MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Through the Black Board (1943)
Joel Rogers
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

The tagline of the story says:

(quoted from Through the Black Board)

“Unexpectedly Tossed into the Fourth Dimension, Little Mathematics Professor Noel Gouf Has an Amazing Chance to Solve All of His Persona! Problems While Time Stands Motionless!”

Professor Noel Gouf was destined for greatness at birth:

(quoted from Through the Black Board)

“He had been an infant prodigy, the delight of his teachers, the pride and awe of his heavy-shouldered, tired, plodding, slow-speaking laborer father; the hope and glory of his shining-eyed young mother. He had graduated from this very high school at eleven. He had graduated from Harvard summa cum laude at fourteen. Noel Gouf. The mathematical wizard. Written up in newspapers and magazines. Lecturing to the Graduate School faculty on “The Theory of the Fourth Dimension” at fifteen.”

The days were joyful (and made more so by this quaintly simplistic and comical perception of higher mathematics espoused by the author):

(quoted from Through the Black Board)

“What a lovely world, the perfect world of mathematics. Minus quantities. Multiply x to the nth power. Carry onward to infinity. Everything working out to perfection with a pencil and a piece of paper, or a blackboard and some chalk.[...]Mathematics. Abstruse theories. The lovely perfect world of intangible and unreal speculation.”

But alas! It was not to be. For one, “The pure and beautiful world of mathematics is not the world in which a man must live, or can.”. Two, an early calamity befell Noel and his father passed away when he was 16. At 20, he got married and his mother passed away. Kids followed, he did not finish his Ph.D. and thereafter, till age 45, he kept teaching “Senior Math” class at Stratton High School in New Jersey. And every year, he ended the course with a lecture on the Fourth Dimension. All his promise was lost, all the genius amounting to just a low-paid job bereft of any respect from students or peers.

On the verge of being fired from the school for not being able to control his class students, and no prospects of getting another job, Noel had made a desperate bid to make quick money by mortgaging his house and other assets to bet it all on the stock market. And those investments were about to go south in a hurry...

And so, magic realism to the rescue. As he explained the geometrical concept of the fourth dimension to his class (which paid no attention to his scholarship), the ability for a four-dimensional access to get past 3-D barriers (by flatland-type analogies) and the like, he found a strange wavering take over:

(quoted from Through the Black Board)

“He had done the same thing for thirty years. The same words, the same diagrams, the same little formulae, but he felt a fever mounting in him this afternoon, an eerie feeling. Outside the windows the murmuring of the fat June laden insects was a soporific song. [...] He felt the bones inside him rush and melt. An intangible trembling had taken hold. There was that strange tingling in little Noel Gouf’s nerves, and in his bones. The bones, the solid flesh of him, seemed to melt and rush together.

“Let us draw this line, continuing it...”

He drew a swift corkscrewing parabola. His hand went in through the blackboard, following the swift line he had been drawing, and which had receded in. The blackboard was like rubber or jelly. More like a translucent plasm, it might be called. The chalk line he had The chalk line he had drawn had gone in like a corkscrew, un winding like a spool of thread, to arm’s length in front of him. He reached “Q. E, D.!” he said breathlessly. “Quod erat demonstrandum! What was to be demonstrated! Ladies and gentlemen, the fourth dimension!”

Turns out that when you step into this fourth spatial dimension, time stops in the external world from your perspective, enabling you to cross vast distances in no time and perform seemingly impossible tasks. And so the rest of the story recounts how the professor went about getting things in order, exacting minor acts of revenge on a few choice people, running into a couple of other people who were also able to access the fourth dimension, and slipping back into the same classroom in front of the blackboard...

But in this act, he had forgotten the specific mathematical formulae and motions he knew would enable easy access back to that dimension. (“About the fourth dimension... I almost thought that I had solved it, for an infinitesimal split fraction of a second.”). As the local priest, who had also traversed that dimension, tells him philosophically:

(quoted from Through the Black Board)

“Perhaps we all solve it, more than once in our lives. In times of stress or need, when we get out of ourselves. Hunches. Intuitions. Visions. Artists’ creative inspirations. Things which come to us while we may be wandering in some fourth dimension. Only we never remember about it afterward.”

Published in Thrilling Wonder Stories June 1943.

(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Through the Black Board
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Land of No Shadow by Carl H Claudy
  2. Into the Fourth by Adam Hull Shirk
  3. Gold Dust and Star Dust by Cyrill Wates
  4. A Modern Comedy of Science by Issac Nathanson
  5. The Mobius Trail by George Smith
  6. The Captured Cross-Section by Miles J. Breuer (M.D.)
  7. Project Flatty by Irving Cox Jr.
  8. The Professor's Experiments - The Dimension of Time by Paul Bold
  9. The Fourth-Dimensional Demonstrator by Murray Leinster
  10. Technical Error by Arthur C. Clarke
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Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
MotifHigher/Lower Dimensions, Time Travel, Math Education,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)