Bad Blodgett! One Tuesday in spring, he went a-roaming among the Perspex Caves of Lamont, part of that magnificent artificial coastline immortalised in mezzotints by the mezzotintist Rex Tint. Sheltering in one of the caves from a sudden downpour, Blodgett took his sketchbook out of his satchel and passed the time making a series of cartoon drawings of historical figures. The pictures were imaginary likenesses, of course, for Blodgett was ignorant of many things, and he had no idea what Blind Jack of Knaresborough looked like. Nor was he at all sure that his double cartoon of Barbara Stanwyckand Fred MacMurray bore any resemblance to the stars of Double Indemnity. The rain showed no sign of ceasing, so Blodgett filled page after page, scribbling drawings of Marcus Aurelius, Christopher Smart, Mary Baker Eddy, Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, and the Prophet Mohammed, among others. It was this last cartoon that caused ructions which were to have so decisive an effect on Blodgett's life.
Later that day, on his way home from the Perspex Caves of Lamont, Blodgett inadvertently left his sketchbook on the bus. A week or so later, a bus company employee was checking through the lost property and took a few moments to leaf through the book. Turning the fateful page, this employee - an adherent of the Islamic faith - was by turns outraged, humiliated, mortally offended and infuriated when he saw Blodgett's cartoon. As is the way with such matters, he immediately arranged for copies to be distributed to mullahs and imams around the world, so that they too could share his outrage, humiliation, mortal offence and fury. Soon there were calls for Blodgett to be beheaded or otherwise put to death, and he went into hiding. Let's take a look at the picture, so that we can understand what all the fuss was about.
Blodgett's cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed
(In an interesting side note, there was a similar flurryof anger from a sect devoted to the cult of Fred MacMurray, but this fizzled out after Blodgett pledged to attend a penitential screening of one of the actor's late pieces of Disney pap.)
Meanwhile, hiding out in the Perspex Caves of Lamont, the evil cartoonist had time to think through what had happened. Blodgett was aware that the Victorian atheist Charles Bradlaugh had described the Christian Gospels as being “concocted by illiterate half-starved visionaries in some dark corner of a Graeco-Syrian slum”, and he did not think it much of a leap to conclude that the Prophet Mohammed was an equally deluded soul, although perhaps a better-organised one, with access to weaponry which enabled him to spread his message faster and more efficiently.
Around this time, Blodgett received through an intermediary an offer from the furious and offended Islamists. The sentence of death could be rescinded, they suggested, if he made a sincere conversion to their faith and promised to live out the rest of his days in submission to Allah. Blodgett considered this for about forty seconds before rejecting it. Apart from anything else, he reasoned, it was very unlikely that Mrs Blodgett would agree to spend the rest of her life cocooned in a person-sized tent and to stop going out by herself.
Shortly after this, still in hiding, Blodgett had a brainwave. Indeed, he became somewhat furious and offended himself. The conversion offer, he decided, was an example of the old cliché “If you can't beat them, join them”. Well… he would join them, but not in the way they thought. If half-starved visionaries could propagate the Christian gospels, and Mohammed could claim to have heard the voice of God, as so many others down the centuries had insisted, with varying degrees of success, that they were in direct contact with supernatural powers, what was to stop Blodgett announcing that he, and only he, had found the true path? From this spark of inspiration was Blodgettism born.
He began to make clandestine visits to the municipal library at Blister Lane, devouring, among other works, the Qu'ran, the Bible, the collected works of L Ron Hubbard and David Icke, the Book of Mormon, sacred texts from all the major religions and many of the minor ones, even a couple of novels by Ayn Rand. After a few weeks of constant reading, Blodgett set out to define Blodgettism. He did not want it to be a synthesis of every other faith - that seemed a little too pat, a little too Blavatskyesque - and nor did he want it to be simply an amalgam of the good bits. Considering that he was still under sentence of death from a number of shouting men with beards, Blodgett wanted Blodgettism to be a faith at once as rigorous and intransigent as Islam. Thus, he cast aside with reluctance some of the more amusing things he had learned, such as underwear regulations in Mormonism, and Mr Hubbard's intergalactic drivel, and fixed his attention on jihad. As far as jihad-as-inner-struggle was concerned, Blodgett could not give a hoot. But jihad-as-holy-war appealed to him as a way of taking on his persecutors, and thus became the most important feature of the Blodgettist religion.
In The Book Of Blodgett, published in paperback the following year, it has to be said that the founder of the new religion makes an impeccably reasonable argument in favour of his faith. Having devised a set of laws - called Blodgettia - he announces that it is the duty of everyone on earth to obey them, or be killed. Taking his cue mainly from the Qu'ran and the Old Testament, Blodgett devised an appropriately illogical and arbitrary set of regulations for human behaviour. The list of laws is too long and abstruse to reproduce here, but a couple of examples will suffice.
“Blodgettia Law Number 12. Thou shalt not eat plums within ten yards of a pig or a goat or a starling. Those that disobey this law will be bundled up in sacking and thrown into a canal.”
“ Blodgettia Law Number 49. It is forbidden to wear your hat at other than a jaunty angle. See appendix for diagrams of angles of jauntiness and non-jauntiness. Officials of the Committee For The Promotion Of Blodgettian Virtue And The Wholesale Suppression Of Blodgettian Vice And Abomination, armed with protractors and tape measures, will fan out across the land, and where they find hats worn at non-jaunty angles they shall proceed to poke malefactors with pointy sticks before putting them to an entirely justifiable death.”
Of course, the Prophet Mohammed - let's just take a look at that picture again, to remind ourselves -
As I was saying, the Prophet Mohammed was able to spread his word through a combination of historical and geographic circumstance and violence. Alas, Blodgettism never really took root, numbering perhaps only three or four devotees at its height, including Blodgett himself. But there are a few copies of The Book Of Blodgett which have not been pulped or thrown into dustbins, and they may yet inspire a new generation of fanatical adherents, who will demand, in big shouty voices, that they are right and every one else is wrong, and get very upset and angry if you disagree with them, and it will be your fault if they decide to blow you up or chop off your head. Be warned.