Yesterday iconic science fiction author William Gibson (perhaps best known for the acclaimed Neuromancer) tweeted a strange ‘sighting’: the character Milgrim from his recent books Spook Country and Zero History:
I think Milgrim turned up for a minute, today, at the casting window of my new book. Older. Two kids. Meticulously groomed. Very nice suit.
— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) April 7, 2015
Wasn’t expecting that. At all.
— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) April 7, 2015
While Gibson was referring to the character ‘turning up unannounced’ in his imagination, it’s interesting the way in which the character seems to have moved forward with his life regardless of the author’s own thinking – as if created characters live on independently in that otherworld referred to by Alan Moore as ‘ideaspace‘.
And strangely, authors have reported seeing their fictional creations act in this independent manner not only in their minds, but also ‘in real life’ – especially in the worlds of science fiction and comic books. Alan Moore himself has mentioned in an interview that he once saw one of his creations, the mage John Constantine (from the Hellblazer series), in a sandwich bar in London. “All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine,” Moore revealed. “He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.”
Moore contemplated whether he should go around the corner and double-check if it really was his own character that had walked into the bar, or whether he should just finish his sandwich and leave. “I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I’m not making any claims to anything. I’m just saying that it happened. Strange little story.”
Another person intimately involved with the Hellblazer series, artist Dave McKean, has also recounted a ‘meeting’ with a comic book character: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Death’, from the Sandman series (which McKean created covers for). During the process of travelling to San Diego, someone died on the plane, and as he was waiting to board the plane again McKean says a girl dressed as Death walked off the plane and past him. Though if was travelling to comic-con, this may not be as big a coincidence as it seems…
Influential comics writer, Doug Moench, was shaken by an experience in the 1970s when his writing seemed to jump off the page and invade his life…and his home. Jeffrey Kripal describes what happened in his wonderful book Mutants and Mystics: Science fiction, superhero comics, and the paranormal:
Moench had just finished writing a scene for a Planet of the Apes comic book about a black-hooded gorilla named Brutus. The scene involved Brutus invading a human hero’s home, where he grabbed the man’s mate by the neck and held a gun to her head in order to manipulate the hero. Just as Doug finished this scene, he heard his wife call for him in an odd sort of way from the living room across the house. He got up, walked the length of the house, and entered the living room only to encounter a man in a black hood with one arm around his wife’s neck and the other holding a gun to her head.
“It was exactly what I had written…it was so, so immediate in relation to the writing and such an exact duplicate of what I had written, that it became an instant altered state. The air in the room congealed, became almost like fog, and yet, paradoxically, I could see with greater clarity. I could see the individual threads of his black hood”.
Doug’s emotional response to this series of events was a very understandable and natural one. He became obsessed with the black-hooded intruder for monther, then years. More immediately, he found it very difficult to write, so terrified was he of that eerie connection between what he might write and what might happen: “It really does make you wonder. Are you seeing the future? Are you creating a reality? Should you give up writing forever after something like that happens? I don’t know.”
Interestingly, Gibson has on occasion made reference (both in his books, and on Twitter) to ‘tulpas’ – a concept said to originate in Tibetan mysticism that refers to magical objects or beings that are brought into existence ‘ex nihilo‘, purely by concentration of thought. The terms was made popular in the West through the work of anthropologist Alexandra David-Neel, who wrote in her 1929 book Magic and Mystery in Tibet that she had not only seen them, but had created one herself. “Besides having had few opportunities of seeing [tulpas], my habitual incredulity led me to make experiments for myself,” David-Neel wrote. “My efforts were attended with some success.”
Writers certainly concentrate upon their characters for hours at length. Is it possible that they can will them into existence in some sense? If so, this may not always be a benign event – as with the modern mythos of Slenderman apparently manifesting in not so great ways in real life.
Or is it more likely that once the character is within an author’s head, it is all too easy for them to ‘find’ doppelgangers in the real world that match their description?
Whichever it is, they still make for great stories. Daily Grail contributing editor Cat Vincent is right across this topic, so if you’re interested in learning more, click through some of the links below.