Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sun

I had a strange dream last night in which I received an unexpected parcel from the postman. It turned out to be a titanium wrist-watch, a very expensive one, but it was in pieces and I had to assemble it myself. There was a receipt for £275 in with it, and I could not remember having ordered any such thing. Later, it seemed that by buying this watch I had become a member of some secret society like the Freemasons. One of the society’s leading lights told me and some others to just remember to say the magic words and we could have anything we wanted. The words were: UNO MONICO ERNO SUB. Sounds like Latin but of course they are nonsense.

But this interest in the strange and fantastic that surfaces sometimes in my dreams has a long and distinguished ancestry. I still have the first ‘proper’ book I ever read, which was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I recall absolutely clearly how all of a sudden I was able to read long and quite involved sentences for the very first time. I seemed to be right there with Captain Nemo and his men as they explored underwater forests and battled with giant squid and sharks. No other book has ever felt so alive for me, where I could forget the real world and completely immerse myself in the story.

In cinema, The Time Machine had a similar influence, and before that The First Men in the Moon and Master of the World were great favourites.

I’ve tried to recapture the same feeling of total immersion ever since, without success. I got pretty close with Balzac’s Human Comedy novels when I was in my late teens. The closest approximation now is the music of Wagner. Perhaps this is a symptom of growing up, and a positive progression. Fantasy books and films were in a sense second-hand impressions, at several removes and filtered through the imagination. Profound music like The Ring, in the words of Roger Scruton (The Ring of Truth), is a direct expression of the Thing in Itself. So perhaps I’m getting real at last, and have put away childish things. Not before time, some may say.



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