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The Antipope

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Wikipedia article

'The Antipope' is a comic fantasy novel by the British author Robert Rankin. It is Rankin's first novel, and the first book in the Brentford Trilogy (which, , consists of 8 novels). The book was first published in 1981 by Pan Books, and from 1991 by Corgi books, an imprint of Transworld Publishers. Although typically found in the Science Fiction section of bookshops, it is a difficult novel to categorise;[http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A729812 BBC's H2G2 article on Robert Rankin] Rankin himself wanted to create a new genre of fiction, called "Far Fetched Fiction", so that he would have his own book shelf in Smiths.A quote from an interview at the Octocon conference in 1999, a transcript of which is available [http://www.sproutlore.com/sproutloreinterview.php here]

Plot introduction

'The Antipope' charts Brentford's anti-heroes' (Jim Pooley and John Omally) drinking, work avoidance, drinking, womanising, and further drinking as they try to foil the eponymous antipope in his demonic attempt to establish a new Holy See.[http://uk.shopping.com/xPR-Books_Robert_Rankin_The_Antipope~RD-148086361732 One fan's review of 'The Antipope']

Plot summary

Jim Pooley and John Omally live in the London borough of Brentford, spending much of their time drinking in the Flying Swan, backing horses, womanising, and being generally feckless. Their problems start when Archroy's wife sells his beloved Morris Minor for five magic beans. Or perhaps they start when a hideous tramp appears in the neighbourhood, putting the wind up Neville the part-time barman something rotten. To cut a long story short, the tramp is none other than Pope Alexander VI, the last of the Borgias, and the beans grow into hideous homunculi, whose only purpose is to serve their dark master, the Antipope.

Pope Alexander takes up residence in the local Seaman's Mission, and eventually there is a final showdown between the forces of good and evil, with Alexander and his bean-men on one side, and the massed might of Brentford on the other, including Pooley and Omally, Professor Slocombe, Father Moity, and Archroy, now a master of Dim Mak, a deadly martial art. Before the denouement, though, there are numerous sub-plots such as Channel-wading, a cowboy night at the Flying Swan, a trip underground with Soap Distant, and meetings with several other interesting characters, like builders Hairy Dave and Jungle John, and the elusive Other Sam.Plot summary taken from a review of the audio book; Full review can be found [http://www.thealienonline.net/ao_060.asp?baa=1&tid=2&scid=19&iid=2483 at this web site]

Characters in "'The Antipope'"

*John Omally

*Jim Pooley

*Pope Alexander VI The Anti-Pope, also appearing as a tramp of dreadful aspect

*Professor Slocombe

*Neville, the part-time barman


*Norman Hartnell

*Soap Distant

*Old Pete

Literary significance & criticism

During the 1970s, Rankin wrote a number of short stories. Having been introduced to cultural icon Alan Aldridge, then at Aurelia Entertainment, he submitted some of those stories in the hope of getting a publishing deal. Despite liking the work, Aldridge was of the opinion that the short stories couldn't be published, and asked Rankin to write a novel. Rankin spent the next 6 months merging several of his short stories, resulting in 'The Antipope', which Aldridge took to Pan Books who bought and subsequently published the novel.[http://www.britishfantasysociety.org.uk/archive/articles/best_prism.htm#6 British Fantasy Society interview with Robert Rankin][http://www.cthisspace.com/ftl/features/robertrankin.htm FTL interview with Robert Rankin]

In spite of Aldridge's and Pan's initial enthusiasm, Pan declined to publish any novels beyond the first 3 books of The Brentford Trilogy. Rankin's editor moved to another publisher, and his writing career came to a halt until 1988 when Sphere Books (under the Abacus imprint) reprinted the original trilogy in one volume (ISBN 978-0-349-10028-9).[http://www.britishfantasysociety.org.uk/archive/interviews/rankin1.htm Another BFS interview with Robert Rankin]

Despite this inauspicious start, Rankin and 'The Antipope' have since attained something of a cult status, with the following two review extracts printed on the back cover of the Corgi edition:

'WonderfulA heady mix of Flann O'Brien, Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe and Ken Campbell, but with an inbuilt irreverence and indelicacy that is unique - and makes it the long-awaited, heavy smoker's answer to The Lord Of The Rings'

- Time Out[http://www.booksattransworld.co.uk/catalog/book.htm?command=Search&db=twmain.txt&eqisbndata=055213841X Book details from Transworld Publishing]

'Wonderfully entertainingreads like a Flann O'Brien rewrite of Close Encounters'

- City Limits

There remain little in the way of "professional" reviews of the novel, however there are many fan's reviews to be found on-line, such as the one at the Sproutlore web site [http://www.sproutlore.com/reviews/reviews.php?review=8].

Cover art

The original Pan Books release of the novel features a different front cover, shown to the left, by artist Alistair Graham.[http://www.sproutlore.com/books/thefirstfive.php Sproutlore article about Rankin's original 5 releases] It depicts five of the main characters of the book, with The Flying Swan in the background and the figure of the resurrected Pope Alexander VI looming ominously over everything.

The stylized drawing of a bull on the more recent Corgi cover represents the red bull of the Borgia coat of arms,William Manchester's "A World Lit Only by Fire - The Medieval Mind and The Renaissance" - Little, Brown & Company, 1992 [http://dim.com/~randl/tmanc.htm] with Archroy's five magic beans scattered across it, and was designed by the author for the later edition.

Other media

In addition to the paperback novels, 'The Antipope' has been released as an audio book, first published by Smartpass Ltd in October 1993 (ISBN 978-1-903362-24-2) and narrated by Rankin himself. The audio book stars David Gooderson, Lucy Robinson, and Nick Murchie.

Oneword Radio broadcast the Smartpass production of the novel, read by Robert Rankin, in 21 instalments, during November 2006.[http://www.oneword.co.uk/files/schedules/oneword_nov06.pdf Oneworld schedule for November 2006]

In 2004, the Dreaming Theatre Company produced the first ever stage adaptation of 'The Antipope'; the production toured across the UK playing in venues and festivals.[http://www.sproutlore.com/mail/archive.php?id=5&issueID=31 Archived e-mail providing details of the stage play, and its touring schedule] It was adapted by Scott Harrison and Lee Harris, and starred the following cast:

# John Omally - Aidan McCarthy

# Jim Pooley - Andrew Welch

# The Antipope - John Buckeridge

# Professor Slocombe - Roger Andrew

# Neville, the part-time barman - Scott Harrison

# Archroy - Matthew Freeman

# Norman Hartnell - Jamie McKeller

It toured as a double bill with 'Eric', the first ever stage adaptation of this Terry Practchett Discworld novel, also by writers Scott Harrison and Lee Harris. Both plays featured the same actors.


Robert Rankin's books feature a recurring set of in jokes, some of which are introduced in this novel:

*"The keeping of the now-legendary low profile";

*The obviously fictitious biographical details about the author himself are illustrated by the entry in the fly leaf of the Corgi edition:

'Magus to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Sprout, 12th Dan Master of Dimac, poet, adventurer, swordsman and concert pianist; big game hunter, Best Dressed Man of 1933; mountaineer, lone yachtsman, Shakespearian actor and topless go-go dancer; Robert Rankin's hobbies include passive smoking, communicating with the dead and lying about his achievements. He lives in Sussex with his wife and family.'


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