This week’s weird story is part of a tradition of higher mathematics and higher geometry being used by occultists to rationalize their speculations. According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, this goes back to at least 1865 with Johann Zöllner’s Transcendental Physics. The non-occult tradition of such stories goes back to at Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland from 1884. Blackwood himself used the idea many times. Fittingly, Blackwood first published this story in The Occult Review.
Review: “A Victim of Higher Space”, Algernon Blackwood,
This is one of Blackwood’s John Silence stories. Actually, that’s Dr. John Silence since he’s also a medical doctor in addition to being an occult detective.
The story opens with Silence’s “new man” speaking about an “hexatraordinary” visitor, a very thin man who disturbs the servant. Barker is a bit abashed that he left the visitor in the hall rather than show him to the waiting room. Under questioning, Barker reveals the man makes him uneasy and “queer” feeling. Silence is actually pleased by the man’s uneasiness since he chooses his assistants based on some evidence they possess “psychic intuition” which he thinks Barker is now exhibiting. Barker hands him the man’s letter of introduction from an acquaintance of Silence’s. The letter writer asks Silence to help the man but isn’t sure even Silence will be able to.
Silence instructs Barker to show the man into the waiting room and to think generous, sympathetic, and affectionate thoughts toward the visitor.
There are two types of people who come to Silence for help: crazy people and those who have had genuine, strange experiences. To that end, his green (a color chosen for its placating effects) waiting room has a spyhole in it, a guest chair that is bolted to the floor, and the provision to flood the area near the chair with a narcotic gas. Silence believes you gain the measure of a person by observing them when they don’t think they are being observed.
Barker noted that the man disappeared from view sometims and entered the house like the wind. Observing the waiting room, Silence at first can’t see the man, but then he notices a moving area of the room being obscured. A German band can be heard outside, and, suddenly, the man becomes visible. Silence intuitively knows there’s a connection.
Silence knows the man is aware he’s being watched, and, when they meet, the man agrees with Silence’s rationale for doing so. The man is Racine Mudge. He’s glad his chair is nailed to the floor as he begins his story.
Mudge says he’s the “victim of Higher Space”. Silence places a reassuring hand on Mudge’s shoulder and tells him it’s understandable that Higher Space was terrifying because it
is no mere external measurement. It is, of course, a spiritual state, a spiritual condition, an inner development, and one that we must recognise as abnormal, since it is beyond the reach of the world at the present stage of evolution. Higher Space is a mythical state.
Mudge is delighted Silence understands. Mudge says “prolonged and deliberate study” led him to Higher Space, but chance dictates when he goes there:
. . . my entering the condition of Higher Space seems to depend upon the chance of this and that circumstance. For instance, the mere sound of that German band sent me off. Not that all music will do so, but certain sounds, certain vibrations, at once key me up to the requisite pitch, and off I go. Wagner’s music always does it, and that band must have been playing a stray bit of Wagner.
He also requests Barker stop observing him from the spy-hole, and Silence sends his servant away. Mudge says Silence will have to forgive him for describing the properties of Higher Space, already known to Silence, in vague and unsuitable language.
First, though, Mudge gives his background. His father was an English bargeman. His mother was a Frenchwoman from Bordeaux. His father died before Mudge knew him, and his mother died shortly afterwards. Inheriting an estate from Bordeaux relatives, he spent his younger days teaching himself various things. He had no siblings, guardians, or trustees. Mudge thinks it good he didn’t learn “the deceitful rubbish taught in schools”.
Eventually, he studied mathematics. The effect was startling. He learned material very quickly. It was almost as if he was remembering knowledge from a past life. After studying Bolyai, Gauss, Beltrami, and Lobatchewsky (real mathematicians whose work was associated with higher geometries), things changed though. He didn’t learn the material as easily. The works of “one man – a ‘dreamer’” helped guide him.
As Mudge describes Higher Space, Silence is shown to be familiar with the idea. Higher Space has aspects of the objects we perceive in our normal three dimensions, unperceived qualities. Mudge constructed a tesseract to help him imagine the fourth dimension. He was able to conceive of more dimensions than the fourth:
. . . we must conceive it as containing any number of new dimensions. In other words, there is no space at all, but only a spiritual condition.
After years of study, Mudge began to advance “mystically, intuitively, spiritually”. Enlightenment followed:
I reached sometimes a point of view whence all the great puzzle of the world became plain to me, and I understood what they call in the Yoga books ‘The Great Heresy of Separateness’; why all great teachers have urged the necessity of man loving his neighbor as himself; how men are all really one; and why the utter loss of self is necessary to salvation and the discovery of the true life of the soul.
Silence says this confirms his own speculations.
It was chance by which Mudge entered Higher Space and found out his own body had a projection into the fourth dimension.
I cannot control my entrance or exit. Certain people, certain human atmospheres, certain wandering forces, thoughts, desires even—the radiations of certain combinations of color, and above all, the vibrations of certain kinds of music, will suddenly throw me into a state of what I can only describe as an intense and terrific inner vibration—and behold I am off!
The equally random vibrations or events cause Mudge to return to our world.
It was at night while asleep which, Mudge says, is “no loss of consciousness” (Silence agrees) that Mudge entered Higher Space. He perceived
a monstrous world, so utterly different to all we know and see that I cannot even hint at the nature of the sights and objects and beings in it.
Animals, objects, people, especially people, are “ghastly, simply ghastly”. In Higher Space, he ends up flitting from place to place on the Earth or existing in multiple locations at once.
Silence says, after Mudge’s account, that “It almost seems a pity” to cure him.
Though you may lose your life in the process—that is, your life here in the world of three dimensions—you would lose thereby nothing of great value—you will pardon my apparent rudeness, I know—and you might gain what is infinitely greater. Your suffering, of course, lies in the fact that you alternate between the two worlds and are never wholly in one or the other. Also, I rather imagine, though I cannot be certain of this from any personal experiments, that you have here and there penetrated even into space of more than four dimensions, and have hence experienced the terror you speak of.
Mudge nods in agreement. Mudge, says Silence, has a “Some strange psychic predisposition, dating no doubt from one of your former lives” enabling his studies to succeed. Mudge says Silence is talking only to gain time. He needs help now.
Silence tells Mudge he needs to “block the entrances” to Higher Space. Silence gets out a book and tells Mudge he will read aloud on how to do that. But, of course, we don’t get a quote from the book.
The German band starts up outside, and Mudge gives a cry. Mudge seems to become invisible as Silence lunges at him, trying to hold him. Mudge demands alcohol; it will reduce his sensitivities. The brandy from a decanter seems to disappear from the bottle. Silence realizes that, since Mudge can access Higher Space, he isn’t confined by the “solidity” of the bottle.
Mudge becomes visible again but, hearing the band start up once more, yells at Silence to make the music stop. But the band plays on, and Silence grabs Mudge to try to keep him in regular space.
There’s a nice description of how Mudge appears – including moving through Silence’s body – as he goes into Higher Space. Eventually, he disappears.
Barker comes into the room and asks where Mudge is. Silence tells him Mudge has left which surprises Barker given that Mudge left his hat and umbrella. He’s also puzzled as to how Mudge got past him. “Mr. Mudge has his own way of coming and going, and prefers it,” says Silence.
He instructs Barker to notify him immediately if Mudge comes back and to treat him gently, ask no questions, and think pleasant thoughts toward him.
Two days later, Silence gets a telegram:
Bombay. Just slipped out again. All safe. Have blocked entrances. Thousand thanks. Address Cooks, London. —MUDGE.
The story ends with Silence ordering Barker to send Mudge’s things over to the address given.
I hoped for a grimmer ending but, since this is a Silence story, I didn’t really expect it. Still, I liked this one because it shows how occultists of the earlier 20th century were working in new mathematical concepts into their reasoning. I also thought Blackwood did a nice job in that scene depicting Mudge’s weird fading out from our three-dimensional world.