Fortean Author Claims "Picnic at Hanging Rock" Was Based on a Psychic Vision of Its Own Manuscript's Editing Process
I wasn’t planning to write an original blog post today, but in the Daily Grail news feed I came across a bizarre claim in an article about the classic Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) that is worth discussing. The film, for those who haven’t seen either it or the recent Australian TV adaptation released in the U.S. by Amazon Prime, revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a number of school girls in the early 1900s while out on a school trip to a rock formation in the woods. Because of the spare, poetic, but plausible depiction of the events in the film, which focus on the guilt and sadness of the survivors, many people wrongly believe that the completely fictional story was based on a real-life event.
Fortean writer Eric Wargo published an article in The Night Shirt analyzing the history of the film, particularly the development of the novel on which it was based. This novel, by Joan Lindsay, underwent some radical changes as it moved through the editing process. The novel and the movie have an ambiguous, haunting quality because the girls’ disappearance is never explained. There are a few hints that something supernatural happened, but nothing is confirmed, and it is that sense of unresolved mystery that gives the story its emotional staying power. But it wasn’t how Lindsay wanted to end the book. Originally, she had a final chapter of twelve pages that “explained” the mystery in fantastical terms, but the publisher asked her to cut it to improve the novel. The excised chapter saw print in 1987, after Lindsay’s death, as “The Secret of Hanging Rock,” and it told how the girls threw their corsets into the air only to see them float in midair. Then a hole in space-time ripped open, the girls’ teacher turned into a crab-monster, and the rock formation opened up to swallow them all. It was, to be blunt, completely at odds with the rest of the novel in both tone and theme. It was, however, reflective of Lindsay’s personal belief that time was an illusion and that time functioned unusually around her, to the point that clocks would stop when brought near her.
Wargo’s discussion is thoughtful and informative for about two-thirds of the article, until he gets down to brass tacks, which is to say, gets down to promoting his new book Time Loops. You see, he believes—bizarrely—that Joan Lindsay’s novel was indeed based on a true story, but one that hadn’t happened yet. Lindsay wrote the book in one week in 1966 as a result of emotional and powerful dream she had. Wargo thinks she channeled the story from the future through psychic dreams about the cutting of her last chapter from the final novel. Read it and weep:
Consider: Picnic at Hanging Rock stages a traumatic disappearance—a group of schoolgirls go on a picnic and come back minus three, and minus one math teacher—and then describes the ripple effects of that disappearance. While there was no actual disappearance of schoolgirls at Hanging Rock either around the turn of the century or in the 19-teens when Lindsay attended Clyde School, there was a traumatic disappearance in Lindsay’s near future when she wrote her manuscript: none other than the cutting of her final chapter, with its beauty and strangeness and its mathematical-physical musings.
He then compares this to Freudian theories about the fear of castration, which really ought to have disappeared from literary theory when Freud’s fraud came to light decades ago.
But no matter. What interests me is the way that Wargo has basically adopted Helena Blavatsky’s expedient excuse for why Theosophy resembled science fiction. Blavatsky claimed, with astonishing audacity, that science fiction writers received their inspiration from the spirit realm: “Our best modern novelists, who are neither Theosophists nor Spiritualists, begin to have, nevertheless, very psychological and suggestively Occult dreams […] [T]he clever novelist seems to repeat the history of all the now degraded and down-fallen races of humanity.” Wargo imagines the dreams pulling from the future rather than the deep past, but otherwise, the idea is the same.
It’s also stupid in a postmodern way when Wargo imagines that future trauma ricochets back in time and that somehow the novel’s own editing process triggered its creation in the past. This contrasts with Lindsay’s own claim that her dreams were actually about the plot of the novel, not her future editorial conferences. Wargo seems to feel that Lindsay spent years traumatized by the removal of that chapter, but she couldn’t have been that upset. She sprinkled parts of it into the rest of the novel as little Gothic nuggets, and she later agreed that the editing made for a stronger and more commercial book.
Wargo believes, against all evidence, that our society is opposed to the paranormal and therefore could not abide a novel about the supernatural. “The fate of Joan Lindsay’s Chapter 18 is the fate of the paranormal itself in our culture: to be excised, ‘cut,’ from the rest of life in order for everything to add up and not challenge our conventional views of time and causation,” he wrote. Even in the 1960s, there was plenty of Gothic literature and supernatural literature and science fiction. He calls this “low” fiction and that the supernatural was cut from Hanging Rock to make it acceptable to the literary genre, but what then is he really saying? It’s not that the supernatural has to be “cut” from life but that the publisher gave the author a choice of genres, and she agreed to adhere to the conventions of the one she wanted to publish in. A different choice would have resulted in a weird and unsatisfactory science fiction novel rather than literary fiction. Wargo’s complaint, at heart, is that he wishes to claim Picnic at Hanging Rock for his preferred genre and is upset that it wasn’t done up to his taste. The rest is just a fancy cloud of fantasy designed to obscure this fact.
8/10/2018 10:38:57 am
It’s interesting to consider that nothing you write is original. It’s always some commentary on something you watch on tv or someone else’s writing.
8/10/2018 11:08:39 am
Yet commentary can be interesting in its own right, and can make original contributions to a field. See, for example, Mr. Colavito's book-length discussion of Lovecraft's influence on the ancient astronaut ideas.
8/10/2018 12:02:10 pm
Or my book on the Argonaut myth, or the dozens of blog posts and articles I've made on the historiography of medieval pyramid mythology, or my articles on the pop culture origins of the UFO abduction myth, etc. etc. People like to read the blog posts they like best and imagine they are everything I've done.
8/10/2018 11:16:53 am
Well... quite natural since its a commentary blog!
8/10/2018 03:06:17 pm
"It’s always some commentary on something you watch on tv or someone else’s writing."
8/10/2018 01:30:06 pm
My view is that there are "good" dreams and "bad" dreams, and many times dreams need to be interpreted. That's where it gets tricky, because I also believe that there are good and bad (occultic) intrepretations of dreams. Dreams, dream-visions and visions can be helpful or hurtful, in my view, depending on the source and the interpretation, if one is used. But, of course most dreams seem to be neutral and unimportant, spiritually speaking.
8/10/2018 07:38:59 pm
For once I unreservedly agree with you! I once dreamed that I was aboard a space ship talking to aliens who revealed that they were pilgrims coming to honour Nichiren. It may have been an insignificant dream, but I regard it as significant. Not as a sign that I had been abducted by aliens, but rather as evidence of my dis-ease over Nichiren's teachings. Of course, to you, all non-Christian religious leaders are probably Satanists, right?
8/10/2018 01:42:59 pm
I've read all of your blog posts.
8/10/2018 02:07:08 pm
8/10/2018 03:53:55 pm
"Archbishopric" is a funny word.
8/11/2018 12:00:31 pm
No doubt he brings his hard science with him.
8/10/2018 09:49:05 pm
"She wasn't given a chance to choose a genre, she was rescued from a terrible mistake."
8/10/2018 11:40:50 pm
....setting the stage for some hot girl-on-girl-on-girl action. That's the subtext.
8/11/2018 03:07:39 pm
Only for ignorant douchebags who don't consider women to be human beings and only consider them to exist for the sexual gratification of men. Perhaps you should reconsider whether or not you want to be considered an adult human being.
8/11/2018 04:01:05 pm
What does "douchebag" as an insult say about YOUR view of women? Joey, do you like movies about gladiators? Have you ever been in a plane cockpit before?
8/10/2018 01:53:18 pm
Cliff Green's screenplay adaptation of "Picnic At Hanging Rock" was excellent and between it, good acting and Peter Weir's brilliant but low keyed direction, made it, in my opinion, a superior version of the novel
8/10/2018 07:14:54 pm
Picnic at Hanging Rock is 115 minutes that you're never gonna get back
8/10/2018 11:30:02 pm
One man's trash is another man's BAFTA award winning film.
8/11/2018 06:37:55 am
The 1942 John Wayne film "Flying Tigers" is hundreds of times better than James Cameron's "Avatar"
8/11/2018 09:09:17 am
8/11/2018 03:17:37 pm
That is, apparently, the latest stab at him, and from what I can tell, it indulges in more than a bit of presentism--ie, judging the past with an assumption that the people of the time knew all the same things we do now. I honestly don't doubt that Freud had his flaws, and many of them were huge, it's just that the little I just scanned does not take into account that things like confirmation bias weren't even particularly KNOWN about at the time, so accusations that he "willfully blinded himself to it" are kind of specious.
8/11/2018 04:12:17 pm
"According to Dr. Sulloway, of Freud's six principal case histories, one involved a patient who fled therapy in disgust after only three months, two were not actually treated by him, and another involved no real therapy. Of the patients actually treated by Freud, only two involved purported cures, claims Sulloway. "Based on one of these patient's subsequent testimony, his 'cure' was a complete misrepresentation of the facts," he says."
8/11/2018 04:11:48 pm
The book/movie has been seized upon by some fans of the Missing 411 book series as a factual example of the type of disappearances that David Paulides has been selling for the last several years. Even when told that the book is fiction some will still insist that it just has to be based on something that actually happened in Australia.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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