What, in your opinion, is the explanation for the events portrayed in Joan Lindsay’s “factional” novel Picnic at the hanging rock?
How does the author bring out, in her writing, a sense of horror and mystery? It will probably never be fully explained what exactly happened at Picnic at hanging rock; but what we do know is that Marion Quade, Miranda and Miss McCraw were never found – not even until this very day. Nevertheless, I do believe that there are some clues that could decipher this inexplicable conundrum. Some of these I shall unravel in this essay.
When I finished reading Picnic at hanging rock , I was left in a perplexing trance. Many possibilities occur to me, but the first clue I think is the sighting by Edith of the mathematics teacher – Miss McCraw, wearing no skirt. Possibly, the girls and the maths teacher met up; and perhaps took a short cut in fear they would be late back. Moreover; it has been mentioned several times in the book and film how easy it can be to get lost on the rock, and, as said by Mrs Appleyard –
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“the vicinity is renowned for its venomous snakes and poisonous ants”.
On the contrary – this still doesn’t explain why Miss McCraw was seen by Edith wearing no skirt, and why Irma was found one week later – wearing no corset. Maybe Miss McCraw followed the girls – she did seem very certain of the directions to the rock. For instance, Miss McCraw said –
“You have only to change your route this afternoon and return by the third side. In this case, since we entered the road at Woodend at right angles the return journey shall be along the hypotenuse”.
However, if she had followed the girls, why didn’t Albert Crundall or Michael Fitzhubert see her?
On the other hand, is it possible that Edith Horton could have concocted her sighting of Miss McCraw, just to gain attention ? After all, Edith has been described as greedy and unpleasant from the start;
“I ate so much pie at lunch I can hardly keep awake”.
Although this doesn’t explain the mysterious circumstances, and the way Irma was found one week later. So what can?
There are many implications in the book and the film of paranormal and supernatural goings on – beyond our control. In the book and film, we get the impression of eeriness just as the gates open to the hanging rock. For example,
“…a flock of parrots flew out screeching from an overhanging tree”.
This metaphorically symbolises something deadly, implying that the parrots are trying to get away from something. In addition, I notice the way in which the author implicates that the rock will lead to something pernicious. For instance;
“Out of the known dependable present and into the unknown future”.
This quote obviously represents the fact that what will happen on the rock will change the girls’ futures.
Correspondingly; fate is mentioned again when it is hinted that what is going to happen on the rock is their destiny. It is as if people are conscious that something is going to happen on the rock. I get this impression from when Irma says –
“Miranda used to say everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place”.
The sinister force is practically tangible at the rock, and this is clearly shown by the author. This is felt strongly by Edith as she walks with the other girls,
“It is nasty here…I never thought it would be so nasty or I wouldn’t have come…”.
Furthermore; I notice Miranda is mysteriously described as a “Botticelli angel”, “swan” and “gliding” numerous times. Is it likely that Miranda is more than she appears? Is it possible some magical force took over the rock? It seems to be more than a coincidence that everyone’s watch had been enigmatically forgotten or had stopped – perhaps time had stopped altogether. It’s as if that something malicious was luring the girls to the rock. This could also explain why Irma was found one week later – as she could have been put under a spell. Moreover, in the film we are shown Miranda, Irma and Marion gliding up the rock – however, later on in the film we see someone staggering up the rock, which almost defies the law of physics.
On the other hand, what if it wasn’t necessarily something magical luring them to the rock – after all the rock is a sacred place and aboriginals could have been infuriated by the way in which the girls walked over it. After all, there are such things hinted –
“Like the beating of far off drums”.
Perhaps these drums were those of Aboriginals. We shall never know. Although, this could explain why Irma’s nails were so badly torn and broken – maybe this was caused in confrontation with the attacker – as well as being hit on the head. But what happened to the shoes, stockings and corset? Maybe the attacker found them and took them away, to keep as a souvenir of his catch.
Moreover – we are still left in confusion about the death of Sara Waybourne. However; I am deeply suspicious about Mrs Appleyard. Her treatment of Sara Waybourne, whom she dislikes intensely, is sadistic in its cruelty. We get this impression from the start, by the way she forbids Sara to go to the picnic, for instance –
” I am afraid I will have to send you to bed instead of sitting up until the others return for supper after the picnic”.
This evilness fails to be identified by the people around Mrs Appleyard, until near the end. Mademoiselle de Poitiers, was surprised upon the fact that Mrs Appleyard’s expression was like “an evil wind” when the subject of Sara’s disappearance was brought up.
In addition, Mrs Appleyard was ‘supposed’ to have helped pack the most important of Sara’s belongings into a basket, but after Sara had ‘allegedly’ left, a little basket was seen in the study –
“It flew open and the small covered basket fell out on to the floor”.
This obviously indicates that Mrs Appleyard is hiding something about Sara .
Furthermore – why did Mrs Appleyard ‘apparently’ witness Sara Leaving? When Sara Waybourne was found dead, why did Mrs Appleyard go into Sara’s bedroom? To remove evidence? Or is it just a coincidence that Mrs Appleyard committed suicide soon after this occurrence? No. The evidence on this case all points towards Mrs Appleyard murdering Sara – however much you look into it.
In order to get the reader to understand the full meaning of Picnic at hanging rock the author needs to create an atmosphere. The author brings out the terror and mystery in many ways – one excellent example of this is Similes and metaphors. After she returns from the rock, Joan Lindsay creates a high level of hysteria in the gymnasium – the atmosphere is almost unbearable. For example:
“Edith’s great head was nodding like a mandarins”, “The ceiling opening up like a flower” and “chamber of horrors”.
The effect of this is the tension is being built up to seize the reader’s attention to what is happening. Moreover, another immensely exhilarating use of language is the animal imagery used in this scene. For instance: “Hyena call of hysteria”, “claw like hands”, “fourteen pairs of eyes like hares in cages”, “sniffing like a terrier”, “tear her to pieces”, ” a cavernous mouth agape”, “a tuft of scarlet feathers trembled”,” warm sour breath” and “drooling tongue”. The effect of using animal imagery is so the reader can metaphorically relate to something in comparison to what is actually happening. This helps create terror throughout the scene and make us feel as if the book has come to life.
In addition; I also must include the use of colours throughout this scene. For example: “black sage bloomers”, “black cotton stockings”, “scarlet cloak” and “grey disciplines”. As many of us know, black and grey often symbolises death and ominous circumstances, and these colours have not been used for no reason. However, ‘scarlet’ is perhaps used to symbolise blood and it also may be used to represent sexual passion and loss of innocence. Whatever happened on the rock has changed Irma forever. Although – we must be aware of the fact that the author could be twisting things around to grab the reader’s attention.
When I started writing this essay I was convinced that the missing girls had been lost and looking for a short cut back , however; having thought through my theory, I now see this is not possible, as if it was true how come Irma appeared one week later? My verdict on this is that it shall never be solved. Too much time has gone by, and the protagonists are dead. So, like many other mysteries; this puzzle shall remain unanswered.