This is a repost, of sorts, from my old blog. I still think this is really cool, and haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else*.
About seven years ago, I took it upon myself to attempt, purely for fun, to adapt Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Wee Free Men’ into a screenplay*. At some point during the process, around the point where Tiffany finds herself in a dream not too dissimilar to Richard Dadd’s “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, I took the opportunity to print a copy to hang next to my desk.
While mulling over the image, marvelling at the curious nature of the painting and the precision with which Dadd had placed everything, I noticed strange deformities of some of the Fairy’s depicted in the scene.
Two things in particular jumped out at me. If you take a look at the painting you’ll see the Fairy Feller, his axe held aloft waiting for the sign from the grey-haired Patriarch. It struck me that the heads of the fairies between the Feller and the Partriarch were particularly deformed; they almost looked like eyes. What’s more, the folds of one of the fairy’s cloak looked like a nose, and the Feller’s hat looked like a mouth.
I looked more closely and noted that the mound upon which Oberon and Titania stand (just above the Patriarch), looked like the curve of the top of a head, and the coat of the fairy to the left of the pinky-red cloaked fairy looks like an ear.
It must be a face, I mused. Now that I could see it, it looked too prominent to be a coincidence. All I could see when I looked at the picture was the face, and wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before.
So I threw the image into Photoshop and messed around with the levels a little. A few things started to bug me:
- Firstly, the pinky-red cloak of the (female?) squashed head fairy, directly below the Patriarch’s beard, lacks detail (which doesn’t match the clothes of the rest of the Fairies).
- Secondly, if her head is meant to be an eye, it doesn’t quite tie up with the head of her partner (the other ‘eye’).
- Thirdly, what’s with her partner’s foot? He’s crossing his legs at a very awkward angle.
- Fourthly, the hidden face is almost at the centre of the painting but not quite, it felt a little too far to the right and off balance.
And I saw it.
The profile of an Ape!
What’s more, it’s the profile of an Ape overlaid over the profile of a man’s face, much Apple’s Finder icon.
Suddenly, it all made sense.
- The cloak is the smooth pink part of the Apes face.
- The Eyes don’t match as the Ape’s eye is looking to the right, and the man’s eye is looking forward.
- The awkwardly placed foot of the partner makes up the Ape’s nose.
- When you put the outline of the Ape and the Man together it’s right, slap bang in the middle of the picture, thusly:
This got my brain whirring. Ape and Man… Evolution?
A small amount of research on the internet revealed Charles Darwin, father of the theory of Evolution, and Richard Dadd were contemporaries. I also found quite a few similarities between the two men.
- They both travelled extensively in their early careers,
- They both apparently suffered from Bi-polar disorder,
- Both had strong links with Kent,
- Dadd painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke between 1855 and 1864,
- Darwin published Origin of the Species on the 22 November 1859.
So would Dadd, locked away in Bethlem in Beckenham, Kent, have known of Darwin’s ideas, perhaps even known Darwin, who after all lived a mere seven miles away in Downe?
Dadd painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke for one George Henry Hayden, the head steward at Bethlem Royal Hospital at the time.
A quick Google search revealed records of correspondence between George Henry Hayden and Charles Darwin at darwin-online.org.uk. While the contents of the letters remain unknown, it’s not the greatest leap of logic to think that Hayden knew Darwin, possibly treated him, and spoke to Dadd about Darwin and his theories. As a gift, Dadd hid the image of the man and the ape in the painting for Hayden. Perhaps the hidden man is Hayden? Who knows? Pure speculation.
I’m with Neil Gaiman, who suggests that the ‘Pedagogue’ – the little bald, bearded chap (or Sneebs, as Terry Pratchett calls him), is in fact an old version of Dadd himself. I like the way he’s sat right on the shoulder of both the Ape and the Man.
* Not that I’ve looked too hard.
** And a mighty fine job I did too, even if I do say so myself.