From my review of THE INMATES by John Cowper Powys: HERE
10. The Zeit-Geist
“..and a middle-aged man in blue-and-white pyjamas waddled along the floor towards him, advancing on his haunches and his heels with his arms working like barge-poles, as if he were trying to imitate the motion of the circular man-woman of the Platonic symposium.”
Another remarkable chapter, and you really need to read this book to see exactly how remarkable. There is no way, I feel, that you can pre-imagine its remarkability. You may obtain a possible clue from the same author’s massive ‘The Glastonbury Romance’, but only a clue. This book is not so much mind-changing as maddening.
John returns to his room at night and speculates upon the four horizons of the view from his barred window as then factored into by the Rembrandt painting on the wall wherein its Jesus now looks like Mr. Lordy. This speculation leads to thoughts on how the world’s ‘normal people’ – as opposed to, say, the ‘inmates’ of Glint Hall – maintain their ‘mental balance’ by their (mainly unconscious) dependence on the points of the compass. There is now much ‘business’ with the knobs of his bed and the knob on one of his drawers, and the entropy of ‘inanimate’ objects, and ‘inanimate inmates’ – and I sense, later in this book, due to become ‘intimate’ or, as the above quote says, ‘imitated’! —
Well, all that is as nothing when compared to the entrance around the opening doorframe of a finger, a scene that is genuinely terrifying and reminds me of ‘The Beast with Five Fingers’ by W.F. Harvey – and this is related by John explicitly to the Michaelangelo finger, rather than to the finger mentioned earlier in the Leonardo da Vinci ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.
This finger (sorry about the spoiler!) turns out to belong to another patient who wants to have a chat* with John and who calls himself, during the night, it seems, if not during the day, The Marquis of the Fourth Dimension or Professor Zoom of the College of Doom…
“Hail, mender of mendicants !
Hail, furbisher of fetishes !
Hail, tailor of totems !
Hail, mortiser of mascots !”
*This reminds me of Mr Bannard in Aickman’s ‘The Hospice’ and the goings-on surrounding a benighted Lucas Maybury – and in fact we are here in ‘The Inmates’ given this passage: “They’re all right in the day. It’s in the night that the thoughts and dreams of the sleepers come out of their rooms and shuffle about, and shiver, and squeak and gibber.”