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||The Exploits of Engelbrecht
233mm x 150mm
Original hardback of 1950
ISBN 0 86130 107 2
The Dwarf goes hunting.
Illustration by Boswell
"Abstracted From The Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club..." The first shot fired in Savoy's new millennium book line. The brilliantly witty and endlessly inventive adventures of the Dwarf Surrealist Boxer and his motley crew of ether-sniffing compadres. Back in print for the first time in twenty-three years, this is the best edition of this imaginative tour de force to have been published anywhere. Taken from text and artwork as they originally appeared in the publishing phenomenon of Lilliput magazine, Savoy's volume also includes an extra Richardson story from Lilliput, Unquiet Wedding, plus ALL the Engelbrecht illustrations, most of which won't have been seen since they first appeared. A cult book if ever there was one.
Introduction by James Cawthorn; afterword by Michael Moorcock.
Original illustrations by James Boswell, Gerard Hoffnung and Ronald Searle.
Additional illustrations for this volume by James Cawthorn, John Coulthart and Kris Guidio.
Jacket from an original design by James Boswell, colours by Kris Guidio, design by John Coulthart.
Download a sample of the first chapter of this book, The Night of the Big Witch Shoot, with illustrations and other graphics:
Chapter One (PDF)
A few copies of the now scarce first Savoy edition (same contents but different dust jacket) are available:
"Far more obscure, but for my money the best book of the year, is The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson. Richardson, who died in 1978, was one of the old school of hacks; he later became a stalwart infester of the Colony Rooms and the sordid pubs round Soho that teemed with pissed-up talent in the 1940s and 1950s. The Exploits of Engelbrecht, the dwarf surrealist boxer, and his adventures shooting witches, boxing grandfather clocks, playing football on Mars and games of surrealist golf which last for infinity, originally appeared in Lilliput when it was at its post-war zenith. The stories were illustrated by, among others, Searle and Hoffnung. Ah, God, those were the days."
MARTIN ROWSON, The Independent on Sunday
The Exploits of Engelbrecht is English surrealism at its greatest. Witty and fantastical, Maurice Richardson was light years ahead of his time. Unmissable.
"Maurice Richardson was one of the most gifted and original journalists of his time. . .he had an easy, natural, conversational style and a wonderful adroit gift for metaphor. . .he was a highly entertaining talker with a rich gift for fantasy and mimicry.
TERENCE KILMARTIN, The Observer
"The Exploits of Engelbrecht is a classic that should never have been overlooked."
"This is the first in a proposed series of fantasy classics from Savoy others to follow include the possibly even more obscure Zenith the Albino by Anthony Skene, The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson and The Killer by Colin Wilson. As the good people of Savoy are keen to point out, these are no ordinary reprints. Unlike Millennium's current Fantasy Masterworks series, these are not set from old galleys, but are exquisitely produced, limited edition hardbacks with a good deal of supplementary materialin this case artwork from John Coulthart, Kris Guidio and James Cawthorn, a further Richardson story, an introduction by Cawthorn and an epilogue by Michael Moorcock. This last casts Richardson as a boozy chancer, as quick with his fists as his wit and ever keen to trade a story for a drinka writer who'd fit seamlessly into any Iain Sinclair bookbut for me the defining reference point is a photo of him in late middle age, looking like a cross between JG Ballard and Terry-Thomas. The style of prose here isn't far off such a cross, either: English Surrealism with the psycho-sexual seriousness replaced by a sense of theatrical fun.
Unlike most other Savoy products, and to the inevitable disappointment of the Greater Manchester authorities, Engelbrecht is a book which contains no graphic bloodletting, no sexual deviancyunless you count the pugilist dwarf's date with a Giant Sundewand nothing to make it inaccessible or dull to, say, a nine-year-old who liked Harry Potter books. And mescaline. What it does contain is a series of extracts from the Surrealist Sportsman's Club Chronicles, in which the titular boxer, a gentleman of short stature and simian aspect, is pitted against an assortment of foes and obstacles, from villainous octopi to Butlins Redcoats. That the dwarf should prevail each time is the only thing to be expectedotherwise there's a gleeful sense of play at work here, unlikely juxtapositions carried by a lean, pacy prose style and offset by perfect comic timing. You can imagine Richardson honing the stories on bleary-eyed cronies in favoured drinking densthey're made to be listened toand a Sir Henry at Rawlinson's End musical treatment would work perfectly. It's criminal that Engelbrecht hasn't enjoyed the same degree of exposure as Sir Henryboth are true classics of English Surrealismand hopefully this Savoy edition will go some way towards restoring the balance. Unmissable."
JAMES MARRIOTT, Black Star Review
"The Exploits of Engelbrecht is the first in an exciting new line of reprinted fiction from Savoy Books that is set to include new, illustrated editions of, amongst others, William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland and David Linday's fantasy classic A Voyage to Arcturus. The first instalment is a much-championed collection of short stories by Maurice Richardson that first appeared in Lilliput magazine amongst contributions from the likes of Mervyn Peake and Arthur C Clarke. The book is lavishly produced in hardback with over 50 illustrations from the likes of Ronald Searle and John Coulthart (Lord Horror). The stories collected here represent the bizarre adventures of Engelbrecht, the Surrealist boxer. His legendary fight with a Grandfather Clock is recited in thrilling detail, as is his trip to the plant theatre where all the parts are played, slowly, by vegetation. The exploits are often of a rather macabre nature, such as the annual witch-hunt in which Engelbrecht takes part and the elections at Nightmare Abbey. The stories are all very funny and the artwork is equally memorable and amusing. Along with boxing, very bizarre versions of cricket and golf are enjoyed by our boxing hero Engelbrecht. The Exploits of Engelbrecht is great fun and recommended to adults and young readers alike. Maurice Richardson had a wicked sense of humour and a uniquely surreal vision. I look forward to what Savoy shall present us with next in what looks set to be a classic series."
MATT LEYSHON, Enigma
"Following last year's publication of a Reverbstorm comic and a CD of PJ Proby reading Eliot's The Waste Land, The Exploits of Engelbrecht (Savoy Books, £20) is by Maurice Richardson, and it is rare and needful and funny. Recommended. It's a reprint, of course, the stories having appeared in Lilliput magazine, which according to James Cawthorn, "lived its finest hours during the subsequent years of paper shortages and the ingeniously expressed hostility of eighty million neighbours across the English Channel" after the Second World War. The magazine died in the 1960s, but these stories have found new fosters: the indefatigable arms of the good people of Savoy Books. They have given us this giftthis result of their stern care and tough love.
So here we have 15 stories about Engelbrecht, a "dwarf surrealist boxer" who has to punch the lights out of various grandfather clocks and indulge in crazy mayhem... Every once in a while you might read a lazy journalist who, in trying to describe something beyond his wordstore, says something like: "It's unclassifiable... It's impossible to talk about." And of course I snootily look down on such copping-out; but really, how do you describe a character like Engelbrecht? Except to say that there are some great one-liners: one of the boxer's opponents has "got a classic stance, hour hand well forward, minute hand guarding his face. They've mounted him on castors with ball bearings, and his footwork is as neat as a flea's." Or: "there are ugly rumours that Engelbrecht's manager, Lizard Bayliss, slipped that Clock a couple of hundred hours to lie down." It's amazing. Maurice Richardson lived from 1907 to 1978, and by some accounts was as "difficult" as his prose is delightful. A drinker, curmudgeon, fighter, Richardson was the sort of man who could never honestly utter the phrase, "It would never happen to me". From the introduction (Cawthorn) and the afterword (Michael Moorcock) we get a glimpse into this writer's brain, with its interests in boxing, psychiatry, women, snakes, insects. But the stories will tell you more about this mad-man than any number of non-fiction pieces; and the wonderful internal illustrationssome originals by Ronald Searle, James Boswell and Gerard Hoffnung, and some new ones by Kris Guidio, John Coulthart and Cawthornadmirably aid our visualisation. Surrealism might have lost some of its appeal in recent years, but you wouldn't think so to regard the sheer joy of this first-class package."
DAVID MATHEW, Interzone
"Richardson is the great lost master of comic fantasy, perhaps the single finest exponent of the art since James Branch Cabell. Although he wrote little fiction, he didn't really need to. With this one title he invented the slyest and driest Gothic world yet seen. It's a relief as well as a pleasure that Savoy have finally reissued his stunning volume of linked strange stories, half a century after they first appeared. It probably won't change the overblown fantasy genre as it currently stands but it ought to. Richardson was one of the most original talents of any age of imaginative writing, and his neglect is baffling. Maybe not: the sheer difficulty of obtaining a copy of The Exploits of Engelbrecht has previously ensured that his name is as obscure as his achievements. It took me seven years to track the book down, and I ended up paying £30 for a very battered original. Savoy's new edition is cheaper, smarter and even contains a bonus story.
I first learned of Richardson's existence in the Michael Moorcock article 'Starship Stormtroopers', included in his collection The Opium General (1984). What riveted my attention was Moorcock's claim that the ideas in Richardson's work were even wilder and more concise than those in the fiction of Borges. I considered this improbable, but planned to judge for myself if I ever got the chance. Moorcock kept writing about Richardson. In his reference work, Wizardry and Wild Romance (1987), the Engelbrecht adventures are cited as an "antidote" to the clichés of Epic Fantasy. Back in 1993, I even managed a brief chat on this point with Moorcock in the Cardiff branch of Waterstone's. He expressed some doubts that Richardson would ever win the reputation he deserved. Perhaps it's still not too late, for other heavyweight champions have rallied to the Engelbrecht cause, JG Ballard, David Langford and Christopher Fowler among them. And now Savoy have given us another chance to discover what this growing fuss is all about.
So what will you get for your money? A slim volume, that's certain, but one so rich in humour and imagination and wordplay that it seems a much thicker tome. Like Milorad Pavic and Italo Calvino, Richardson is essentially a generous writer. He wants to give you everything and not waste your time in doing so. Fifteen short 'chapters' which also work as stand-alone stories relate the activities of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club, a society of very dubious morals which spends the time it has left between the collapse of the moon and the end of the universe taking the concept of the 'game' to its logical limit. A club can't operate without members, and those of the SSC are as strange and astonishing as some of the events they compete in. Most formidable of all, and more than just a little sinister, is the old Id, an "elemental force" who thinks nothing of venturing forth from his home at Nightmare Abbey to arrange a rugby match between Mars and the entire human race, or of playing chess with boy scouts and nuclear bombs as pieces. Other regulars include little Charlie Wapentake, Nodder Forthergill, Willy Warlock, Badger Norridge, Salvador Dali, Bones Barlow, Monkey Trevelyan and Lizard Bayliss, the only member not to fall in love with an animal, vegetable, mineral or abstract each time Spring arrives.
Centre stage, however, is given to Engelbrecht himself, the dwarf boxer. Surrealist boxers don't take on human opponents, but "do most of their fighting with clocks." Engelbrecht has his fair share of those and even bests a malign Grandfather Clock in a match where years rather than money is at stake, but his talents are also called upon to help him deal with almost the whole spectrum of Gothic, electric and purely impossible threats in a style both charming and ferocious. He's an eternal optimist and it's his pluck and spirit, rather than his fists or footwork, which generally make the greatest contribution to the precarious well-being of his club. Not that all his enemies are outside the society. Some are his friends, for instance Chippy de Zoete, the resident "fixer" and general bad-egg whose whimsical charm and indefatigability, qualities he shares with the dwarf, only partly redeem the malevolence of his schemes. Tommy Prenderghast is another dodgy member, though when he tries to outwit the old Id by setting fire to Gallows Wood during the Night of the Walpurgis Witch Shoot, he instantly meets his match. The ancient laws of the Shoot prohibit the use of artificial light, which explains why so much "game" gets away from the "Nightmare coverts."
The tone of all these adventures is a curious blend of Gothic and science fiction, but an avant-garde Gothic and an absurdist SF, a voice which simultaneously lampoons much of the atmosphere found in novels of the past and future while making a genuine contribution to both kinds. Richardson has placed his tongue firmly in his cheek, true, but then he has proceeded to bite it off with molars sharpened on the grindstones of profundity. There are messages about optimism and anti-cynicism here, but they are inherent in the spirit of the stories rather than spelled out in the text. The book delivers what many visionaries only advocate, acting like a tonic on the reader. Having said that, there is a sense of unease lurking behind a few of the exploits which makes the resulting exuberance feel like guilty pleasure. The Id is a cosmicomic tyrant and his methods can be inarguably black. Shouting to himself in the Silence Room at the clubhouse is the least of it. Hunting politicians and judges with hounds and ghouls is eminently forgivable, but what about shooting players for the crime of fumbling a ball or feasting on pickled organs from the Royal College of Surgeons' Museum? But that's the point of the Id, who prefers rules to morals, and bending those rules when a grand wheeze requires it. Engelbrecht is the only one you might care to trust with your life, though not your mind.
For those who can find only a sour taste in the blood, sweat and wormcasts of contact sports, there's always the refuge of high culture. Try a night at the Plant Theatre. But there are hazards here as well. An attempt by the New Forest to perform King Lear has already lasted for 5000 years and the final scene still isn't in sight. The problem is that "Plant Drama is apt to be a bit slow... even a relatively fast worker like mistletoe, convolvulus, or bamboo, playing in a light Coward type comedy, can take three months over a proposal..." And Dog's Opera isn't much safer, not with Chippy de Zoete's bag of cats. As for politics and romance, Engelbrecht's canvassing and winning of the spare seat in the Monkslust constituency is achieved at the cost of returning civilisation to the Stone Age, while his efforts to elope with a cuckoo clock have dire consequences for poor Badger Norridge when it strikes twelve and releases not a cuckoo but a pterodactyl.
A few of the jokes to be found within the pages of this remarkable volume are more than merely absurd or clever: they are revelatory. And despite their often abstract nature, they can be amazingly visual. Savoy have made the decision to include the James Boswell illustrations from the 1950 edition, eight in all, each one a work of sublime genius and an audacious attempt to convert Richardson's ideas into pictures. Boswell's astoundingly cluttered cover has also been duplicated, with tiny details taken from nearly all the tales cavorting together. But more than this: the Savoy reprint includes other illustrations by other artists involved with the Engelbrecht phenomenon, Gerard Hoffnung and Ronald Searle among them. And there's the bonus story. As Savoy's own blurb admits: this is almost fated to become a cult book and one to be cherished by all lovers of the truly bizarre. It's not really for those who like their gods to stay nameless, nor for those who believe they can preserve their sanity with escapism. But the discerning reader will find more than enough dark pearls to outweigh any lost marbles."
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