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April 2007
 
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Curiosities

Professor Baffin's Adventures, by Max Adeler (1881)

PROFESSOR Everett Baffin, of Wingohocking University, and his daughter Matilda are bound for Liverpool aboard a ship laden with the latest inventions of Yankee technology. A shipwreck strands Baffin, his daughter, and their cargo on an uncharted island off England's coast. It transpires that, in King Arthur's time, this island broke off from England's shoreline: the inhabitants have remained culturally medieval ever since. Humor ensues when the professor astonishes the knights and damsels with demonstrations of his phonograph, telegraph, telephone, camera, and phosphorus-tipped matches.

Adeler's novel (reprinted as The Fortunate Island) strongly resembles Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, with Adeler using a "lost race" theme rather than time-travel to achieve his premise. The social satire in Adeler's novel is subtler than Twain's, although Adeler includes some slapstick pratfalls. There are some stark similarities between the two books: both novels feature a knight named Sir Sagramore. And Adeler got there first, beating Twain's 1889 Connecticut Yankee by eight years. Ultimately, though, Twain's version of this plotline does a better job of sustaining its humor and premise.

American humorist Charles Heber Clark (1841-1915) wrote several works of proto-sf (including the earliest-known feminist utopia story, in 1867) under the names "Max Adeler" and "John Quill." To his dying day, he was bitterly convinced that Mark Twain had plagiarized his work. In fact, after Mark Twain's death, a well-thumbed copy of Adeler's The Fortunate Island was found in Twain's personal library.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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