Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Weird Wednesday

It was this illustration that leapt out at me a few pages after the 'Googles' in the December 1926 Strand Magazine. It's by L G Illingworth, who is unknown to me, as is pretty much, Anthony Armstrong ('The well-known "A.A." of Punch'), the author of the short story it's illustrating. Called The Elixir of Life, this is a very slight comic fantasy in which a student on a cycling holiday
stops at a tumbledown cottage to ask for a glass of milk. Instead he's sold a bottle of the 'elixir of life' by a weirdy beardy who claims to be 'the last of the alchemists'. When the stuff is swigged by an organ-grinder's monkey, the elixir proves to be not that of life but of evolution.
In minutes the monkey has evolved into a hairy hominid, then into a hirsute but respectable man and ends up as the peculiar egg-head you see here - the future of mankind, a giant cerebellum on a puny body. Interesting to see this cliche of science fiction appearing so early. Indeed, the 'future man' reveals another talent that became a staple of sci-fi - his enormous brain grants him telepathic powers and he is able to control the timid student's every movement (that's why he's wearing the ex-monkey's little hat: he was forced to). A rather feeble yarn but an interesting oddity. And I do like the goggle-eyed, tentacle-fingered geezer imagined up by Mr Illingworth - he's like a pink Mekon in a trilby.

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