Sunday, May 23, 2021

A Bit About “The Mezzotint”

Images of heaven. Or not.

Allusions to the work of British author M. R. James (1862-1936) figure into many of the books written by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland.

"The Mezzotint" is a short horror story included in James’s first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904). In the story, a man named Williams acquires a mezzotint which depicts a large English country house. At first, Williams is unimpressed by the picture until a friend says that there is a figure in the picture, which Williams did not see. Another colleague says that the figure looks somewhat gruesome. Williams later realizes that the image in the mezzotint is gradually changing. A cloaked figure slowly approaches the house in the picture, enters it, and leaves with a small child in its arms.

A mezzotint is a printmaking process using engraved copper or a steel plate on which the surface has been partially roughened, for shading, and partially scraped smooth, giving light areas.  Cool.

There do not appear to be any outright allusions in the Bellairs Corpus to images with figures moving about when no one is watching. The closest I can think of is the serpent statue Lewis and Rose Rita dare not turn their backs on in The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995) – though this creature is witnessed in real life and not a figure etched in copper or painted in oils.

Actually, now that I think of that, the concept does remind me of the scene in Roald Dahl's The Witches (1983), where a young girl named Solveg disappears and is later found “living” in an oil painting. No one sees her move, much like the figure in the mezzotint, but move and age she does.

1 comment:

Russ said...

I think the concept has spread though the genre quite a bit. I remember reading a story in "Stoneground Ghost Tales" by E. G Swain that told a similar tale. In his story it was a photo rather than a print. The title is "The Man with a Roller". If you have not read the book, I would recommend it. Swain was a friend of James and tried to write similar stories.