy time travel novels by women.)

Anderson discusses whether his story is fantasy because it deals with "psionics" (p. 166). I think that it is fantasy not for this reason but because it suggests survival after death. Anderson says that he found it hard to write and it is unlike anything else that I have read by him. Some of his short stories display the range of kinds of writing that he attempted. They cannot all appeal to a single taste and there are some that I prefer to others. This one can be difficult to read.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    I agree, the emotional impact from reading "The Visitor" can hit some readers quite hard. Two other examples being "Sister Planet" and "Terminal Quest." I couldn't bear to reread "Sister Planet" for years after the first time I read it, that was how hard the story hit me.


    1. Hi, Paul!

      I should have added to my previous note that I don't agree that it's fantasy to believe the soul or spirit survives the death of a man's physical body. That comes more unders philosophy and religious faith.


  2. But I think that ghosts in fiction are fantasy?

  3. Hi, Paul!

    Yes, in fiction ghosts are best classified as fantasy. But some of the best fantasies are ghost stories. One author who was a master of this brancy of fantasy was the late Russell Kirk. If you ever come across them, look at two collections of his ghost stories called THE PRINCESS OF ALL LANDS and WATCHERS AT THE STRAIT GATE. Really good stuff there!