First published in Unknown, March 1940
Available free in Amazing Future Tales From the Past, Vol. 5
As a follow up from yesterday’s post about the Retro-Hugos, here’s a look at one of the stories that’s eligible. It’s a fun fantasy romp about the misuse of a potion, one that’s misused with the best of intentions. There will be spoilers, just in case you care.
Afterwards I’ll have a few things to say about Malcom Jameson, whose career was tragically cut short by cancer.
Doc Tannent is an eccentric chemist whose brother-in-law manages to get him a position as State Assayist. Now, we aren’t told what state Tannent lives in, but from the description, it’s either a small state or one with a small population or both. It’s probably not Texas or California.
Anyway, Doc has an assistant, a young man named Elmer. One day when Doc isn’t in the office, Elmer unpacks a delivery and discovers the contents are most unusual: dead frogs. It seems Doc isn’t simply a chemist; he’s an alchemist. Doc is soon training Elmer to be his apprentice.
Well, Elmer, enterprising young man that he is, sees an opportunity. Elmer is smitten with Bettie Ellsworth, who is playing coy and keeping Elmer at arm’s length along with the rest of her suitors. So one night after Doc has gone home, Elmer starts going through Doc’s books and finds the formula for a love potion. He loses no time in mixing the concotion up and dropping it in Bettie’s milkshake when she isn’t looking.
It works, and soon they’re engaged to be married. Then part of the roof in the office starts to leak. It turns out not to be a simple leak. The building is going to require major repairs. In order to get the funds authorized, Doc is going to have to make a request of the party boss, Hannigan.
Doc sets off to the party convention which is meeting in the capitol that week. But because Doc isn’t a party bigwig, he can’t get access to Hannigan. Doc plans to approach him on the floor just before the new governor is selected. So Elmer takes matters into his own hands. He mixes up a potion that, when poured on Doc just before he talks to Hannigan, will get him exactly what he wants.
When Elmer and Bettie (who loves Elmer so much she can’t let him out of her sight) get to the convention hall, they aren’t allowed in. All seats are taken. So they go up on the roof and sneak in through the air ducts. Only Elmer drops the vial containing the potion. It breaks, and the fumes soon fill the convention hall. Because the potion contained a few drops of Doc’s blood, he’s soon the candidate for governor. And because the party machine controls all of the elections, Doc does become governor.
Not long after Doc becomes governor, Bettie tries to claw Elmer’s eyes out, then goes after him with a knife. When Elmer tells the doctor who’s patching him up about the potion he gave Bettie. The doctor takes a sample of Bettie’s blood and discovers something alarming. Antibodies, specifically antibodies in rection to the potion, in other words, antibodies against Elmer. She’s going to hate him for the rest of her life. And soon the people in the party who made Doc governor, well…
I enjoyed “Philtered Power”. It was a fun, humurous story, full of the elements I’ve come to expect from stories published in Unknown. I would even argue that Unknown was the best fantasy magazine at the time. (We’re talking the early 40s here. Weird Tales never reached the levels of quality it had after Howard and Lovecraft died.) But that’s another topic for a different day.
Malcolm Jameson had a brief career in the pulps. He was a naval office who had to resign due to throat cancer. He quickly began to sell to the top markets of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Born In Waco, Texas, Jameson died of cancer on April 16, 1945. John W. Campbell, Jr., spoke highly of him in his obituary of Jameson. His story “Blind Alley” was adapted as the Twilight Zone episode “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”.
Jameson’s fiction has been collected in ebook form in recent years.