Report on Priestley as ‘Ghost of Honour’ at the 2013 Eastercon

The 64th EasterCon was held in Bradford this year, over the Easter weekend.  This event is ‘the UK’s long-running annual celebration of  science fiction and fantasy literature.’Each year they choose a well-known Ghost of Honour, and for their Bradford gathering – not surprisingly – they  chose JBP.An invitation to speak on the Saturday morning was gladly taken up by JBPS Chairman, Lee Hanson.   A crowded audience of over 80 heard his well-illustrated talk with rapt attention.

After an overview of Priestley’s life and work, Lee moved on to Priestley’s relation with HG Wells, across a generation, with their many similarities in outlook and writing.His admiration for Wells was wonderfully expressed when he gave the address at Wells‘ funeral in 1946, much of which, Lee noted, could equally well be applied to himself;   HG was JB’s ideal.Later Priestley provided  introductions for editions of  Wells’ early sci-fi works The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine.

 Lee then reviewed the theorists of time whose ideas Priestley drew upon in many plays:  JW Dunne, PD Ouspensky, George Gurdjieff, and the great psychologist CG Jung, whose belief in the significance of  ‘synchronicity’ Priestley shared.  As for Science Fiction, JBP admired Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, since their work engaged with ideas and was not just ‘cowboys and Indians in Outer Space.’   (He met Clarke on a visit to his home in  Sri Lanka in January 1970, the high spot in a disappointing holiday.)

The last part of Lee’s presentation surveyed  Priestley’s imaginative works involving pre-cognition and a sense of other dimensions or planes of existence:  the Inspector seen as ‘calling’ from another sphere to warn us that we need to help each other;  the glorious fantasy of The 31st of June;  the other-wordly stories of The Other Place (1953),  including ‘Mr Strenberry’s Tale’, one of several works in which Priestley seems haunted by the possibility that humankind will destroy itself.  The talk closed with a reading from the HG Wells eulogy,and was warmly applauded.

 [Note: Readers interested in pursuing this aspect of Priestley’s thinking might perhaps try Over the Long High Wall. For example (p.121): ‘Consciousness can survive the death of body and brain because, while they inform it and strongly influence it, they don’t own it.… part of the self or psyche is able to escape from the limitations, temporal and spatial, to which body and brain are strictly subject. It can go to work, even if only occasionally, outside the familiar traffic of the senses….’ ]

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