By: George Gurdjieff
March 27, 2023

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

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.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10.


CHAPTER IV: The law of falling

The captain continued:

“This happened in the year 185 by objective time calculation.

“Saint Venoma had been taken for his merits from the planet ‘Soort’ to the ‘Holy Planet Purgatory’ where, after familiarizing himself with his new surroundings and new duties, he devoted all his free time to his favorite work.

“This favorite work was to try to discover what new phenomena could be obtained from various combinations of lawful phenomena already existing.

“Sometime later, in the course of his observations of cosmic laws, Saint Venoma made a discovery which afterward became famous, and which he was the first to call the ‘law of falling.’

“Saint Venoma formulated this cosmic law as follows:

“‘Everything existing in the world “falls to the bottom.” The “bottom” for
any part of the Universe is its nearest “stability,” and this stability is the point toward which all the lines of force from all directions converge.

‘The centers of all the suns and planets of our Universe are precisely such points of stability. They are the lowest points of that region of space toward which forces from all directions of the given part of the Universe inexorably tend, and where they concentrate. Each of these points is also a center of gravity that enables suns and planets to maintain their proper places.’

“Saint Venoma stated further that when an object, wherever it may be, is dropped into space, it tends to fall on one or another sun or planet, depending on which sun or planet this part of space belongs to — that sun or planet being for the given region the stability, or bottom.

“Starting from this, Saint Venoma, continuing his research, reasoned as follows: ‘If this is so, could not this cosmic property be utilized for the locomotion we need between the spaces in the Universe?’ And from then on he worked along that line.

“His further saintly labors showed that, although in principle this was possible, in fact the law of falling alone could not be employed fully to achieve this purpose, for the simple reason that the atmospheres surrounding most of the cosmic concentrations would hinder the direct falling of the object dropped in space.

“Having established this, Saint Venoma turned his whole attention to finding some means of overcoming the atmospheric resistance to ships constructed on the principle of falling.

“And three ‘looniases’ later, Saint Venoma did find such a means and, as soon as a suitable vessel had been completed under his direction, he went on to practical trials.

“This construction had the appearance of a large chamber, the walls of which were made of a special material somewhat like glass. On every wall of the chamber were fitted, so to say, ‘shutters’ made of material impervious to the rays of the cosmic substance ‘elekilpomagtistzen,’ and these shutters, although set close to the walls, could slide freely in any required direction Within the chamber was placed a special ‘battery’ which generated and supplied this substance elekilpomagtistzen.

“I was present myself, Your Right Reverence, at the first experiments in which Saint Venoma tested the principle he had discovered.

“The whole secret lay in this when rays of elekilpomagtistzen were made to pass through this special glass, they destroyed everything in their path that the atmosphere of planets is usually composed of, such as ‘air,’ ‘gases’ of all kinds, ‘fog,’ and so on. This part of space became absolutely empty, without resistance to pressure, so that if even an infant-being gave this enormous structure a push, it would move as lightly as a feather.

“On the outer side of this peculiar structure were appendages like wings, which were set in motion by this same substance elekilpomagtistzen, and gave the impetus to move this immense structure in the required direction.

“And so, when the results of these experiments had been approved and blessed by the Commission of Inspection, under the presidency of the Archangel Adossia, the construction of a big ship on these principles was begun.

“The ship was soon ready and commissioned for service. And this type of ship gradually displaced all the systems that had existed before. Later, Your Right Reverence, the inconvenience of this system became more and more apparent; nevertheless it continued to be used exclusively on all the lines of trans-space communication.

“It cannot be gainsaid that the ships constructed on this principle were ideal in atmosphereless spaces, and moved there with almost the speed of the ‘etzikolnianakhnian’ rays issuing from planets; yet when they approached some sun or planet it became real torture for the beings directing them, as much complicated maneuvering was necessary because of this same law of falling.

“For as soon as a ship came into the atmospheric medium of some sun or planet that it had to pass, it immediately began to fall toward that sun or planet and, as I just said, great care and considerable knowledge were needed to keep the ship from falling off its course.

“While the ships were passing near any sun or planet, their speed often had to be reduced hundreds of times below their usual rate.

“It was particularly difficult to steer them in any sphere where there was a large aggregation of ‘comets’.

“Great demands were therefore made upon the beings who had to direct
these ships, and they were prepared for their duties by beings of very high Reason.

“But in spite of these drawbacks, the system of Saint Venoma, as I have already said, gradually replaced all the previous ones.

“The ships of this system of Saint Venoma had been in existence for twenty-three years when it was first rumored that the Great Angel Hariton had invented a new type of ship for intersystem and interplanetary communication.”


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”.