It takes only a few minutes to descend into the village from the entrance archway, beneath which is the McGoohan bronze, but in that time the temperature soars, and the rare and pure blue of the June sky, only a week away from the fullness of the summer solstice, becomes flecked with gold whenever I raise my head to stare at its beauty. But it’s a beauty that comes at a price. The harshness of that sun requires a determination to study it; the heat requires a loosening of clothing and a different rhythm of breathing. I smile… We’ve added Frank Herbert’s Dune to The Prisoner in the mix of this wonderful place; we’ve also bordered on McGoohan’s inclusion of the sinister – in the sense that June is seldom this lovely or this threatening to the unwary. I smile, wordlessly at this, and my companion and co-creator of the weekend, Barbara, notices, looking quizzically at me. I’m up to something. She can tell…
The mixture of two of my favourite things from that time in life is rich and pleasing – and who knows what part they played in turning me into a student of the deeply mystical? Herbert was heavily influenced by the Sufi style of spirituality – an immediate and world-relevant discipline that significantly moulded what became known as the Fourth Way, nurtured by Gurdjieff in the early years of the last century. I can’t speak for McGoohan’s spirituality, other than to know that it was Catholic, strongly held and influenced where he placed his creativity; to the extent, as we discussed in Part Two, of him turning down the role of James Bond, twice.
The inclusion of the harsh, desert world of Herbert’s Dune makes me stop. Is this just my mind wandering or did that knocking on the door a few minutes ago produce an answer? Question: what did you really mean by the Prisoner? Did it take partial shape, refinement even, in this exotic and unique landscape? The answers begin to come thick and fast, as often happens when one listens within…
“Village!” comes the hard edge of McGoohan’s voice in my head. “In the Prisoner, it’s called The Village, isn’t it? There’s a clue for you!”
I think about the last photo I took of his bronze, the head turned slightly away to reveal part of his profile; those haunted eyes perhaps conveying the inner struggle he had trying to describe ‘the greatest enemy’ that he spoke of in interviews given in later years. Did the strangeness of the beauty he found here provide the polarity he needed to create a brutally strong story from the bare bones of the truth he found in life? I had never considered it this way, before. But it is unlikely that he arrived at Portmeirion with The Prisoner fully formed… The Village may well have coalesced, within its own unlikely menace, from the reality of Clough Williams-Ellis’ creation.
My companion follows me as the muse takes me a few steps sideways, away from the little train that takes you around the forest trails, and towards what I call the Port of Portmeirion, fake concrete ship and all… but I’m lost, now, in speculation, because I can see the sands of the estuary in the distance…
‘The lone and level sands stretch far away‘ to quote a poem that John will share with us on the final day, reciting Shelley’s masterpiece, Ozymandias, from memory. He will use it to illustrate our final theme, Escape; but that is far away in time, yet.
Fifty years on, two figures stride along a vast and beautiful beach. They don’t know that, just beyond the line of their sight, a giant ballon, nicknamed Rover by the fans, has them in its sights, lest they try to escape. Did you stand here, McGoohan? I think to myself. ‘Rover’ was conceived only after a more conventional robot failed. Clever filming make it into one of the most terrifying instruments of control any of us children had ever seen – back in 1967. I look again at the sands and realise how much this is confirmation that Portmeirion shaped The Prisoner. You arrived here with just an idea, didn’t you, Patrick?
My imagination may have wandered down to the ‘Port’, but, in reality, I’m still watching the arrival of the famous train.
“You can go anywhere you like in the Village as long as you stay in the Village,” says McGoohan’s voice in my head. What is the subtext of that? In Episode One – Arrival, No 6 tries to buy a map. The first one he is offered is black and white and covers only the area of the Village. He asks for a larger one and, when the helpful but banal shopkeeper provides the ‘larger, better and more colourful version’ No 6 finds it’s identical… again showing only the area of the Village. The moral is clear: this is all you have and you stay here, or rover comes for you. Settle in, get used to it, it’s not so bad…”
Is that ordinary life? Patrick, I ask, using his first name to provoke him. Was it all about waking up to the artificiality of life and remembering where you/we really came from – in this case, the vivid world of espionage, true life and death to No 6?
If that were the case, then what did the changing figures of No 2 represent? Those controllers and watchers of his every move, whose failure and removal No 6 took great delight in. He was definitely a fighter, our No 6; no passive acceptance, there.
Resistance! McGoohan would have selected resistance from our second set of seed-thoughts: Resistance vs Acceptance of a changed world. Later in our walk, up in the forest shared with a friendly and inquisitive robin, Sue and Stuart will get each of us to select a page from a book on Christian Mysticism. Another person will choose, at random, from the quotations on that page. The results are a wonderful example of what drops into the moment, the now, from the outside, an outside as potent as the world of the man saving the bee. They have promised to share the selected quotations in their own blogs.
——- to be continued ——-
Other parts in this series: