“Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?”
I bet you think I’m going to tackle the beautiful monster problem — the inside (horror) with an outside yummy, candy coating of attractive persona. But not today — today I’m focused on the mirror itself.
I recently read “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” — Susanna Clarke’s massive, 1,000-plus page novel set in a fantasy, alternative, magic-infused version of 19th century England. The magicians of the title repeatedly use mirrors and reflections as passageways and windows into distant places and alternative faerie lands.
Late in the novel, a mirror appears in the temporary Italian lodgings of a respectable British family. It is during a wild and wicked storm. The aunt is startled by the woman who suddenly appears in the darkened drawing room. That is, until she realizes it is her own reflection. It is a particularly telling scene in the book as our relationship with our reflections is a weird bit of magic on its own. Stop here if you’ve never had that experience, never looked in the mirror and wondered — Is that really me?
It’s a disturbing and very human reaction to our reflection. Narcissus fell hopelessly in love with his own reflected image, but most of us 21st century humans are more likely to use the mirror to catalog our flaws. But getting back to magic and magical mirrors, the idea of a mirror as a portal to Alice’s “Wonderland” or to a backwards world where right is left and left is right and a new set of rules apply, is a very human kind of magic.
My grandmother had two large mirrors in her apartment. I have one of them. It’s a big rectangle in a simple wooden frame. I have no idea what happened to the other mirror. It had an ornate frame and inside the frame, on the glass, there were fanciful trees, castles and roads. By the time I was an adolescent I thought it was the ugliest thing on earth, and I’m sure it would look completely out of place in my home right now…. BUT… when I was a child I thought it was a magical object. I stared at the trees in search of a lonely horseback rider heading toward the castle on a hill. I wanted to go to that land, to slide into that mirror and travel through a fairytale world.
Maybe it’s time for me to explore my history with magical mirrors?