BEELZEBUB’S TALES (3)
March 4, 2023
Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (dictated 1924–1927, and thus a work of Radium Age proto-sf, although it wouldn’t see publication until after the author’s death in 1949) is the first section of a never-completed magnum opus to be titled All and Everything. Gurdjieff would later explain that through this work he intended “to destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world.” HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize a selected excerpt from Beelzebub’s Tales here at HILOBROW.
CHAPTER III: The cause of a delay in the falling of the Karnak
Soon afterward the captain entered and, having greeted Beelzebub with all the ceremony appropriate to one of his rank, said:
“Your Right Reverence, allow me to ask your authoritative advice An ‘inevitability’ lies directly in the line of our course and will hinder our ‘falling’ by the shortest route.
“The point is that if we follow our intended course, in two ‘kilprenos’* our ship will be passing through the solar system ‘Vuanik.’
“But at the very place where our ship must pass, there will also pass, about one kilpreno before, the great comet belonging to that solar system and named ‘Sakoor’ or, as it is sometimes called, ‘the Madcap.’
“So if we keep to our proposed course, we must inevitably cross the space through which this comet will have passed.
‘And as Your Right Reverence certainly knows, this mad comet always leaves a great deal of ‘zilnotrago”† in its track, which on entering the planetary body of a being disorganizes most of its functions until all the zilnotrago has been volatilized.
“I thought at first,” continued the captain, “of avoiding the zilnotrago by steering the ship around this zone, but this would mean a long detour and would greatly prolong our voyage. On the other hand, to wait somewhere until the zilnotrago is dispersed would take still longer.
“Faced with these alternatives, I cannot decide on my own what to do, so I am venturing to trouble Your Right Reverence for the benefit of your wise advice.”
When the captain had finished speaking, Beelzebub thought a moment and then answered:
“Really, I do not know how to advise you, my dear Captain… Ah yes, in that solar system where I existed for a long time, there is a planet named ‘Earth,’ on which there arose, and still continue to arise, very strange three-centered beings. And among them, on one of the continents of that planet called ‘Asia,’ there arose a very wise three-brained being named Mullah Nasr Eddin.
“For each and every peculiar situation, great and small, in the existence of the beings there,” Beelzebub continued, “this terrestrial sage, Mullah Nasr Eddin, had an apt and pithy saying.
“As all his sayings were full of the sense of truth for the beings of that planet, I too always used them as a guide, for the sake of having a comfortable existence there.
“In the present situation also, my dear Captain, I wish to profit by one of his wise sayings. In such a quandary as ours he would probably say ‘You can’t jump over your knees, and it’s absurd to try to kiss your own elbow!’
“I now say the same to you, and add there is nothing to be done. When faced with an event arising from forces immeasurably greater than one’s own, one must submit.
“The only question is, which of the alternatives you mentioned should be chosen — that is, to wait or add to our journey by a detour.
“You say that a detour would greatly lengthen our journey, but that waiting would take still longer. Well then, my dear Captain, suppose that by making the detour we should save little time. What do you think? Is the wear and tear on our ship’s machinery worthwhile for the sake of ending our journey a little sooner?
“If a detour would involve even the slightest damage to our ship, then in my opinion we ought to give preference to your second suggestion, and stop somewhere until the path is cleared of the noxious zilnotrago. That would at least spare our ship useless damage. And we will try to fill the time of this unforeseen delay with something useful for us all.
“For example, it would give me personally great pleasure to talk with you about contemporary ships in general and our ship in particular. A great many inventions that I still know nothing about have been made in this field during my absence from these parts.
“In my time, for instance, these big trans-space ships were so complicated and cumbersome that it took almost half their power to carry the materials needed to elaborate the energy for their locomotion.
“But contemporary ships, in their simplicity and the freedom they offer for all being-manifestations, are the very model of ‘bliss-stokirno.’ At times you even forget that you are not on one of the planets. So, I should very much like to know how this marvel was brought about and how the contemporary ships work.
“Now go, my dear Captain, and make all the arrangements for this necessary stop. Then, when you are quite free, come back and we will pass the time of our unavoidable delay in conversation useful for us all.”
* “Kilpreno” in the language of Beelzebub means a certain a period of time of approximately the same duration as what is called an “hour” on the Earth.
† “Zilnotrago” is the name of a gas similar to what is called on the Earth “cyanic acid.”
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master”.