Thursday, April 3, 2014

"Things like pwidgeting and rikking trilks" Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies and Other Fantastic Tales

Some time ago I happened upon a 1950s radio series titled Sleep No More; performed on an extremely low budget, it consisted of Nelson Omstead reading short fiction. Although some of the tales he visited were familiar to me, others proved delightfully unfamiliar. Amongst these were three tales by Nelson S. Bond: "Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies," "the Bookshop," and "Conqueror's Isle" (I had only heard of the last title before). I became interested in reading more of Bond's short fiction and it transpired that all three stories were part of a collection from 1946: Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies and Other Fantastic Tales.

It took me some time to acquire a copy of the book on the second-hand market; due to an inexplicable mishap, the book which the first dealer provided photographic evidence to me of having mailed, never materialized. Overcoming that early discouragement, I finally obtained my copy last year. I doubt Bond is too widely known these days, so would you mind it too terribly if I indulged in discussing the contents of the book? You don't mind? Let us begin:

  • "Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies" This uniquely-titled story involves a curious man who can see into the future - or, rather, his invisible companions the Lobblies can see the future and occasionally share information. It's a gentle fantasy with a touch of darkness, like most of the stories in this tome. Also, it concerns things from another reality intruding upon Earth's affairs, which was clearly one of Bond's favourite concepts, although it plays out differently amongst his stories.
  • "The Magic Staircase" This is the first tale in the collection where Bond's characters verbalize his ideas about parallel worlds and interdimensional mathematics; this time, it concerns a newly-fashioned staircase which (on occasions) leads its owner into the forest of an alternate Earth where Nazi Germany bested Europe and began a land invasion of North America; neatly enough, this meek, reality-displaced traveler wants nothing more than to stay in this world and help save it!
  • "The Remarkable Talent of Egbert Haw" A broadly comedic tale reminiscent of Stephen Vincent Benet, this concerns a talent agent who discovers a horse which can talk and is absolutely certain said creature will be his ticket to fortune. Of course, speech doesn't equal talent...
  • "Johnny Cartwright's Camera" Returning to the subject of unseen worlds, this concerns a damaged newsman's camera which begins displaying images from 24 hours into the future; it's a brief and humourous tale.
  • "The Master of Cotswold" Written as a series of letters, this one is a true horror story; the new owner of a cottage hears strange noises in the woods, uncovers an unused well and discovers curious bloodstains on the floor. It takes some time to get rolling, but delivers a fine sense of paranoia.
  • "The Einstein Inshoot" Getting back to Bond's particular fancy, we have a baseball pitcher whose fastballs break into the fourth dimension; he creates a sensation by striking out batters who are unable to perceive his pitches, but what happens when the balls leave the fourth dimension?
  • "The Fountain" One of those Fountain of Youth tales; an aged businessman thinks aging backwards will solve his problems, but he doesn't reckon what effect this has on his mind, nor how to stop the process once it's begun. It runs perhaps a little too long, but this story does a great job of getting inside the protagonist's head as he constantly struggles to retain his fading memories.
  • "Dr. Fuddle's Fingers" A scientist has the odd ability to reach inside the fourth dimension, from which he can procure seemingly any item. It should be a great scientific breakthrough, but people view him as little more than a sleight-of-hand artist!
  • "Conquerors' Isle" An oft-repeated and imitated tale (mainly because of the power of the final line of text) in which an air crew are taken prisoner by advanced beings, mutants with phenomenal psychic powers who intend to quietly assert their dominance over the rest of humanity; one of the pilots escapes their island prison, but sounds like a madman when he recounts the story.
  • "Socrates of the South Forty" A rural hick proves to be the most intelligent man on Earth, possessing undreamed-of abilities of sorting out scientific quandries through "horse sense" - but having no actual scientific background, he explains these problems in his own vernacular with copious amounts of "thingamajig" and "whatchamaycallit."
  • "The Bacular Clock" One Pat Pending attempts to patent his new invention: the bacular clock, which has the power to cause time to flow in reverse, "most certainaceously." But as in "the Fountain," when time begins to reverse, how do you make it move forward again?
  • "Union in Gehenna" A union organizer is sent to Hell; seeing how terrible the conditions are on both the tormented and the demons who torment them, he suggests they unionize against the Devil. Highly comedic with a bright finish.
  • "The Bookshop" A sad tale for anyone who aspires to writing; an author finds a bookshop which carries all the great works which were never written - and his own rest among them.

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