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Monday, 16 November 2009

Free public lecture by Marina Warner

On Tuesday 24th November, Marina Warner will give her inaugural lecture as Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London. If you can get there this is an opportunity not to be missed:
Professor Warner, an expert on fairy tales, will focus on the story of the magic carpet, its appearances in the Arabian Nights and its connection to airborne fantasies prior to the invention of flying machines.

“For as long as people have told stories, flight has been a magical, divine power conferred on fairy tale heroes and heroines,” explains Marina Warner, who is also a professor at the University of Essex, in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies.

“And many myths and tales tell of fantastic flying vehicles that enable such characters to take to the skies,” she says. “Most famous of all of these is the ‘magic carpet’; synonymously linked to the Arabian Nights and everything the stories promise – free-floating fantasy, exoticism, pleasure, and trouble-free travel,” she added.

This well-known symbol has a history and a context, and Professor Warner will explore how they are interwoven with modern ideas of narrative, fantasy, and consciousness.

All the details you'll need to attend are here.

And for those, like me, who wish they had a flying carpet so that they could get to London for the lecture, but unfortunately don't, here's an excerpt and link to a tale from the Arabian Nights which features a magic carpet;

The Prince called to the crier, and asked to see the tapestry, which seemed to him to be valued at an exorbitant price, not only for the size of it, but the meanness of the stuff; when he had examined it well, he told the crier that he could not comprehend how so small a piece of tapestry, and of so indifferent appearance, could be set at so high a price.

The crier, who took him for a merchant, replied: "If this price seems so extravagant to you, your amazement will be greater when I tell you I have orders to raise it to forty purses, and not to part with it under." "Certainly," answered Prince Houssain, "it must have something very extraordinary in it, which I know nothing of." "You have guessed it, sir," replied the crier, "and will own it when you come to know that whoever sits on this piece of tapestry may be transported in an instant wherever he desires to be, without being stopped by any obstacle."

From The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou (as retold by Andrew Lang in The Blue Fairy Book)

If the story seems familiar it might be because elements of it inspired Lotte Reiniger's 1926 feature-length silhouette film The Adventures of Prince Ahmed (this is a great link if you're interested in Reiniger's work).

And I couldn't resist linking to this 2007 article from New Scientist: Three ways to levitate a magic carpet. Perhaps one day a trip down to London on a magic carpet may be more than just a dream!

Addition to the post: a podcast of the lecture is now available here.

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