Mirror, Mirror

“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?


  1. The camera is a mirror of sorts. I am reminded of the cliched thoughts of the old Native American belief of pictures stealing the soul. Unlike a mirror the picture holds the image for ever, trapping the victem in its frozen world.

    • Candy

      Some of those early (mid 19th century) photos really did seem to capture the soul. Sitters had to remains still for an extended period of time. I’ve just gone back (for the third time) to see a small exhibit of photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian photographer, and her work is truly soul-stealing! Around that time, there were also “spirit photographers” who claimed to photograph departed loved ones (ghosts)… most were con artists scamming the widows of Civil War casualties, but some were genuinely interested in investigating the unknown.

      Interesting stuff — and like a mirror reflecting back images, photography sometimes shows MORE than what is available to the naked eye.

  2. When young ( last year) I used to wonder what my reflection did on it’s side of the mirror after I’d walked past. An alternate universe where we were both drawn to the same point at the same time.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Candy

      A classic mirror image fantasy!
      Does your reflection have an inner life and where does it go when you pass the mirror?

  3. I used to like the climb up the hallway walls and peer at myself in the floor length mirror my mom had hanging in the closet outside her bedroom. This act was all part of my “I can fly” scenario I would invent different scenes for. I thought I had such skill by scaling the walls, but all I really did was leave smudge marks on the paneling that really made mom mad 🙂