BEELZEBUB’S TALES (5)
March 20, 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 (cont.)
“On another planet not far from the planet Mars, owing to the intense cold there, the three-brained beings are covered with thick soft wool The outer form of these three-centered beings is like that of a ‘toosook,’ that is, it resembles a kind of double sphere, the upper sphere serving to contain the principal organs of the planetary body, and the lower one the organs for the transformation of the ‘first and second being-foods.’
“In the upper sphere there are three apertures opening outward; two serve for sight and the third for hearing.
“The lower sphere has only two apertures: one in front for the taking in of the first and second being-foods, and the other at the back for the elimination of residues from the organism. To the lower sphere are attached two strong sinewy feet, and on each of these is a protuberance that serves the same purpose as our fingers.
“There is still another planet in that solar system, my dear boy, quite a small one, bearing the name ‘Moon.’
“During its movement this peculiar little planet often came very near our planet Mars and sometimes for whole kilprenos I took great pleasure in observing, through the ‘teskooano’* in my observatory, the process of existence of the three-brained beings who inhabit it.
“Though the beings of this planet have very frail planetary bodies, they have an indomitable spirit, which gives them an extraordinary perseverance and capacity for work.
“Their external form is like that of large ants, and like them they are always bustling about, working both on and within their planet.
“The results of their ceaseless activity are already plainly visible.
“I once happened to notice that in two of our years they had ‘tunneled’ the whole of their planet. They were obliged to undertake this task on account of the abnormal ‘climatic conditions’ there, caused by the fact that this planet arose unexpectedly, and therefore the regulation of its climatic harmony had not been prearranged by the Higher Powers.
“The climate of this planet is truly ‘mad,’ and in its variability could give points to the most high-strung, hysterical women existing on another planet of that solar system, which I shall also tell you about.
“Sometimes the cold is so intense on this Moon that everything is frozen through and through, and it becomes impossible for beings to breathe in the open atmosphere, and then suddenly it gets so hot that you could fry an egg in a jiffy.
“There are only two short periods on that peculiar little planet, namely, before and after it completes its orbit around a neighboring planet, when the weather is so glorious that for several rotations the whole planet is in bloom, and yields the various products for the first being-food of its inhabitants — even greatly in excess of what they need for existence in that strange intraplanetary kingdom they have devised, where they are sheltered from the vagaries of this mad climate and all the inharmonious changes in the state of the atmosphere.
“Not far from that small planet is another, larger planet, which occasionally comes quite close to Mars, and is called ‘Earth.’
“The Moon is actually a fragment of this Earth, which must now constantly maintain the Moon’s existence.
“On the planet Earth also, three-brained beings are formed, and they too contain all the data for higher being-bodies to be coated in them.
“But in ‘strength of spirit’ they do not begin to compare with the beings breeding on the little planet I just mentioned. The external coating of the three-brained beings of that planet Earth closely resembles our own, except that their skin is a little slimier than ours. Moreover, they have no tails, and their heads are without horns. But the worst thing about them is their feet, for they have no hoofs. It is true that for protection against external influences they have invented what they call ‘boots,’ but this invention does not do them much good.
“Aside from the imperfection of their external form, their Reason is uniquely and utterly bizarre.
“Their ‘being-Reason,’ owing to many causes that I may tell you about sometime, has gradually degenerated and at present is very, very strange, and peculiar in the highest degree.”
Beelzebub was about to say more, but just then the captain of the ship entered. So, promising the boy to tell him about the beings of the planet Earth some other time, he began to talk with the captain.
He asked the captain first to tell him who he was, how long he had been a captain, and how he liked his work, and then to give him some information about contemporary cosmic ships.
“Your Right Reverence,” the captain began, “when I approached the age of a responsible being, I was destined by my father for this career in the service of our Endless Creator. Starting in the lowest ranks on the trans-space ships, I ultimately became worthy to perform the duties of captain, and for eight years now I have been a captain on long-distance ships.
“In this latest post of mine on the Karnak I succeeded my father, who had performed the duties of captain almost from the very beginning of world creation and who, after his long years of blameless service to His Endlessness, was held worthy of promotion to the post of governor of the solar system ‘Kalman.’
“In short,” continued the captain, “I began my service just when Your Right Reverence was leaving for the place of your exile I was then only a ‘sweeper’ on the long-distance ships of that period.
“Yes — a long, long time has passed by.”
“Everything has changed and has been changed since then only our Lord
and Sovereign remains unchanged May the blessings of ‘Amenzano’ be on His Changelessness throughout eternity!
“Your Right Reverence has seen fit to remark, very justly, that the earlier ships were most inconvenient and cumbersome.
“They were indeed very complicated and unwieldy I remember them well myself. There is a vast difference between the ships of that time and now.
“In our youth all the ships, both for intersystem and interplanetary communication, were still run on the cosmic substance ‘elekilpomagtistzen,’ which is composed of two distinct parts of the omnipresent ‘Okidanokh.’ And it was to produce this substance that the earlier ships had to carry such a quantity of materials.
“But these ships did not remain in use very long after your departure; they were replaced by ships of the system of Saint Venoma.”
* “Teskooano” means “telescope ”
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”.