A Blakean heaven or hell: fish with coloured lanterns and teeth like primeval beasts

Sometime in the early 1940s, when he was living in exile in LA, Thomas Mann picked up a copy of the National Geographic. Leafing through it, he found an article whose strapline was a Jules Verne novel in summary: ‘Half a Mile Down: Strange Creatures, Beautiful and Grotesque as Figments of Fancy, Reveal Themselves at Windows of the Bathysphere.’ Next to dark, exotic images of what appeared to be alien life from the abyssal depths of the sea was an account of how the author, a scientist named William Beebe, had become the 20th century’s first aquanaut in exploits so sensational that live radio broadcasts were made of his dives,