On the 29th November 1976, Robert Aickman wrote to Ramsey Campbell:
Picnic at Hanging Rock, made in 1975 in Australia, was directed by Peter Weir. It was adapted, quite faithfully, from the 1967 novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay.
It is difficult not to offer a major ‘spoiler’ for the film, but I hope this won’t put anyone off seeing it, if they haven’t already. On Valentine’s Day 1900, the students at a private school for girls in Victoria, Australia, go with their teachers to picnic at a local geological formation known as Hanging Rock. (It is a real place.) Later, with permission, four girls explore the rock, but, near the summit, next to a monolith, they mysteriously fall asleep. When they awaken, all but one, Edith, move further into the rock formation. Edith runs away in terror. When the party returns to the school, three girls and one teacher are missing. Much later, one of the missing girls, Irma, is recovered, but she cannot explain what happened to her, or to her friends and teacher.
Aickman may sound a little self-important in saying that the film is a simulacrum of his methods and that its devices are like his, but the similarities are remarkable, especially the ‘unexplained accessories’. Peter Weir succeeds in creating an Aickmanesque film not least because of the several mysteries that he refuses to resolve.
In this spirit, it is suggested that apart from The Secret of Hanging Rock, admirers might also want to keep away from The Murders at Hanging Rock, 1980, a book of hypothetical solutions by Yvonne Rousseau.
Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography, by R.B. Russell, Tartarus Press, 2022
With thanks to Heather Smith, and Artellus, Ltd.All photos, unless otherwise stated, are copyright Estate of Robert Aickman/British Library/R.B. Russell, and are not to be reproduced without permission and acknowledgement.