After the death of the famous Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, a remarkable discovery was unearthed—the remains of an astonishing cabinet of curiosities.
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In keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambshead and his exploits, HarperCollins now proudly presents fully illustrated highlights from the doctor's cabinet, including exciting stories of adventure and reproduced museum exhibits. The Cabinet anthology is a secret history of the 20th century, an art book with over 70 images, and a treasury of modern fantasy containing work by more than 85 creators, including some of the genre’s most exciting names, and it’s suitable for both YA and adult library collections.
New York Times bestseller Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, created his story inspired by Mike Mignola’s original artwork. Here's an exclusive excerpt from the new fiction and art anthology featuring Grossman, China Mieville, Holly Black, Naomi Novik, Alan Moore, Charles Yu, Mike Mignola and more…
SIR RANULPH WYKEHAM-RACKHAM, GBE,
A.K.A. ROBOTICUS THE ALL-KNOWING
Documented by Lev Grossman, art by Mike Mignola
Museum: Imperial War Museum London
Exhibit: Military Miracles! Medical Innovation and the Great Wars
Category: Full-body prosthetic
Medium: Stainless steel, rubber, enameled copper, textile
Sir Ranulph Wykeham-Rackham was born in 1877. As heir to the legendary Wykeham-Rackham wainscoting fortune he was assured a life of leisure and privilege, if not any particular utility. But no one suspected that his life would be still be going on 130 years later, after a fashion.
A brilliant student, he went up to Oxford at the age of sixteen and was sent down again almost immediately for drunkenness, card-playing and lewdness. Given the popularity of these pastimes among the undergraduate body one can only imagine the energy and initiative with which young Randulph pursued them.
Although he had no artistic talent himself, Wykeham-Rackham preferred the company of artists, who appreciated his caustic wit, his exquisite wardrobe and his significant annual allowance. He moved to London and rapidly descended into dissipation in the company of the members of the Aesthetes, chief among them Oscar Wilde. Wykeham-Rackham was a regular presence in the gallery during Wilde's trial for gross indecency, and after Wilde's release from prison it is strongly suspected that wainscoting money bankrolled the elaborate ruse surrounding Wilde's supposed death, and his actual relocation to a comfortable island in the remote West Indies where such advanced Victorian ideas as "gross indecency" did not exist.
The real Wilde died in 1914, leaving Wykeham-Rackham alone and feeling, at thirty-seven, that his era was already passing away. Pater and Swinburne and Burne-Jones and the other aesthetes were long gone. The outbreak of World War II further deepened his pessimism about the future of modern civilization. Rich, bored and extravagantly melancholy, he enlisted in the 28th Battalion of the London Regiment, popularly known as the “Artists Rifles,” because, as he said, he “liked the uniform, and hated life.” One can only imagine his surprise when the Artists Rifles were retained as an active fighting force and sent on a tour of the war’s most viciously contested battlefields, including Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele. All told the Artists Rifles would sustain more personnel killed in World War I than any other British battalion.
But Wykeham-Rackham survived, and not only survived but flourished. He discovered within himself either an inner wellspring of bravery or a stylish indifference to his own fate—the line between them is a fine one—and over the course of three years of trench combat he was awarded a raft of medals, including the Military Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy at Bapaume.
His luck ran out in 1918, during the infamous 100-days assault on Germany's Hindenburg line. Wykeham-Rackham was attempting to negotiate a barbed-wire barrier when a sharpshooter's bullet clipped a white phosphorus grenade that he carried on his belt. White phosphorus, then the cutting edge of anti-personnel weaponry, offered one of the grimmest deaths available to a soldier in the Great War. In short order the chemical had burned away much of Wykeham-Rackham’s lower body, from the hips down. As he writhed in agony, the German sharpshooter, evidently not satisfied with his work, fired twice more, removing the bridge of Wykeham-Rackham’s nose, his left cheekbone and half his lower jaw.
But not, strangely, ending his life. The former dandy’s soul clung tenaciously to his ruined body, even as it was trundled from aid station to field hospital to Paris and then across the channel to London. There he became the focus of one of the strangest collaborations to which the twentieth century would bear witness.
At that time the allied fields of prosthetics and cosmesis were being marched rapidly out of their infancy and into a painful adolescence in order to cope with the shocking wounds being inflicted on the human body by the new mechanized weaponry of World War I. Soldiers were returning from the battlefield with disfigurements of a severity undreamt of by earlier generations. When word of Wykeham-Rackham’s grievous injury reached his family, from whom he had long been estranged, rather than attend his bedside personally they opted to send a great deal of money. It was just as well.
In short order Wykeham-Rackham’s feet, legs and hips had been rebuilt, in skeletal form, out of a new martensitic alloy known as stainless steel which had just been invented in nearby Sheffield. They were provided with rudimentary muscular power by a hydraulic network fashioned out of gutta-percha tubing. The whole contraption was then fused to the base of Wykeham-Rackham’s spine…
…To replace Wykeham-Rackham’s shattered face, a wholly different approach was required. When he was sufficiently recovered from his first operation, Wykeham-Rackham was removed to Sidcup, a suburb of London, home to a special hospital dedicated to the care of those with grotesque facial injuries. It was an eerie place. Mirrors were forbidden. Throughout the town were placed special benches, painted blue, where it was understood that the townspeople should expect that anyone sitting there would present a gravely disturbing appearance.
Wykeham-Rackham’s old artist friends, those who were left, rallied around him. Facial reconstruction at that time was accomplished by means of masks. A plaster cast was made of the wounded man’s face, a process which brought the patient to within seconds of suffocation. The cast was then used to make a mask made of paper-thin galvanized copper. Prominent painters competed with one another to produce the most lifelike reproduction of Wykeham-Rackham’s vanished features, which were then reproduced in enamel that was bonded to the copper.
In all twelve such masks were produced, suitable for various occasions and displaying a range of facial expressions. On seeing them for the first time, Wykeham-Rackham held one up, like Hamlet holding up Yorick's skull, and quoted from his old friend Wilde: "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
Continued in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities…
Excerpt © 2011 by Lev Grossman, with image © 2011 Mike Mignola, reprinted by permission of HarperCollins and the creators.