Horst Gack’s eerie familiar, a homunculus perched on his shoulder which hissed at passers-by and bit those who came too close, has long been a source of fascination for a handful of nitwits with nothing better to fill their time. It is now the subject of a magisterial new biography, Die Homunculus-vertraut von Gack, the result of several hours of slapdash research by Teutonic potboilerist Shaka Kieselkopf, a second or possibly third cousin of our own dear Pebblehead.
From the book, we learn some startling facts – if, of course, we can read German. If we cannot, and absent a translation, we would be better advised to use it as a door-stop, or to hold down the corner of a tarpaulin in a gale.
One of the less startling things we learn is that the familiar was created using the standard Paracelsian recipe. Paracelsus (1493-1541), real name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, made the first known homunculus from a bag of bones, skin fragments, sperm, and animal hair. He placed these ingredients in the ground, surrounded by horse manure, for forty days, after which the embryo sprang into being. Horst Gack would appear to have followed this precisely, with the addition of some lupins and half a choc-ice.
Interestingly, we discover that the homunculus was absolutely identical to its maker in all respects save its size. It was a miniature Horst Gack, down to its stylish Louis Brilliantine suit, trendy winkle-pickers, and fantastic bouffant, based, as was Horst Gack’s, on The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Hokusai. Its temperament, mien, and behaviour were also of a piece with Gack’s, particularly the hissing and biting.
The only thing the homunculus seemed unable to do was to conduct huge ensembles in recitals of godawful semi-improvised avant-garde racket, though not for want of trying. Kieselkopf tells an enchanting anecdote of the homunculus trying to teach various flies, midges, gnats, and bluebottles to play the theremin, piccolo, xylophone, and tuba, without success. The sessions were recorded, however, and I think the publishers ought to have included a CD of the surviving tape. It would have made for a more rounded portrait of Horst Gack’s familiar.
One question which the biography does not address is why the homunculus was forever perched on Horst Gack’s shoulder. It was a fully functioning tiny creature, and could quite easily have scampered off and made its own way in the world. Yet it preferred always to remain as if glued to its maker, hissing at him and biting him when there was nobody else in the vicinity to torment.
The missing voice in all this, of course, is that of Horst Gack himself, who apparently tried to block the book’s publication. The grounds cited in his legal case included a claim that the biography “lacked Gack” and was thus “dippy, ploppy, and poopy”. The finest legal minds in Germany are still considering the matter, which experts say may not be resolved until some time in the next century. In the meantime, an illegal pirated edition of the book is in circulation, and has sold upwards of eight copies.
It should be noted that I do not read German, and there may be wild and unforgivable inaccuracies in the foregoing.