Sunday, 12 May 2013
200 Years of Forteana
1813: Birth of Richard Wagner. Many years later (1980 to be precise), Roy Thomas used Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen as the story arc for issues 294 to 300 of The Mighty Thor – as recounted in A Wagnerian Thor.
1816: The Year Without a Summer, when Byron wrote his apocalyptic poem Darkness and Mary Shelley started work on Frankenstein.
1817: Birth of Hargrave Jennings, who went on to become an enthusiastic proponent of Phallicism – A Victorian Theology of Everything (see also Phascinating Phacts).
1819: The British Museum purchases its first ichthyosaur fossil, from a 20-year-old girl named Mary Anning – who, if legend is to be believed, was a rather dim-witted child until she was struck by lightning (see On the Diverse Benefits of being Struck by Lightning).
1821: Premiere of Weber’s opera Der Freischütz – a “pact with the devil” story and a classic example of Fortean Opera.
1827: Death of William Blake – artist, poet, mystic... and A 19th Century Contactee?
1829: The satirical artist William Heath produces a print entitled March of the Intellect, depicting what appears to be An Intercontinental Rapid Transit System.
1832: Birth of Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll. His works for children (such as Alice in Wonderland) are still remembered today, while his books on mathematics are almost forgotten – see Sea Serpents, Logic and Lewis Carroll.
1844: The term Lisztomania is coined by the poet Heinrich Heine, to describe the hysterical behaviour of certain females in response to performances by Franz Liszt.
1847: The British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard explores the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, discovering among other things a huge wall carving depicting The Siege of Lachish – now on display in the British Museum (and the subject of an ebook by myself).
1848: The poet Tennyson, on a visit to Cornwall, sees King Arthur's Stone – which later inspires him to write Idylls of the King.
1856: Death of William Buckland: an early Fortean experimenter, who subjected a common piece of folklore—the idea of “toads trapped inside solid rock” —to practical test.
1861: Death of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, who was subsequently commemorated in the Albert Memorial... and The Frieze of Parnassus.
1871: The Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell proposes a “thought experiment” involving one of the few demonic entities acceptable to modern science: Maxwell’s Demon.
1872: The German astrophysicist Karl Zöllner is the first person to suggest that the universe we live in may be non-Euclidean – a major step towards Inventing the Fourth Dimension.
1874: Birth of Charles Fort, who besides giving his name to this blog is the subject of a minor subdivision of imaginative literature – Charles Fort in Fiction.
1885: H. Rider Haggard produces his most famous novel, King Solomon's Mines – which includes an interesting take on the subject of Travellers from the Stars.
1887: Abbé Saunière embarks on a number of extravagant renovations to the church at Rennes-le-Chateau... including The Devil of Rennes-le-Chateau.
1895: Publication of The End of Books – a short story written by Octave Uzanne and illustrated by Albert Robida, containing a surprisingly prescient vision of iPods and audiobooks.
Angels in Machines.
1906: Birth of John Dickson Carr, one of the best (and most Fortean) mystery novelists of the 20th century – as described in A Trip to the Witches' Sabbath and Simulacra in fiction.
1909: Publication of The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. With a century of hindsight, this can be read as a satire on social networking... and, with its firm insistence on “No Original Research”, a Wikipedia Prophecy.
1914: Socrates Scholfield of Providence, Rhode Island is granted U.S. patent 1,087,186 for a device to demonstrate the relationship between the Supreme Being and His Creation – The Double Helix of God.
1918: Publication of The Gate of Remembrance by Frederick Bligh Bond, revealing how his recent excavations at Glastonbury Abbey had been an exercise in Psychic archaeology.
1924: A British Air Ministry memorandum states that Germany is in possession of “an apparatus from which rays (or electric waves) can be projected to a height causing aeroplane engines to break down” – just one of many instances of Death Rays of the 1920s and 30s.
1926: Father Ronald A. Knox broadcasts an outrageously over-the-top comedy programme about rioting in London, which the press promptly hypes up into The First Radio Hoax.
1935: The May issue of Doc Savage magazine contains a painstakingly detailed description of a telephone answering machine, before such things even existed – an example of Futuristic gadgets of the 1930s.
1939: The first issue of a new pulp magazine, called Unknown, hits the stands in March. Complete in this issue is Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier: the first Fortean novel.
1942: An inscription bearing this date, in the cuneiform script of ancient Assyria, can be found in an underground mine-working in Wiltshire – The Bomb-Proof Museum.
1943: Accurately reported in an anonymous phone call on 25 May, but not actually occurring until 4 July – The Strange Death of General Sikorski.
1944: On 8 September, the first of more than a thousand V-2 rockets is launched against the city of London – as recounted in London versus the V-2 rockets (and also the subject of an ebook by myself).
1945: In December, five US Navy torpedo bombers go missing in the Bermuda Triangle, soon followed by a search aircraft looking for them. By August of the following year, paranormal explanations of The Mystery of Flight 19 are already being put forward.
1948: Time for another mystery – less well-known than the Bermuda Triangle, but arguably more intriguing – The Tamam Shud Mystery.
1950: Publication of Gerald Heard’s The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, the first non-fiction English-language book to deal with the subject... and one most people have never heard of. Read all about it in UFOs: the forgotten book.
1958: The second issue of Harvey Comics’ Race for the Moon contains a story by Jack Kirby entitled The Face on Mars ... thirty years before Mark Carlotto drew the world’s attention to that particular feature of the Martian landscape.
The portrait with a life of its own.
1961: Three weeks after Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbits the Earth in Vostok 1, American astronaut Alan Shepard is lobbed three hundred miles downrange from Florida on the end of a 1953-vintage short-range ballistic missile, in history’s most blatant example of a Hyperbolic Orbit (“hyperbolic” in the sense of “greatly exaggerated”).
1962: The British UFO Research Association (BUFORA) holds its first meeting in September – as remembered with nostalgia in September 2012, marking Fifty Years of British UFO Research.
1965: The British science fiction author John Brunner writes a glowing piece in New Worlds magazine, drawing attention to a then little-known author by the name of Philip K. Dick – as recorded in Philip K. Dick - two early British viewpoints (see also John Brunner: a British Philip K. Dick?).
1968: The September/October issue of Flying Saucer Review contains, among other things, a circuit diagram for an electronic UFO detector that anyone who wants to can build for themselves.
1973: Uri Geller gives such a persuasive performance on the Dimbleby Talk-In that Professor John Taylor, brought in as a skeptical scientist, becomes a paranormal believer right there in front of the TV cameras. I chose this as the first of my five Fortean Events that Shook the World.
1981: Stephen Hawking and other prominent scientists convene at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's Summer Residence, for a study week on Cosmology and Fundamental Physics organized by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences – as described in Vatican Cosmology.
1992: Nick Pope, newly arrived at the UFO Desk in MOD Main Building, is interviewed by the MOD’s house journal (this was before anyone in the UFO community had heard his name). I kept the clipping for a few years, then threw it away – which is a pity, because it would probably be worth millions today (or maybe not). See Nick Pope at the MOD for this and more Popean anecdotes.
1997: At a meeting with a group of physicists and cosmologists, the Dalai Lama declares himself to be open-minded on the subject of alien encounters – as recounted in The Dalai Lama, quantum physics and UFOs.
2001: The European Space Agency sets up the ITSF (Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction) database – Novel space technologies from such great thinkers as Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.
2005: The original (and much missed) Hierophant made his last appearance in the January issue of Fortean Times. For the low-down on the over-educated, bad-tempered, humourless impostor who tried to take his place, see The Hierophant Mystery.
2006: The bizarre Da Vinci Code trial, presided over by a judge who clearly knew more about the subject matter of Dan Brown’s novel than the author himself did (and who embedded a code of his own in his final judgment) was the fifth and last of my Fortean Events that Shook the World.
2011: At the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, the six-man crew of the MARS-500 mission enters orbit around the red planet after eight months in space... an echo in the real-world of the recurring sci-fi theme of Phony space missions.
2013: February sees two major announcements about DNA results – one of which is widely applauded while the other... isn’t. It’s all explained in Bigfoot, Richard III and Outsider Science.