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June 2002
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Musrum by Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw (1968)

"There was little excuse for the invention of the name MUSRUM. It was already known in sixteen principalities and native states."

Thacker's and Earnshaw's quirky, surreal, and very English fantasy introduces trickster hero Musrum with a barrage of gnomic aphorisms. "A torpedoed cathedral sinks rapidly into the earth." Likewise, "Sudden prayers make God jump." Bizarre lists abound.

A godlike eccentric, Musrum constructs his refuge (which is also the world) downward from the Attic, floor by floor to the Cellar. Musroid symbology is extensive and peculiar; the Giant Mushroom, heart of our man's power, is fatally coveted by the evil Weedking. The resulting pursuit leads to Russia, a plethora of wolves, a Musrum doppelganger called Palfreyman, and the Second Crimean War.

Besides its elegant, witty prose, Musrum is a graphic novel profusely illustrated by both authors, with many Escherian quirks. Musrum's iron castle has two linked sections, the Side Elevation and the Ground Plan. Vital strategies depend on a map revealing the Volga river to be circular. Skulls and crossbones recur. There are exhaustive diagrammatic inventories of war banners, final victory celebrations, and dressing tables (57 varieties).

Sample campaign tactic: "Exploiting the concept of gravity, Musrum designed and constructed a perpetual motion machine which was simply a four-wheeled bogie. He placed this casual device on a hill that sloped down forever."

This book's weird, one-off inventiveness made it impossible—after Musrum's triumphant return to his kingdom of Intersol—for there to be a sequel. The 1971 sequel is equally deranged, drastically reworks the story of that very bad man Father Christmas, and is called Wintersol.

—David Langford

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