a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

The Pikestaffe Case (1924)
Algernon Blackwood
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

This quite unsatisfying yarn hangs its hat on the old idea of finding a way into a mirror to discover a new reality. The author waves his hands quite a bit to build an aura of mystery (by appealing to silky cobwebs, creaky house, age-old mirror) and plausibility (throwing buzzwords about mathematics which don't lead anywhere - except inside the mirror, apparently) but does not appear to know how to end it, leading to a very flat story (only slightly better than a couple of his other efforts listed on the site).

So this mathematics professor ("Mr. Thorley is a high mathematician. He makes measurements and calculations") who reads "Gauss! Minkowski! Lobatchewski!Einstein!" takes up lodging at an old woman's guest-house and starts performing some experiments with an antique mirror in the house (going so far as to order "mathematical instruments"). Then, one day, he disappears and so does his best math student, Gerald Pikestaffe. The old lady sees them hovering in some new dimension inside the mirror, faints and later, predictably, the mirror breaks and all links are lost.

There appears to be absolutely no conection between mathematics and finding a new direction in the mirror. The only point where it could have actually gotten interesting was where the landlady sees Thorley inside the mirror. The description seems to imply that the reality inside the mirror is similar to a Poincare disk. When Thorley sees the old woman, he starts approaching her and the author describes it as:

(quoted from The Pikestaffe Case)

"Mr. Thorley's advance, however, had two distracting peculiarities - that as he drew nearer he moved not in a straight line but a curve. As a skater performs "edges", though on both feet instead of on one, he swept gracefully and with incredible speed in her direction. The other peculiarity was that with each step nearer, his figure grew smaller. It lessened in height. He seemed, indeed, to be moving in two directions at once. He became diminutive."

A shame that the author did not venture further. At least he could have salvaged some educational value out of blandness.

Published in the magazine "Mystery and Detection", V1 #1, 1924 and available in Blackwood's anthology "Strange Stories".

The story was also made into a 1962 TV episode of "Tales of Mystery".

(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 The Pikestaffe Case
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. A Victim of Higher Space by Algernon Blackwood
  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. Mathematician’s Heaven by Hunter Frances
  7. The Professor's Experiments - The Dimension of Time by Paul Bold
  8. Through the Black Board by Joel Rogers
  9. The Vanishing Man by Richard Hughes
  10. The Second Moon by Russell R. Winterbotham
Ratings for The Pikestaffe Case:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifHigher/Lower Dimensions,
MediumTelevision Series or Episode, Short Stories,

Home All New Browse Search About

Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)