Lolita begins rehearsing for her lead role in The Enchanted Hunters, a play about a young farmer’s daughter who hypnotizes lost hunters in the woods. Eventually, she encounters a young poet who cannot be hypnotized, and who tries to convince her that she is actually a figment of his imagination. The message of the play is that “mirage and reality merge in love.”
The message of the play mirrors the structure of the novel. Humbert’s Lolita is not quite the “real,” Lolita, but rather an image of her, modified by his impassioned, guilt-ridden imagination. The poet in the play avoids the girl’s spell by thinking of her as a figment of his imagination. In the same way, Humbert tries to turn the real Lolita into his own literary creation, which makes it possible for him to abuse her without remorse.
Humbert Humbert notes the coincidence between the name of the play and the name of the motel where he first raped Lolita, and is thrilled when she points this out. He assumes that the play and the motel are both named after a New England legend of which he is unaware. (Years later, he learns that the play was a contemporary work by a theatrical troupe based in New York.) There is a “special,” rehearsal, but Humbert is not invited—Lolita wants to make sure what he sees on opening night is totally new to him.
Humbert is fascinated by coincidences. But this one doesn’t mean quite what he thinks it does. The playwright behind “The Enchanted Hunters,” is actually Clare Quilty, with whom Lolita will soon run off. Quilty’s name appears earlier in connection with a New York Theater troupe, in Part 1 Chapter 8. Lolita’s concern with opening night is strange when we consider her growing hostility toward Humbert. This is our first indication that she is beginning to plan her escape.