By: George Gurdjieff
April 9, 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 VI: Perpetual motion

“Wait! Wait!” Beelzebub interrupted. “What you have just been describing must surely be that ephemeral idea that the strange three-brained beings breeding on the planet Earth called ‘perpetual motion,’ for the sake of which at one time great numbers of them went quite ‘mad’ or even perished.

“It once happened on that ill-fated planet that somebody got the ‘crazy notion’ into his head that he could invent a ‘mechanism’ that would run forever without requiring any material from the outside.

“This notion so took everybody’s fancy that most of the crackpots of that peculiar planet began thinking about it and trying to produce this ‘miracle.’ How many of them had to pay for this ephemeral idea with all the material and spiritual welfare that they had previously acquired at great cost!’

“For one reason or another, they were all quite determined to invent what they imagined would be a ‘simple matter.’

“Whenever external conditions permitted, many of them gave themselves up to the search for this perpetual motion, without any inner data for such work, some relying upon their ‘knowledge,’ others upon ‘luck,’ but most of them driven by an already full-blown psychopathy.

“In short, to invent perpetual motion became the ‘rage’ there, and every crank felt obliged to be interested in this question.

“I was once in a town where a large number of ‘models’ and all kinds of ‘descriptions’ of proposed mechanisms for this perpetual motion had been collected.

“What could not be found there? What ingenious and complicated machines did I not see? In any single one of these mechanisms there were more ideas and ‘wiseacrings’ than in all the laws of world-creation and world-existence.

“I noticed at the time that in these innumerable models and plans of proposed mechanisms, the idea of using what is called the ‘force of weight’ predominated. The idea was this a complicated mechanism was designed to lift a ‘certain weight,’ which was then supposed to fall, and by its fall to set the whole mechanism in motion, and this motion would again lift the weight, and so on without end.

“The result of all this was that thousands of these unfortunates were shut up in ‘lunatic asylums,’ while thousands more, lost in this dream, completely neglected to fulfill even those being-duties that had somehow been established there in the course of many centuries, or else fulfilled them in the worst possible way.

“I don’t know how it would all have ended if some quite demented being with one foot already in the grave, an ‘old dotard,’ as they say, who had somehow acquired a certain authority, had not proved by ‘calculations’ known only to himself that it was absolutely impossible to invent ‘perpetual motion.’

“Now, my dear Captain, after your explanation, I can understand very well how the cylinder invented by the Archangel Hariton works It is the very thing those unfortunates dreamed of.

“Indeed it can safely be said that, given atmosphere alone, this cylinder will work perpetually and without requiring any other outside materials.

“And since the world cannot exist without planets and hence without atmospheres, it follows that as long as the world does exist, and in consequence atmospheres, the cylinder-barrel invented by the Great Archangel Hariton will always work.

“Now just one question occurs to me — about the materials this cylinder-barrel is made of. Could you tell me, my dear Captain, what these materials are and how long they can last?”

To Beelzebub’s question the captain replied as follows.

“Although the cylinder-barrel does not last forever, it can certainly last a very long time.

“Its principal part is made of ‘amber’ with ‘platinum’ hoops, and the inner
surfaces of the staves are composed of ‘anthracite,’ ‘copper,’ ‘ivory,’ and a very strong ‘mastic’ unaffected by ‘paischakir,’ ‘tainolair,’ ‘saliakooriap,’ or even by the radiations of cosmic concentrations.”*

“But the other parts,” the captain continued, “both the exterior levers and the cogwheels, must certainly be renewed from time to time, for though they are made of the strongest ‘metal,’ long use will wear them out.

“And as for the body of the ship, its long existence can certainly not be guaranteed.”

The captain would have said more, but at that moment a sound like the vibrations of a long minor chord from a far-off orchestra of wind instruments resounded through the ship.

With an apology the captain rose, explaining as he did so that he must be needed on urgent business, since everybody knew he was with His Right Reverence, and no one would venture to trouble the ears of His Right Reverence for anything trifling.

* “Paischakir” means “heat,” “tainolair” means “cold,” “saliakooriap” means “water.”


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”.