Person from Porlock  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (possibly an opium-induced haze), but was interrupted by this visitor from Porlock (a village in the South West of England, near Exmoor) while in the process of writing it. Kubla Khan, only 54 lines long, was never completed. Thus "Person from Porlock", "Man from Porlock", or just "Porlock" are literary allusions to unwanted intruders.

Coleridge was living at Nether Stowey (a village in the foothills of the Quantocks). It is unclear whether the interruption took place at Culbone Parsonage or at Ash Farm. He described the incident in his first publication of the poem:

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English poet and essayist Thomas De Quincey speculated, in his own Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, that the mysterious figure may have been Coleridge's physician, Dr. P. Aaron Potter, who regularly supplied the poet with laudanum.

However, this story is by no means universally accepted by scholars. It has been suggested by Elisabeth Schneider (in Coleridge, Opium and "Kubla Khan", University of Chicago Press, 1953), amongst others, that this prologue, as well as the Person from Porlock, was in fact fictional and intended as a credible explanation of the poem's seemingly fragmentary state as published. The poet Stevie Smith also suggested this view in one of her own poems, saying "I think he was already stuck".

If the Porlock interruption was a fiction, it would parallel the famous "letter from a friend" that interrupts Chapter XIII of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria just as he was beginning a hundred-page exposition of the nature of the imagination. It was admitted much later that the "friend" was the author himself. In that case, the invented letter solved the problem that Coleridge found little receptiveness for his philosophy in the England of that time.

In fiction

Literature

  • In Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, a character checks into a motel under the pseudonym A. Person, Porlock, England.
  • In Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow, the character Ka thinks of a poem, while conversing with another character Necip. The narrator then says that Ka would soon be writing that poem in his notebook if "no one came from Porlock," and explains the phrase's origin.
  • In Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version (1997) Barney Panofsky is yet again bad-mouthing his rival: "Terry McIver's first novel published, when literature would have been better served had he been interrupted in mid-flight by a gentleman from Porlock". (p. 177).
  • Stevie Smith's poem, 'Thoughts About the Person from Porlock', begins as a gentle ribbing of Coleridge and ends in a meditation on loneliness, creativity, and depression.
  • Alan Bennett, The History Boys (2004). When there is a knock at the door, Akthar provides this as a literary reference.
  • Vincent Starrett, Persons from Porlock & Other Interruptions. (1938)
  • A. N. Wilson, Penfriends from Porlock. (1988)
  • U. A. Fanthorpe, The Person's Tale. (1984)
  • Greg Bear references the person from Porlock in The Infinity Concerto (1984).
  • "The Person from Porlock" is a science fiction story by Raymond F. Jones published in Astounding magazine in 1947, where Coleridge's vision is explained as the remote viewing of a secret colony of aliens living on Earth. One of the aliens deliberately distracts Coleridge before he can write down a full description of the colony.
  • In Alexei Sayle's short story "The Mau Mau Hat" (from the collection The Dog Catcher), a man called Emmanuel Porlock visits the narrator, a retired poet, interrupting work on his magnum opus.
  • During Paul Jenkins's run on the Hellblazer comic series, John Constantine learns that his ancestor, one James Constantine, was "The Person from Porlock". What he does not learn, but the reader does, is that James disrupted Coleridge's opium-sparked dreams so as to prevent a group of angels from feeding Coleridge what amounted to a propaganda piece for the armies of Heaven.
  • Kay Ryan's poem "Doubt" advises us not to answer "the stranger's knock;/ you know it is the Person from Porlock/ who eats dreams for dinner. . . ."
  • In Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the title character saves the world, in part by time-travelling from the present day to distract Coleridge from properly remembering his dream; if Coleridge had completed the poem an alien ghost would have 'encoded' certain information within the completed work that would have allowed him to make repairs to his spaceship in the past at the cost of wiping out all life on Earth.
  • In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Etain of the Second Look makes reference to the "Man from Porlock" while trying to recollect a poem she envisioned while having a dream.
  • In Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Valley of Fear, Sherlock Holmes is interrupted in his labours by a letter from the pseudonymous Fred Porlock, an informant within Moriarty's organization. Porlock's identity is never revealed.
  • In Tom Holt's Flying Dutch, the man from Porlock flees the protagonist when he begins to tell him of his long life.
  • In Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw is interrupted for a phone call and says "Anne, you have just interrupted a profound thought. You hail from Porlock."
  • In the webcomic "2D Goggles", the "Person from Porlock" is revealed to be Ada Lovelace, who is represented in the series as disliking poets and poetry.

TV and radio

  • Louis MacNeice, Persons from Porlock, and other plays for radio. (1969)
  • Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip refers to the person from Porlock in the episode titled "4 AM Miracle". Matthew Perry's character tells his writers the story.
  • In the Inspector Morse television series episode "Twilight of the Gods" (1991), Lewis (Kevin Whately) disturbs Morse while he is solving a crossword puzzle, and Morse (John Thaw) shouts out, "Damn. Seven seconds off the record, if you hadn't come barging in like that. It's the person from Porlock, that's who you are." Lewis replies, "No sir, Newcastle."
  • The scientist that interrupts the frozen sleep of Daniel Field in Dennis Potter's science fiction mini-series Cold Lazarus is named Emma Porlock.
  • The religious fanatic who enters The Good Barber's shop in ACT 2 CAM's 2010 film, The Good Barber is named Reverend Porlock.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Person from Porlock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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