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July 2000
 
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The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson (1950)

This rare and exceedingly dotty little volume is subtitled "The Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club". Maurice Richardson, a British journalist, had read one too many newspaper columns about sport. In reaction he created Engelbrecht: "a dwarf, of course, like nearly all surrealist boxers who do most of their fighting with clocks."

Fifteen sporting episodes explore suitably weird pastimes. The great Witch Shoot at Nightmare Abbey would be all too politically incorrect nowadays. A surrealist golf match around the world ("Par is reckoned at 818181") is enlivened by a most dubious hole-in-one. In the angling championship whose greatest prize is the giant pike that ate the Bishop of Ely in 1448, little Engelbrecht distinguishes himself brilliantly as the bait.

One particularly crazed cricket-match features a literal demon bowler (kept in a well-stoked furnace between overs), against whom Salvador Dali bats, unsuccessfully, with a chest of drawers. Earth's soccer game against Mars has a vast panhistorical team--"Some unlikely characters have scored, even Heliogabalus, Bishop Berkley and Aubrey Beardsley"--and the winning coup involves planting Engelbrecht as a hidden influence inside the ball. Surreal chess on a huge, literal battlefield echoes World War II; eventually a pawn promotes to Atom Bomb, and despite the enemy's immediate resignation insists on detonating. Remember Dark Star?

Engelbrecht's finest hour is his prolonged boxing bout against a ten-foot Grandfather Clock which deals viciously unsporting blows with its hands, weights, pendulum, and other dread accessories. After taking a fearful battering for nine rounds, our resourceful dwarf leaps into the clock's case and deftly halts the mechanism: "The crowd goes wild and the sun turns black and all over the place clocks stop and time stands still." Treasurable lunacy, to be taken in small doses.

—Dave Langford

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