Spectator competition winners: Gulliver’s Day Out and other literary prequels

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3235, you were invited to invent a prequel to a well-known work of literature and supply an extract from it. In a stellar entry, Nick MacKinnon, Sue Pickard, Max Ross, Bob Trewin and Lorna Wood all shone, but the £25 prizes go to the following:

Believing it never to be my Fortune to travel in future Years, my Profession holding me fast in Respectability, I betook myself to London to discover what Strangenesses I might encounter in the Manners and Dispositions of People. Finding them of indifferent Stature and unwholesome Airs, yet was I minded to visit their Great Parliament, both for my Private Education but also thereby in hope of acquiring a great Tale as Souvenir, one to make my Name. 
Their Place being over-manned, as with hogs at a water-trough, and all making such Clamour, I could only coin them as Yahoos, each endeavouring to out-shout his Fellow. One tow-headed ruffian was the butt of rude banter for mighty Partying, though in truth I saw him no more than a poor Clown. This being ample to assure me of the Inanity of Humanity, yet I wonder if the whole World is belike.
D.A. Prince/Gulliver’s Day Out

That’s my new husband painted on the wall,
Ferrara’s duke; so dignified! I call 
myself blessed; his duchess, his blushing bride. 
His gaze on me is constant, filled with pride, 
his every thought for me, gifts rich and fine, 
his honoured name, nine hundred years, is mine. 
He never stoops to ask, for he can see 
my happiness. Sunsets, each orchard tree, 
my mule, the terrace, cherries, bring such joy, 
sir, ’tis all one! Sweet speeches I employ 
to show my gratitude, and with each glance 
my pleasure grows. In time, I hope, perchance 
he’ll have my portrait painted, his dear wife; 
Fra Pandolf’s brush will grant me lasting life. 
My image by the duke’s, mere feet apart, 
my loving smile immortalised in art. 
Janine Beacham/‘My Last Duke’

There was a time, before I set my toes 
In Derwentwater, when, not uncontent, 
I swam alone, in a more private place. 
Sequestered and confined this was, yet seemed 
To my as yet untutored mind the world, 
For I, not long progressed from happy meet 
Of seed and egg, knew no more than this space 
Wherein I thrived in amniotic peace. 
And there strong intimations came to me 
Of harmony with all created things. 
Alone yet never lonely there, I heard 
The wordless poetry that was the beat 
Of a maternal heart. To me unknown 
Was language then, and yet I found a way 
To speak my deepest feelings, for I flexed 
My little legs and gave almighty kicks. 
George Simmers/‘Prelude to “The Prelude”’

Basil Hallward flourished his sketchpad. ‘Crude, perhaps, but I think I have the gist of you, Dorian,’ he said. 
‘It’s little more than a line drawing.’ 
‘Indeed,’ Sir Henry Wotton drawled from the chaise lounge, ‘it is a considerable abridgement of what we see before us. But I favour abridgements; they offer so much more than the full account.’ 
‘Basil has not even troubled to give me earlobes.’ 
‘You’ll find they are inessential in a gentleman,’ Sir Henry proclaimed, authoritatively. 
‘Basil, I entreat you to paint the full account Sir Henry so disparages.’ 
‘I shall be delighted. But what is to become of my sketch?’ 
‘Dorian must have it for the wall of his downstairs closet,’ Sir Henry decided. ‘Visitors, seeing it there, will imagine him less vain than he is.’ 
‘Curling and discolouring in the musty air,’ Dorian smiled, ‘it will soon become unrecognisable.’ 
‘Artistic, almost,’ sighed Sir Henry. 
Adrian Fry/The Sketch of Dorian Gray

I know whose sleeping pills these are. 
He keeps an ample reservoir, 
And wouldn’t mind if I supplied 
Myself with maybe half the jar.
Tonight I’ll take a little ride, 
And when I’m ready, open wide, 
Oblivious to snow and hail, 
And toss my pilfered pills inside.
And if I lose my nerve and fail 
To down the dose, I will avail 
Myself of poetry, in lieu 
Of verity, and change my tale.
I’ll claim I didn’t follow through 
Because I still have much to do, 
And say it twice as if it’s true, 
And say it twice as if it’s true. 
Alex Steelsmith/‘Stopping By a Medicine Cabinet on a Snowy Afternoon’

‘What do you see in this painting, Sophie?’ 
‘Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs…’ 
‘Look closer. Lowry’s crowd scenes are nothing short of a 1st-century AD Where’s Wally featuring the Holy Family!’ 
Langdon proceeded to mansplain how Joseph took his family to Salford following their escape to Egypt, returning there alone following Herod’s death. 
‘Do you notice Joseph is hardly mentioned after the return to Galilee? Yet here he is hidden in Lowry’s masterpieces. Joseph’s secret “Priory of Greater Manchester” survives to this day, despite the ruthless efforts of Opus Dei. Notice how many seasonal names are associated with the city: Noel Gallagher, Gabriel Jesus, Angel di Maria, Cristiano…’ 
‘The Hollies?’ 
‘It’s no coincidence! Draw a line on this map, between Jerusalem and Salford.’ 
‘It’s — a straight line!’ 
‘Exactly. Now look at the redhead with pigtails.’ 
‘It’s not…?’ 
‘A three-year-old Mary Magdalene!’ 
‘Childhood sweethearts?’ 
‘Watch this space, Sophie…’ 
David Silverman/The L.S. Lowry Code

No. 3238: fighting talk

You are invited to supply a poem about a literary feud. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 23 February.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments