On Musrum

Anthony Earnshaw and Eric Thacker — Musrum [1968]


Musrum is a book, of that much we can be certain, but who or what is its eponymous hero? Is Musrum a man or a mouse, a criminal or a creator, or a space in which to dream? Is Musrum an attic, a corner, an exit or a cellar? Is Musrum a ventriloquist’s dummy, as his parrot believes, or is he none other than his double, Palfreyman? We do know that Musrum is terribly afraid of sponge cats . . .

As the myth takes shape, with lucidity and internal coherence, like an eccentric fairytale, we learn that Musrum is some sort of demi-god who reigns from an Iron Castle in the land of Interstol and that his prized possession, a veritable Tree of Life in the form of a gigantic
mushroom, is coveted by his adversary, the Weedking. The Tree is stolen from Musrum’s garden by the Weedking, which leads to a convoluted military campaign — the Second Crimean War, no less, with a cast including gypsies and wolves — and the eventual resolution of this mock-Manichean struggle.

The result of a collaboration between a surrealist artist and a Methodist minister, Anthony Earnshaw and Eric Thacker, and published, much to their surprise, by Jonathan Cape in 1968, Musrum is a book very much outside of literature, a ‘surrealist story’ (Thacker) mixing narrative with aphorisms, axioms, inventories, drawings, maps and diagrams, creating a truly distinctive interaction of the verbal and visual. Humour, often absurdist and pun-rich, runs riotously throughout, with shifting meanings and wild paradoxes. However, this was not intended as some sort of avant-gardist literary-artistic experimentation. Far from it, this is a book that pulses with playful interchange, between kindred spirits who shared an impish contempt for the humdrum of reality, including literature, playfully re-inventing and re-arranging this reality in their common cause.

Earnshaw and Thacker, both in their mid-forties when Musrum was written (though ‘written’ seems a wholly inadequate term), had been close friends since their teens, and had long shared passions for surrealism, anarchism and jazz (think Perdido Street Blues by The New Orleans Wanderers), as well as drifting through the streets of their native Leeds, at that time a grimy, industrial city. Growing from an exchange of letters, Musrum was principally created for their own non-conformist pleasure and amusement, inventing a new world—reflected, inverted, topsy-turvy; defying conventional logic, gravity, mechanics, architecture, perspective, history and geography. The ‘musroid’ world is built from the attic downwards into thin air, starting at the top, level by level, thereby creating a myriad of other realities, multiplying and running amok in the imagination. A world where a window retains its view, no matter to which room it is transported. A world where bandits, to avoid recognition, rather than conceal their faces, blindfold their own eyes. A world like no other in a book that cannot be contained or categorised.

Find it, read it and its spores will seep into your dreams.



The above is an entry I’d been invited to contribute on Musrum to Verboracious Festchrift Vol.3: The Syllabus, a collection of 100 texts on 100 books that make up “a broad sweep of the most important exploratory fiction written in the last hundred years”, further details of which can be found here.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.