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Literature / Kit Williams' Masquerade

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This illustration contains the key to the whole puzzle. Good luck working out how...

If I was to spend two years on the 16 paintings for Masquerade I wanted them to mean something. I recalled how, as a child, I had come across 'treasure hunts' in which the puzzles were not exciting nor the treasure worth finding. So I decided to make a real treasure, of gold, bury it in the ground and paint real puzzles to lead people to it.
Kit Williams

Masquerade is a children's picture & puzzle book painted by Kit Williams and published in 1979.

The plot is fairly simple: The moon loves the sun, and to show how much she loves him, she gives a token of love to be delivered by the fastest creature around: Jack Hare. The hare then travels quickly through the country, and finally speaks to the sun, but finds that he's been careless and has lost the gift he was supposed to deliver, and the reader is tasked with finding where he dropped it.

That's the plot, but it's not the story....

When the book was published, an elaborate golden jewel pendant shaped like a hare - designed and crafted by Williams himself - was buried somewhere in Britain, with the promise that the book would act as a guide to help find it. Each of the pictures was surrounded by cryptic text, and had hidden images, odd symbology and weird puzzles in. Lots of puzzle fans scoured through, trying to find the location of the hare, mapping the locations painted, working the implications of symbols, mixing the words into anagrams until they made something like sense, and then finally driving out to the back end of nowhere and digging a hole. And coming home disappointed. Eventually, three years later, the treasure was dug up, and Williams announced the contest closed.


It turns out that the winner (Dugald Thompson) had not cracked the fiendishly complicated clues; he simply knew people close enough that he had a good idea where the treasure was buried, and caught onto two physics teachers, Mike Barker and John Rousseau, who had worked out the secret, but had overlooked the box where they were digging. Williams was naturally crestfallen when he found out that he had been deceived and the real winners had lost out on the prize to a con-man.note 


Of course, like any such thing, the revelation that the puzzle was solved didn't convince some more hardcore enthusiasts, who would continue to dig holes in the middle of nowhere for a few more years.

Masquerade contains examples of:

  • Anthropomorphic Personification: The Moon and the Sun appear as people in the illustrations, and are thinking, feeling beings who have fallen in love with each other in the story.
  • Fictional Mystery, Real Prize: The premise of the entire work. Jack Hare and the love story between the Sun and the Moon may only exist in the realm of imagination, but the jewelled golden hare from the story is real, and the mystery of its location drove thousands of readers up the wall for years.
  • I Am Not Pretty: From the way everyone screws up their faces when they look directly at him, the Sun thinks he must be "terribly ugly", and has fallen into a lonely depression as a result.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: The Sun, though usually depicted as smiling, is deeply unhappy thanks to believing that he is ugly, and that's why people squint when they look at him. As a result, he is lonely and longs for companionship.
  • Magic Square Puzzle: The "penny-pockets lady" in the fourth illustration has a 4x4 magic square hanging from her belt; the numbers are in the same arrangement as in the magic square in Albrecht Dürer's 1514 engraving Melencolia I, but with an empty space where the 7 should be. It doubles as one of the most important clues to how to solve the book's main riddle thanks to the correspondence between its numbers and the colours and letters on the paper on the wall in the twelfth illustration, and the numbers in the grid in the sand in the last illustration.How so? 
  • Moon Rabbit: The Moon chooses Jack Hare, the book's version of the rabbit perceived by many cultures in the shape of the craters on the near side of the Moon to the Earth, as her messenger to take the Sun a token of her love for him. Unfortunately, Jack drops it along the way, and it's up the reader to find it.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: On the story page accompanying the seventh illustration (the Moon hanging upside-down), the people of the Earth are raising a terrible din as the Moon, having stayed behind instead of setting so that she can see that Jack carries out her task as instructed, has inadvertently caused an eclipse. Horrified at what she has done, she opens her mouth and screams.
  • Night and Day Duo: The premise of the story is the attraction between the Moon and the Sun; despite ostensibly being opposites, they have fallen in love with each other, and Jack Hare is sent to speak to the Sun with a token of the Moon's affection for him.
  • Red Herring: One of the factors that made the puzzle nearly unsolvable was the ridiculous amount of false leads that were intentionally made much easier to find than the actual solutions. For a start, the story is completely incidental to the solution; the only relevant clues are in the illustrations, and even those are accompanied by stacks of irrelevant clues. The red letters in the cryptic text around each illustration, the "barbed" letters, the locations used in the paintings, the grid in the fifth illustration of atomic numbers whose corresponding symbols spell FALSE[S] NOUU THINK AGA[R]IN...note 
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Dugald Thompson's way of solving the puzzle; Veronica Robertson, the girlfriend of his business partner John Guard, had also been living with Kit Williams when he created Masquerade and knew just enough about the location of the hare to guide Thompson to it, in exchange for a promise to donate a share of his business profits to animal rights activists.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The girl in the fourth illustration (the "penny-pockets lady") was drawn to look like the daughter of Kit Williams' local chemist (pharmacist to North Americans). In the fourteenth illustration, the swimming girl is how Williams imagined his chemist's daughter would look as a teenager.
    • Isaac Newton appears in the story as a supporting character (that's supposed to be him as the bearded puppeteer in the twelfth illustration, though all contemporary portraits of Newton show him as clean-shaven), and a paraphrase of his quote about seeing himself as a child on the seashore whose attention is diverted by smooth pebbles while a vast ocean of truth lies undiscovered in front of him appears on the final story page.
  • Sundial Waypoint: The official solution was to find the point of a shadow at a specific time of the year.
  • Treasure Map: A real life example. The book contains clues to the location of a buried golden hare, to be claimed by the first person to decipher the clues and dig in the location they indicated. (Well, that was the idea, anyway; it didn't go as planned...)
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: A children's book, he called it. To put it in perspective, the two people who ultimately solved the puzzle (legitimately) were physicists. There are numerous clues in the illustrations regarding how to determine which letters in the cryptic text are relevant to the solution (here's a hint: notice that many people's and animals' hands and feet are bent into awkward-looking positions), but they're hidden among so many red herrings that it's hellishly difficult to sort the useful clues from the useless ones. And then, once you've got the phrase hidden around the fifteen illustrations,note  you still have to translate that into a location.


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