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Picturing a World


In Philip Pullman's new novel, The Secret Commonwealth, while on board a train, our heroine Lyra Silvertonguewatches an old man use a pack of pictorial cards to tell a story to a little boy. After a while, he tells the child to draw a card from the pack. "As before, the picture seamlessly continued the landscape of the previous one, and Lyra saw that the whole pack must be like that, and it must be possible to put them together in an uncountable number of ways" (p. 534). What a wonderful device! I thought when I read the passage. Had Pullman made it up? No: he names that kind of card pack on the next page: MYRIORAMA.
Enchanted by the concept, I poked around on the internet and found that a reproduction of John Heaviside Clark's Collection of a Thousand Landscapes (1824) is available, as is the newly drawn Mystery Mansion shown here. A myriorama can be a party game, as players draw a card, begin a narrative, and pass off to the next player who must draw a card and continue it. Or it could be used solitaire by you or me to stimulate our imaginations. Or, I suppose, to entertain a child on a train. I've ordered The Mystery Mansion because I love the drawing. It will be fun to see whether I can use them for a writing exercise (hmm, draw any three and make up a story, whether a mystery or not …). Or even to try drawing a few linked panels!
Alas, we'll have to wait for the last, still unfinished novel in The Book of Dust trilogy to find out what part the pack on the train plays in Lyra's story.

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