4 August 2022


Nina Antonia. Dancing with Salomé: Courting the Uncanny with Oscar Wilde & Friends. Trapart Books, 2021

The late nineteenth century in Western Europe and the USA was bristling with concepts that ran against the material aspect of bourgeois society. Religion was faced with Nonconformism, Spiritualism, mediumship, eastern-based philosophies and occult ritual societies such as the Golden Dawn. Socialism and Communism were spoken of more and more as both viable and desirable alternatives to Capitalism. 

Art followed suit as significant elements of the visual arts moved from the realist school of recording natural themes and depicted life interpreted through the artifice of humankind. The Impressionists and later schools took away both the monumental subjects of previous art, such as Classicism, or laced them with domestic and quotidian scenes, and the tightly-controlled brushwork was replaced with broader daubs of colour and points of paint. 

This would result in Cubism, the notorious movement where contemporary reality was just the support structure for a radically different visual language than had come before. Literature accompanied the visual departure from consensus reality by creating worlds within books that were seen as replacing that external reality. In the United Kingdom, those whose work has been classified as Decadent would touch upon, or indulge in, taboo subjects. The clearest example of this was the artist Aubrey Beardsley, whose monochrome pen-and-ink illustrations of naked characters displaying androgynous and exaggerated sexual characteristics (such as unfeasibly large phalluses) challenged the contemporary reader. 

Oscar Wilde was an Irish writer at a time when Ireland was ruled from London. His parents were Jane and Sir William Wilde. Jane was a poet and was a researcher of Irish folklore along with Sir William . Oscar was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. After touring the United States, lecturing on the Aesthetic movement, he settled in London, married Constance Lloyd and established himself as a wit, playwright and author. His notoriety began as he became involved with various younger men, especially Lord Alfred Douglas. This led to his suing the Marquess of Queensberry for libel, which backfired and consequently led to Oscar’s arrest for sodomy. Sentenced to hard labour for two years, he spent the end of his imprisonment in Reading. After his release, he embarked for France. He lived there until his death a scant few years later, in part due to his health being compromised whilst in prison.

Nina Antonia is a writer whose early career was in music journalism. She first caught the public eye with her acclaimed biography of the guitarist Johnny Thunders, *Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood*, who himself became known as a member of the band The New York Dolls. From there she wrote about other musicians, including The New York Dolls as a whole. Her direction changed somewhat in 2016 when her short story, South-West 13, was published in an anthology, Soliloquy for Pan. The next year, her novel, The Greenwood Faun, a continuation of Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams, solidified her change of direction. Mainly writing work concerning the Decadent era of late 19th-Century Britain, these pieces and books led towards the current book.

The current volume itself consists of essays linked together by their subject, Oscar Wilde, therefore there is an exhaustive examination of Wilde’s relationships and the influences that helped shape his life and writings. The strange curse of the Douglas family, which seemed to be reflected in the unconventional relationships into which they became entangled, somehow attached itself to Oscar via his affair with the notorious Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie. There was also the effect that seemed to follow from Wilde’s infamous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, where Oscar’s life seemed to take cues from his own novel.

This book looks not only at the strange influences around Wilde which led up to his being introduced to Bosie but also at the leading figures around which events revolved, leading to Wilde’s downfall. In order to do this, Nina Antonia has clearly researched the people involved and the fin-de-siècle milieu exhaustively. The same enthusiasm has gone into cataloguing the events which shaped Wilde’s life, from his folklore-obsessed Irish parents to the strangely prophetic The Picture of Dorian Gray. Mediums are consulted and even the  currently-ubiquitous Aleister Crowley muscles his way in! Antonia’s writing moves at a pace.

It is also clear and compelling. This is both an excellent introduction to the life, times and characters around Oscar Wilde and has information that even the well-informed Wilde follower would benefit from discovering.
  • Trevor Pyne

The book may be ordered from Amazon, using this link: Dancing With Salome

30 July 2022

Too Near the Sun?

Jindrich Polak (Director) Ikarie XB1 1963. Second Run : Blu Ray.

'Ikarie' translates into Icarus referencing the Greek legend of the man who flew too close to the sun only to have his wax wings melt. In the year 2163 the Ikarie space station leaves Earth to voyage to the Alpha Centauri solar system where the astronauts believe they will find intelligent life. The forty crew members (male and female) are communally engaged. They keep fit in the gym, play music, dance, listen to poetry, eat together, celebrate birthdays, argue, tease and conspire (A film highlight is the delightful dance scene with a ‘futuristic’ choreography combining 18th century court formality and nineteen sixties jive.)

18 July 2022


The Appointment. Leslie C. Vickers, director) 1981. Blu Ray, Flipside, Bfi. (July 2022)

Director Lindsey C. Vickers is fascinated by the power that inanimate objects have over us. In the engaging interview on this Blu Ray Vickers reveals his unease about who is really in control of your life. Maybe it’s your ticking watch - a mechanism where time, impervious to you, might actually control your actions. Or inside your car: a mechanism that could inexorably drive you to an unknown fate.

13 July 2022


Melvyn J Willin. Music and the Paranormal; an Encyclopedic Dictionary. McFarland, 2022.

Music probably developed in human culture via the paranormal, with its origins in religious rituals and as a way of entering alternate states of consciousness. From ritual chants and rhythmic drumming to tuneful hymns or Baroque masses, most religious observation has been accompanied by music.

9 July 2022


Kevin Randle. Understanding Roswell: The True Story of What Happened in Roswell in July 1947, Flying Saucer Disk Press, 2022. 

How do we understand what happened in the Summer of 1947? So many years ago, so many rumours and stories, so many questions. As someone who has investigated this case for decades, and who has observed or has been involved in every twist and turn of this tale, Randle is the perfect guide. 

26 June 2022


Matthew Hayes, Search for the Unknown, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022.

This makes a change from most UFO books as it explores the interaction between civilian UFO believers and government agencies. This is conducted by charting the history of Canada’s official UFO research and how different agencies dealt with questions from the public. 


21 June 2022


Luis R. González. An Alien in My Mailbox. Ediciones Coliseeo Sentosa, 2021.

Regular followers of Magonia Review will know that from time to time I draw their attention to new issues of postage stamps featuring subjects of interest to our readers. These have often been stamps depicting legends and folklore, or mythical creatures and cryptozoology. From responses I have received it is clear that there is quite a community of philatelists with Fortean interests. 

15 June 2022


Andrew Collins and Gregory L. Little. Origins of the Gods. Bear & Company, 2022.

Erich von Daniken’s foreword informs us that Collins and Little are ‘leading figures in the field of speculative science and explorative archaeology’ who expand upon the questions he posed in Chariots of the Gods back in 1968.

9 June 2022


Mention the name Karel Zeman to most UK film enthusiasts and you will be confronted with a puzzled look. It’s sad that outside of a small circle of cinéastes, critics and film-makers Zeman is an unknown entity. Yet for directors such as Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and animators Jan Svankmajer and Ray Harryhausen he’s been a great inspiration and a significant influence.

31 May 2022


Damon Knight. Charles Fort, Prophet of the Unexplained. Gollancz, 1970.

Whilst sorting out a bundle of old papers I came across this review in a letter which Peter Rogerson had sent to the Merseyside UFO Bulletin in 1970. Somehow it had been overlooked and misfiled. I make no apologies for publishing this review now, 52 years after its subject's original publication date - a record even for Magonia!