Inspirations – Russian Fairytales, illustrations and London Bridge

Two stories came from the same picture, which I have been completely unable to trace. I think it is from an edition of The Snow Queen, and the illustrator might have been Kay Neilsen or Edmund Dulac or possibly Arthur Rackham, but as I’ve been unable to track it down I can’t confirm; maybe, like the rest of the story, I dreamt it.

The Bone Box (Mosaic of Air) definitely owes something to Kay Neilsen, whose illustration of the North Wind for East of the Sun, West of the Moon (a book I haven’t read!) influenced the design of the story and the language too. I had a reproduction of this picture on my pin board for about eight years. Neilsen’s North Wind is a solid, rather Art Deco god. This lent simplicity to the language I used, while my heroine, Adamanta, got her stubbornness from the frowning wind, and her good sense from the girl in the lost picture, in her voluminous coat. If this was a real fairytale its origins would be in Siberia, despite the lack of snow.

Another girl in an oversized coat features in All Hallows, (Tales Told Before Cockcrow) where she embodies my objections to TS Eliot’s claim that London Bridge is swarming with ghosts – ghosts don’t go anywhere, I remember thinking, and started wondering about the everyday ghosts, the homeless, with nowhere to go, and I imagined this ghost rooted to the spot, in all the surging humanity that is London and the more I thought about her the further back in time she went. This could have been really long, but I reused some scenes for the beginning of another novel, and this remains what it started as: concerned with what it is that keeps a ghost rooted to a place through time and how they might be set free by the right intervention.

2 thoughts on “Inspirations – Russian Fairytales, illustrations and London Bridge

  1. It may be worth quoting the actual lines from The Waste Land in which TS Eliot refers to London Bridge:

    “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
    I had not thought death had undone so many.
    Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
    And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.”

    There is no specific reference to “ghosts”; indeed the “death” which has “undone so many” in this rush-hour crowd is generally interpreted as a spiritual, rather than a literal, death. There is a reference to Danté in the passage, but the lost souls in the Inferno are not generally regarded as “ghosts”.

    Can it really be said therefore that Eliot depicts London Bridge as “swarming with ghosts”?

    • Delighted to be corrected, however in this instance meaning is in the eye of the reader. The image I got from the poem was of centuries of dead walking over the bridge, which got me thinking, and ended up in a story about a ghost who is as old as the first bridge over the Thames, tied to the spot but the manner of her death. This is what reading and writing is all about for me – finding something different from someone else in the same moment, image, thought.

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