Harry Potter: the early Isherwood version

Back in the l930's, Christopher Isherwood published a fascinating quasi-memoir about his years at university called Lions and Shadows. Isherwood was a brilliant student, but — surprise, surprise — an outsider. With a fellow student named Chalmers he formed a sort of secret literary society opposed to what they called "the poshocracy." 

Isherwood and Chalmers together invented an imaginary magical world to dramatize their feelings about this schooling they partly loved and mostly hated. It's not the same as Harry Potter, by any means, but has some curious similarities — like Hogwarts, it's a sinister place, grand to look at, but steeped in dark magic, portents and threats, ruled by the grimmest of villains. They called it Mortmere

Isherwood and Chalmers for literally years talked of turning their dire creation into a novel, but never succeeded. Isherwood ultimately decided that was the point — "As long as Mortmere remained unwritten, its alternative possibilities were infinite."

But they were on to something, as J.K. Rowling has, in her own way, definitely proved. Even she, however, might be impressed by their "utterly fantastic" plans for a deluxe edition of the book: 

It was to be illustrated, we said, with real oil paintings, brasses, carvings in ivory or wood; fireworks would explode to emphasize important points in the narrative; a tiny grammophone sewn into the cover would accompany the descriptive passages with emotional airs; all the dialogue would be actually spoken; the different pages would smell appropriately, according to their subject-matter, of grave-clothes, manure, delicious food, burning hair, chloroform or expensive scent. All copies would be distributed free. Our friends would find attached to the last page, a pocket containing banknotes and jewels; our enemies, on reaching the end of the book, would be shot dead by a revolver concealed in the binding. 

Now there's a book I want to read. I think. 

Comment (1) Add yours ↓
  1. zhellarie

    I so love everything about Harry Potter! Thank you for this post.

    May 10, 2012 Reply

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