The Phantastic Phantasmagoria

Folklore in Literature
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Phantasmagoria doing his best scary face

You may be wondering who the strange creature is on the front page of this blog.  I first discovered him when I was little in a beautifully illustrated collection of stories and poems by English author, Lewis Carroll.

Lewis Carroll, of course, is most famous for writing the wonderfully nuts Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he was also a fine poet who wrote a number of poems for children.  Phantasmagoria and Other Poems was published in 1869 and was illustrated by American illustrator, AB Brown.

phantasmagoria

“Allow me to remark That ghosts has just as good a right, In every way to fear the light, As men to fear the dark.”

So, the creature?  He’s a small spook called Phantasmagoria from the poem of the same name.  Phantasmagoria has a cold and in sneezing, is overheard and discovered by the narrator. Over a number of verses, the spook explains to the narrator the elements involved in the job of haunting, the place of ghosts above other magical creatures in a house and the day-to-day rules of being a ghost.  He explains why ghosts usually groan to scare people, though he himself chooses the more ‘fashionable squeak’ when haunting his housemates. Phantasmagoria is a very likeable little ghost – not in the least scary, although he does try!

A phantasmagoria as featured in Tim Burton's 'Sleepy Hollow'

A phantasmagoria as featured in Tim Burton’s ‘Sleepy Hollow’

And what of the word?  Phantasmagoria?  A phantasmagoria is a magic lantern that is used to project images of spooky things such as skeletons and witches around a room.  These were used in theatre productions in the 1700s when gothic tales were all the rage.  People back then loved horror and fantasy, with many plays, books and art featuring scary subjects.  A phantasmagoria would have been used to project the image of a ghost onto a wall as part of a play, hence the naming of the little ghost in the poem.  But is he a real phantom, or is he an illusion created by a phantasmagoria?  That is up to you and your imagination.

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