For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Monday, 17 June 2019

A Prophecy about Drones

This evening I was walking the dog in the twilight, and as usual a solitary blackbird was singing, pausing every so often to listen, from a white dead branch at the top of an old ash tree. I was conscious of another unpleasant hornet-like noise of a machine somewhere nearby, but couldn't locate it until I realised it was up high, and then I saw it - the green light of a drone fifty feet overhead.

It brought to mind this prophetic passage from Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, written in 1959, the third book of the Gormenghast trilogy, which seems to foresee the invention of the drone.

(This is an utterly different book from the first two, which are set in the feudal world of the vast castle. No-one in this modern bureaucratic nightmare into which Titus has wandered, like something from Kafka, really believes Titus when he speaks of Gormenghast. It is the modern predicament: the Titus figures carry Gormenghast within them, it defines them, they have fled the traditions and found themselves in a merciless world run on different lines in which the only possible redemption is personal love and loyalty. And they are lost and bewildered.)

There was no one ahead of him in spite of the length of the road, but it seemed that he was no longer alone. Something had joined him. He turned as he ran, and at first saw nothing, for he had focused his eyes upon the distance. Then all at once he halted, for he became aware of something floating beside him, at the height of his shoulders.
It was a sphere no bigger than the clenched fist of a child, and was composed of some transparent substance, so pellucid that it was only visible in certain lights, so that it seemed to come and go.
Dumfounded, Titus drew aside from the centre of the road until he could feel the northern wall at his back. For a few moments he leaned there seeing no sign of the glassy sphere, until suddenly, there it was again, hovering above him.
This time as Titus watched it he could see that it was filled with glittering wires, an incredible filigree like frost on a pane; and then as a cloud moved over the sun, and a dim, sullen light filled the windowless street, the little hovering globe began to throb with a strange light like a glow-worm.
At first, Titus had been more amazed than frightened by the mobile globe which had appeared out of nowhere, and followed or seemed to follow every movement he made; but then fear began to make his legs weak, for he realised that he was being watched not by the globe itself, for the globe was only an agent, but by some remote informer who was at this very moment receiving messages. It was this that turned Titus's fear into anger, and he swung back his arms as though to strike the elusive thing which hovered like a bird of paradise.
At the moment Titus that raised his hand, the sun came out again, and the little glittering globe with its coloured entrails of exquisite wire slid out of range, and hovered again as though it were an eyeball watching every move.
Then, as though restless, it sped, revolving on its axis, to the far end of the street where it turned about immediately and sang its way back to where it hung again five feet from Titus, who, fishing his knuckle of flint from his pocket, slung it at the hovering ball, which broke in a cascade of dazzling splinters, and as it broke there was a kind of gasp, as though the globe had given up its silvery ghost... as though it had a sentience of its own, or a state of perfection so acute that it entered, for the split second, the land of the living.
Leaving the broken thing behind he began to run again. Fear had returned, ….

Having a drone above one's head, even when one is not being hunted, is sinister and revolting. I understand Titus's rage.

2 comments:

  1. I was glad they were forbidden from being used at the recent boat gathering I went to in Brittany, except for an official media drone flying quite high and out of the way of our masts and sails. I have wondered if I should buy a drone and take photos with it - but it is not my thing. I prefer to respect people's privacy.

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  2. It is one thing taking photos of a public event, quite another to have one hovering directly over one's garden for several hours - as happened to us one day recently. One has no way of telling the people to clear off as they could be a mile away. I wished I had an air rifle.

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