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The story of a panic January 13, 2009

Posted by Jenny in literature, travel.
Tags: , , ,

800px-mount_rainier_-_alpine_meadow_at_paradise_01E. M. Forster wrote an interesting story when he was young, “The Story of a Panic.”  A group of people are having a picnic in a valley in Italy in May.  The valley “ended in a vast hollow, shaped like a cup, into which radiated ravines from the precipitous hills around.  Both the valley and the ravines and the ribs of hill that divided the ravines were covered with leafy chestnut, so that the general appearance was that of a many-fingered green hand, palm upwards, which was clutching convulsively to keep us in its grasp.

And then, while everyone is enjoying the picnic, something happens.  “All sounds died away, except that, far in the distance, I could hear two boughs of a great chestnut grinding together as the tree swayed.  The grinds grew shorter and shorter, and finally that sound stopped also.  As I looked over the green fingers of the valley, everything was absolutely motionless and still…”  The people on the picnic exchange a few words.  “Then the terrible silence fell upon us again.  I was now standing up and watching a cat’s paw of wind that was running down one of the ridges opposite, turning the light green to dark as it travelled.  A fanciful feeling of foreboding came over me….

And an incomprehensible fear overcomes everyone, and they run as fast as they can out of the valley, away from that eerie cat’s paw of wind.

It is the deep fear of a dream, the kind of dream from which one awakes frightened without understanding why.  It is the dream that imprints an inexplicable graininess in the vision, sets the heart pounding.  Forster’s story continues, and it imparts a message about the characters and about “the great god Pan,” but for me the lingering feeling has to do with an image of a valley that is somehow desolate, where the wind runs through the grass.  I don’t know why on earth that should be frightening, but I share the fear of the characters, somehow.   It is something subliminal and nameless.



1. Laurence Hunt - January 20, 2009

Well expressed!

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