One day in Autumn 1915, the German writer Gustav Meyrink, the author of the famous work of fiction The Golem, was at home in his armchair, near the fire, a newspaper on his knees. He had just been reading the news from the Front and was reflecting on the profound causes of this world war in which Germany, France, Britain, Austria, Belgium, Italy, and now Serbia, Greece and Turkey, were involved, and which was going to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
What obscure forces, he was thinking, push humanity to set off such killing sprees?
Suddenly, this man, whom a practice of yoga and certain Hindu techniques have led to superior states of consciousness, is seized with trembling; his body becomes icy and he recognizes the strange feeling which announces clairvoyancy phenomena in him.
Almost immediately, he “sees” before him a person of an unknown race whom he would later describe like this:
“Six feet tall, extremely thin, beardless, a face with olive-skin tints, slanty eyes, extraordinarily wide-spaced. The skin of the lips and face smooth like porcelain; the lips sharp, bright red, and so strongly tight – particularly around the corners – like in an implacable smile, that one would have thought that they were painted lips. He had on his head a curious red bonnet.”
This strange person holds in his hand a tuning-fork between the branches of which there is a little gilded hammer. At his feet swarm insects which are going about mysterious business, without the least clash, the least aggressivity. Suddenly, a strident sound rings out, coming doubtless from the tuning-fork that the man in the red bonnet is holding. Then the insects, as if animated by a murderous folly, throw themselves on each other and kill each other. The sight is appalling. These little beasts who, the instant before, were trotting peacefully beside each other, are now devouring each other with unimaginable violence under the cold, amused gaze of the man in the red bonnet. Then everything disappears.
Gustav Meyrink, in his armchair, is deeply impressed, for it appears to him that this vision is a symbolic answer to the question that he was asking himself on the subject of the profound causes of the war.
He knows, for having read numerous works on this subject, that according to Oriental occultists, there is apparently in Tibet a sect called the Dugpas, which is considered as a direct instrument of “demoniacal” forces of destruction. This man in the red bonnet who starts war among the insects by a vibration could therefore represent one of these Dugpas.
Meyrink sees there a subject to develop. He immediately goes to work and writes a short story entitled The Game of the Crickets, in which he exposes the occult causes of the war.
The following month, this story appears in the magazine Simplicissimus. And, a few weeks later, the writer receives from a person unknown to him, a painter by the name of Hocker, the following letter:
“I must first tell you that I am a man in perfect health and that I have never been subject to hallucinations or other abnormal states. Yesterday, I was in my studio, seated at my table working. Suddenly, I heard a metallic, musical sound. In turning around, I noticed a tall man, of a race that I didn’t know, a curious red bonnet on his head, who was standing in the room. I immediately realized that it was a psychical trouble. The man was holding in his hand a sort of tuning-fork composed of two branches, with which he had produced the sound of which I spoke. Between the two branches was a gilded hammer. Immediately, I saw appear on the ground piles of fat white insects which were tearing each other apart in a rustling of wings whose deafening noise was becoming intolerable. I still have this sound in my ears which is upsetting all my nerves. When the hallucination was over, I immediately started to draw the scene with a stick of seria. Then I went out to take some air. In passing before a newspaper kiosque, an impulse that I am unable to explain, given that I don’t like this magazine, prodded me to ask for Simplicissimus. As the salesgirl was giving me the last number, a decision just as inexplicable prodded me to say: ‘No, not this number, the one before, please!’ Back home, in flicking through the magazine, I found to my great stupefaction your story The Game of the Crickets relating, give or take a few details, all that I had just experienced myself one hour beforehand: the man with the red bonnet, the insects that were tearing each other apart, etc. I beg you, dear Sir, to have the kindness, if you can, to explain to me how I should interpret this thing…”
And it is signed: Hocker.
Having read this letter, Gustav Meyrink is annoyed. Another one, he thinks, who wants to make hinself interesting.
For the writer there is no doubt, in fact, that this Mr Hocker is a fabulator who has imagined all this story after having read the short story in the magazine.
Meyrink goes to throw the letter into the waste-paper basket when suddenly, an idea troubles him. He remembers that, in copying out his manuscript to send it to the magazine’s editor, he had modified a few details of his vision.
As he doesn’t remember very well any more which ones, he takes the number of Simplicissimus where his story is printed and that he has not re-read – for he hates re-reading his own works – and runs through the text.
He then comes across a modification that he had made at the last minute and which he had totally forgotten. And this modification stuns him, for it obliges him to think that his correspondent is not – cannot be – a joker, and that he could not have been inspired by the story which had appeared in Simplicissimus to tell him that he had seen a man with a red bonnet carrying a tuning-fork between the branches of which was a little hammer, for the simple reason that this tuning-fork is not mentioned in the story. Gustav Meyrink had replaced it at the last minute by another object. On his first rough copy, he had firstly written:
“The man with the red bonnet was holding in his hand a tuning-fork with which he was emitting strange sounds…”
However, in re-copying it, it had seemed to him to be more striking, more fantastic, to write:
“The man in the red bonnet was holding in his hand a prism with which he was capting the sun’s rays…”
He had also transformed the “strident sound that the tuning-fork was making” into an “apocalyptic light which was blinding the insects and making them crazy”…
Finally, he had written nowhere, not even in his rough copy, for the detail had not seemed significant to him, that the tuning-fork had a little gilded hammer between its branches.
To be continued.