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Interview with A.N. Donaldson

May 12, 2013 | Episodes | Comments (10)

Prospero's Mirror Book CoverThis episode Mike and Will speak to the author A.N. Donaldson, whose debut novel ‘Prospero’s Mirror‘ features M.R. James as the main protagonist!

In the novel M.R. James is summoned to Old College, Oxford to examine the inscription on an ancient mirror which may have belonged to the magician John Dee. Soon James finds himself sucked into a tangled web of science, sorcery and the supernatural which stretches back to 1665 when the Black Death came to Oxford…

“They live in two places, I suppose: in fever dreams and mirrors…  What is it?  This unutterable thing.  An abomination!”

The episode features readings by Alisdair himself.
The book can be purchased in paperback and ebook formats on
For more information on Alisdair, visit his website at


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  1. A Rat In The Wall says:

    I’m feeling quite good about Alisdair’s book, I’m a little unclear as to the subject matter, but he said enough to get me interested!

    But the little thing he said about Lovecraft, I have to talk about. The ‘tentacular’ monsters coming out of the woodwork. No offense to Alisdair, but this is another post-HPL, Derlethian view on Lovecraft’s work, something I can’t let slip by. Unfortunately, the Derlethian view is far, FAR too prominent in the modern world of the Cthulhu Mythos – evil monsters, soul eating Cthulhu, the tangibility and the tentacles. I think Brian Lumley even killed a Great Old One.

    What you have to remember about Lovecraft is the single idea he was trying to get across and how he was doing it. Basically, if you look under enough rocks, you’re eventually going to find something you don’t like, the fear of the unknown on a cosmic scale. The only reason we don’t like it is because it’s alien, too alien, designed to be unknowable and unrelatable, and humans are afraid of the unknown, even though we seek it out – it’s our undoing, our curse to look under the rocks. In Lovecraft;s universe, which is our universe, there’s no good or evil. No demons or angels or battle between them. Just things bigger than you.

    All the monsters? Cthulhu, the Deep Ones, the Colour, Wilbur Whateley, etc. – these things represent that ultimate unknown and the things under the rocks. Ever notice it’s always backwoods villages, ancient cities, old manuscripts? Those are the rocks people go looking under. Then they find something they don’t like.

    • Guy Garrud says:

      Still doesn’t excuse the racism.

      • Serena Nocturna says:

        I don’t mind Lovecraft’s human failings at all, as long as he entertains & intrigues as only his fiction can.
        I’m looking for entertainment, not a morality lesson. An adult can sift out the chaff & just savor the germ of his brilliance.
        You should try it sometime.

        • Laurence says:

          What a bloody insufferable comment. An adult can also recognise the sociopolitical forces, conscious and unconscious, that shaped a person’s life and their work, and an adult can *also* understand a piece of art on these terms without lessening their own enjoyment of the work as entertainment.

          As you say, try it some time.

          • Laurence says:

            “Human failing” – as in, active theorising about the inferiority of other races, said in the most lurid language imaginable? I love HPL but let’s not dabble in useless euphemisms.

            At least we can see the greatest fear of yer average MRJ fan here: deconstruction and psychoanalytic readings. It were the cultural Marxists wot done it!

  2. Lemuel Gonzalez says:

    The author’s approach to the material is disappointing. I don’t like his insistence on “things we should be afraid of” opposed to the supernatural horror that James describes. Who decides what we should be afraid of? In fact Mr. Donaldson’s opinions on James’ beliefs (‘vanilla Christianity’) and ideas, feel dismissive and off-putting. I like the idea of James as the protagonist of an antiquarian adventure, but this author doesn’t seem particularly sympathetic toward him, or his world.

    • Serena Nocturna says:

      I agree w/ you entirely, Lemuel. I think we’re all very aware of what we “should be” afraid of. If I need Donaldson’s help w/ that then I’ll bloody well ask him.
      But I’m sure not interested in reading on such a subject for entertainment. I’ll take imaginative fantasy fiction anytime over realism for enjoyment.
      And what is “vanilla Christianity”? Sounds like what someone would say along w/ “Christianity is the White Man’s religion”.
      As if Jesus went to Eton or something!
      The atheistic-based multiculturalism of England is showing in Donaldson’s arrogant remark.

  3. TC says:

    I’m afraid I completely disagree with the previous comment. The author made clear in the interview that he was depicting an old man who was not in his prime, and I thought the slightly fussy and querulous tone really brought that across. I’ve read the book, and I found it sympathetic towards M R James and an excellent analysis of the very real horror of growing old. The possible ‘real’ explanation for the ghastly things that happen in the book doesn’t at all detract, in my view, from the sense of a supernatural threat, which I found genuinely scary and really compelling. If I had a criticism, it’s that the plot is quite complicated, and I was hoping for more explanation in the podcast, but I guess he was worried about spoilers?

  4. Katherine says:

    I got the book (albeit a free,’borrowed’ Amazon ebook)on the strength of A.N Donaldson’s fascinating discussion of James during this podcast. Normally I find this sort of literary ventriloquism/making historical people into characters rather cringe-making, but from the first few pages at least, he does a good job of capturing James’ voice, and am really looking forward to seeing his reinterpretation of the Jamesian wallop.

  5. MarkB says:

    Not a fan of one author using another (successful) author to create content. That includes all pastiches and name-dropping. Write your own book, or don’t write at all.

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