Kissing the Medium: The Spiritualist-Witch as Countercultural Heroine in The Thirty-Nine Steps (1959)
The chapter focuses on the 1959 film The Thirty-Nine Steps, its detective figure Richard Hannay and its medium- or witch-figure Nellie Lumsden. Noting the unusual collaboration between two character types normally opposed in Victorian and post-Victorian fiction, it argues that in the 1950s the character of the medium began to be seen in a new light. Following a change in the law in 1951, mediums were no longer being prosecuted under anti-witchcraft legislation by 1959 and it was recognised that such a definition of their practices was unhelpful. Accordingly, Nellie Lumsden offers a model for contemporary and future understandings of mediums, pagans and witches in positive lights, whilst correspondingly detectives suffered a diminution in authority and respect. Further examples include the novel Ritual (1967) and the film The Wicker Man (1973), although counter examples such as the film Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) also exist. The Thirty-Nine Steps, however, presents a near-perfect inversion of expected stereotypes of medium and detective, suggesting the reworking and challenging of Victorian ideas in mid-twentieth century Britain. These ideas include racial and national stereotypes of “Celtic” areas of Britain, as well as expectations of gender, class, authority, reason and faith.
Pre peer review version