Meta Mystery or Zoroastrian Scholarship?

I first saw the name on Gary Westfahl’s vast science fiction reference and biographical site, World of Westfahl. But, does Westfahl know more than he is telling? Is Ali Mirdrekvandi really the name of a self-educated Iranian author of a 1965 book called No Heaven for Gunga Din, or a pseudonym for another writer?

 The full title of the 128 page book is No Heaven For Gunga Din: Consisting of the British and American Officer’s Book, and while I had never heard of it, Verandah Books calls it a “Much-praised comic fable written for the amusement of officers in the mess at Teheran by a Persian servant.” Amazon.com calls the book, “A kind of Pilgrim’s Progress in which a group of officers wander about the firmament in search of Heaven.”

Someone called Phloighd included No Heaven For Gunga Din in a list of books “that made me think, or laugh, in a quasi-meaningful way…” and adds, “(I) think this was some sort of minor cult hit in the 60s. Blurb has Peter Sellers saying “it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read.”

The most complete and helpful summary of the book, albeit the least flattering, is by Gregory Tidwell on Omphalo Book Reviews. Tidwell, who gives the book two out of five stars, nevertheless gives the author credit for his intention, saying, “In order to put this novella . . . into perspective, its probably important to know what Kipling was trying to do with his poem Gunga Din . . . Despite the sacrifice made by Gunga Din in Kipling’s poem, he is treated as a sub-human because he was not British or caucasian. No Heaven for Gunga Din essentially relies on the same notions of racial superiority, and is told in the pidgin English of its title character. The (dead) officers go through (the Milky Way) in their search for Heaven acting exactly as if they were still men of power back on Earth. They take offense easily, they have no sensitivity to others, they are aggressive, bossy, solipsistic, and they treat Gunga Din, who is journeying to Heaven with them, as the slave they had on Earth as if they expect his reward to be an eternity of service to them.”

For reasons stated in his review, Tidwell believes “the back story (in the book’s introduction) to be nothing more than an element of the story, and the true author to be anonymous.”

Larry Weissmann, posting on the Book People Archive, says, “It’s a wonderful little parable and I’d recommend it.  However, even though I’m no linguist, the writing style doesn’t fit at all with the way the putative author (Mirdrekvandi) is described in the forward (by “Zaehner”) or intro (by “Hemming”).  My own thought is that all three names are fictitious, and the whole a beautifully done put-on.”

Some booksellers list John Hemming as the author of No Heaven For Gunga Din, but most of them list Ali Mirdrekvandi as the author and credit the Introduction to John Hemming. Most of them list a Forward by R. C. Zaehner. 

I found two people named John Hemming on Google. One, a British politician, was born in 1960, so he was only five years old when the book was published. The other John Hemming, born in 1935, is a well-known explorer and one of the world’s experts on Brazilian Indians, the Amazon environment, the Incas, and Peruvian archaeology. It seemed like a good lead. I contacted Mr. Hemming by the email link on his web site. His quick and courteous reply was that he had never heard of the book.

Searching R. C. Zaehner yielded much better results. I found a PDF file on JSTOR called Zoroastrian Survivals In Iranian Folklore II  by R. C. Zaehner, University of Oxford. In the Introduction to Zaehner’s paper, a Philip G. Kreyenbroek, University of London, makes reference to a J.F.B. Hemming, who was in possession of a long epic story called Irradiant, which was written by – guess who – Ali Mirdrekvandi!

To be continued . . . I hope . . .

 
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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Meta Mystery or Zoroastrian Scholarship?

  1. Hi Bill,

    This is a great article and a great start on this mystery. Strangely enough, two people commented on this older essay of mine in the last day or so. Google Analytics also shows that from the search engines the title and author of this book draw more hits to my website then any others.

    When I put the essay up I made a mental note to see if Gollancz or any of its successors had a house historian that could shed some light on the mystery. I never got around to that, but since I am pretty sure that Gollancz published this thing first, maybe that would be a good place to look too.

    I’m going to post this URL in a comment too, so people will know that you are on the trail, as it were.

  2. Thank you, Greg. Your review was a great resource,. By the way, I just noticed I forgot to include a link to the Introduction to Zaehner’s Paper, one of the most intriguing parts of my article. I went back and added it. Have you seen it, yet?
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/4299870

  3. Unfortunately I cannot even remember if it came up in my search years ago for information about this author. I left the hallowed halls of academia years ago, so I don’t have access to JSTOR. Probably would serve me well, though. I also run a blog on the interplay between the law and science fiction:

    http://thelawandsciencefiction.solahpmo.com/

    and there’s some stuff on JSTOR I would love to download.

    I’m guessing that the article at JSTOR has more about the author in its later pages? Much of what I see there on the first page is unverifiable, or comes from the intro and/or preface of No Heaven for Gunga Din.

    Now I’m interested in this again!

    • Yeah, I don’t have access to JSTOR, either. I think that one pdf page is only accessible by accident and I don’t know how long it’ll be there. I’m looking into some way to get access to JSTOR. You say college students can do it? I’ve been thinking about going back to college for some time now.

      That’s a very interesting blog you have on Science Fiction and the Law! Great idea. It’s something I haven’t seen anyone else cover.

      • To clarify: Lots of colleges and universities have JSTOR access for their students. Not all do. I usually get citations from JSTOR, then have my local library branch get me stuff I cant find on the internet. You want to go back and get a lit degree? Sometimes I think I missed my calling by failing to get one myself.

        I’d love to find a firm direction for that Law & SF blog. It just hasn’t come to me yet. Other than looking for legal elements in stories, that is.

  4. I’ll try to check this out for you, Bill. I have JSTOR access.

  5. No luck! Neither of the JSTORs I have access to have the full text of that journal/article.

    There are many levels of JSTOR access, and I assume only the most expensive of those gets the Iran journal.

  6. So, any news on this mystery?

    I first posted on this topic over a year ago at Bill’s site (and promptly forgot about the whole thing – have only just picked up the thread now).

    I do have access to the full article on JSTOR. Most of it consists of Zaehner’s analysis of “Irradiant” in the context of Zoroastrian theology. Zaehner was clearly convinced of the manuscript’s authenticity, despite having been given it by Hemming and never having met Mirdrekvandi.

    Most interesting is the information, given on the first page, that the manuscript is currently (that is, in 1992) in the possession of Prof Kreyenbroek, now of the University of Göttingen. I’m tempted to email him to see if he still has it and what his own opinions are regarding its origins.

  7. There is an article about Ali Mirdrekvandi on ENCYCLOPÆDIA IRANICA:
    http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/mirdrekvandi

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  9. First of all , I really hope to find you in great health & happiness. I would like to introduce myself in brief : Iam an Iranian , independent film maker , & I am going to make a short film regarding a great man of my
    and (hometown ) in the name of Ali Mir Drykvand author of this book 😦 No Heaven For Gungadin ) that was published in England.during my researches in the world of internet I saw your name I have some good information about Ali Mir Derykvand I have found his family , and also I have his photo .unfortunately he has died many years ago and his grave located in where I live . surprisingly , iranian people informed about the publication of his book after his death in England , because he gave his manuscript to Hemiing in order to correct his English . He was really interested to learn English , so he worked for English army to learn English in this way .The soldiers were in Badr Abad Camp located in Khoram abad city ,Lorestan .I t would be really appreciated if you could send me some information , document , video or photo regarding this book or his author to use in my film .or if you have this book please send me a photo or video while you are holding this book in your hand and talking about it.
    by the way , there are some rumors here that this book has been won award do you know is it true or false ?

    pezhman1355@gmail.com

    • Thank you for contacting me, pezhman. It’s a pleasure to hear from you. Everything I know about Ali Mirdrekvandi is already here on my blog. But you have some interesting information, which I do not have, so I would like to learn more from you. Do you have pictures where he lived, or his family, or anything else? Please stay in touch. Feel free to use any of the information about Mirkdrekvandi here.

      • pezhman

        Thank you Bill. I would send you alot of information and a DVD Copy of my film with English Subtitle after finishing it . In addition to , I would send you some pictures . Do you have the book ? I need you photo while you

        are holding the book in your hand or a video of yourself when you are talking and giving your opinions about this book and its author .I would like

        to introduce you as one of the people who are interested in this book .

        By the way do you have any information and photo of Mr.john Hemming and R.C.ZEHNER ?please be in touch with me through my e-mail :pezhman1355@gmail.com

    • Your web site looks interesting, too!

  10. pezhman

    Dear Bill where are you ? It is really urgent / please send me a message asap.

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