There are any number of imagined places and spaces. Environments of the mind are a commonplace in literature. William Faulkner, for example, created Yoknapatawpha County, perhaps one of the most familiar literary landscapes of all time but it’s embarrassing to admit I’ve never read Faulkner. So other examples come more meaningfully to mind as inspiration for Agincourt. I hope to write an essay here about them very soon. My time, after all, is running out.
An episode of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” has stayed with me since I first saw it in the early 1960s: “The Stop at Willoughby.” Gig Young plays a harried businessman whose commuter train makes an unscheduled stop at Willoughby, where he leaves the train to stretch his legs and encounters the antithesis of his daily grind. I won’t spoil the choice he makes, should you find the episode on hulu or another on-line site. It’s worth the search.
The creation of bucolic settings like Willoughby has been repeated on the big screen with “The Truman Show” and my personal favorite “Pleasantville,” both of them stinging refutations of the so-called New Urbanism. Seaside, Florida provided the setting for Truman; I don’t know whether Pleasantville is real or a confection on the back lot at Warner Brothers. Which brings me to Portmeirion, an imagined village on the north coast of Wales conjured by architect Clough Williams-Ellis [1883-1978]. The other principal imagined village was designed for Marie Antoinette, and we know what that got her.
Among the several places on my bucket list is the imagined landscape made real by architect Clough Williams-Ellis. Begun in the 1920s and still abuilding at the time of his death, Portmeirion needs no rationale; its existence is justification enough for me. I came to know of it as the setting for “The Prisoner,” a late-60s British TV series staring Patrick McGoohan as a reluctant Cold War spy, captured by some organization and taken to “The Village” in an effort to break his will. Throughout its seventeen episodes, you’re never certain exactly who has captured him—our side or theirs—as McGoohan is assigned a number, rather than a name, and psychologically manipulated to pry his secrets loose. Portmeirion served as “The Village.”
All this happened during my undergraduate years, of course, when “The Prisoner” became a cult event one night a week in our dorms. Whether Williams-Ellis was already in my repertoire of Arts & Crafts eccentrics, I can’t recall. But he certainly joined them and has remained part of the family since.
There are books on Portmeirion to be sure, but I doubt that any of them offer genuine insight to the mind of its creator. What was Williams-Ellis thinking? And where the hell did all that money come from? The bigger unanswerable question, I suppose, is this: If I had those resources, would Agincourt appear as a field of dreams in Iowa?