'Mr O'Tooles Adventures with his Umbrella' as an expression of British exceptionalism by Digital Humanities student, Anna Vennonen

Slide 5, Mr O'Toole's Adventures with his Umbrella, Heritage in the Limelight Collection.

I have recently been working on digitising magic lantern slides as part of my study in Digital Humanities. The project which introduced me to this type of media, consisted of researching, photographing, transcribing and cataloguing the century old artefacts. I chose to work on a set of 8 slides and their script, which tells the story of “Mr O’Toole’s Adventures with his Umbrella”. They were likely made between the years of 1903-1907 by W. Butcher & Sons, in London. I was attracted to this set because of its vivid artwork and humorous story. Coming from a background in Anthropology I was also intrigued by the story of an intersection of cultures; of an Irishman going to Africa. These slides are a historic representation of Africa; African people, animals and nature, from the point of view of Anglo society. The short story tells of Mr O’Toole, who upon his travel to Africa, encounters a lion while he was taking a nap. Mr O’Toole is comically saved by his umbrella, as the lion gets a fright, being “unaccustomed to so sudden a transformation and disappearance” of the umbrella, it runs away (See full script here). Firstly, this makes me wonder if an umbrella could have such an effect on an animal in real life. Secondly, this is interesting to me because the umbrella, a symbol of affluent Anglo culture, is used to such device against African nature. Perhaps this reflects the confidence Anglo people had in colonising foreign countries with their culture.

My favourite slide from this story is the one featuring the umbrella and the lion, as it is the climax of the story, and illustrates the tension between the two characters but also the wider societies they represent, as told from an Anglo perspective. It is interesting to see the drawings of the Lion and man transform over the slides, with the lion being largest in relation to Mr.O’Toole in the slide pictured (slide 5/8). Following the confrontation and umbrella trick, the lion is drawn smaller as it is presented as cowardly leaving the field. In the last slide (8/8), we see Mr O’Toole taking up the most space in the picture, as he proudly walks away, carrying his faithful umbrella.

Aside from its visual appeal, I like this set because it uses humour instead of overt violence to explain how a man saved himself from a possible attack from the lion. The short tale gives a lot of character to both its subjects, Mr O’Toole and the lion, through writing as well as the drawings. It is a cleverly written story and a pleasure to experience with the slides.

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