“Hoity-Toity” (novella) by Alexander Beliaev
English Publication History: A Visitor From Outer Space (Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), Soviet Science Fiction (Collier Books, 1962)
Original: Russian (Хойти-Тойти), 1930
Translated by Violet L. Dutt, 1961
Synopsis: In Berlin, the circus’s main attraction is an elephant with the ability to count, read, and message. When it refuses to do manual labor, its handler strikes it leg, sending it off in a fit to the countryside. Named Hoity-Toity, it eats, bathes, and tramples where it likes until the police begin to shoot. Soon, a telegram informs the circus that a scientist is coming to handle the situation as he created it in the first place. Then the story unfolds of a brain transplant, an adventure through Africa, and fear of the white man.
Propaganda: Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the 60th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, propaganda slogan #39: “Engineers and technical workers! Rationalizers and inventors! Actively struggle to hasten scientific-technical progress!”
Analysis: While the main protagonist of “Hoity-Toity” is indeed the elephant with a man’s mind, Hoity-Toity is actually the result of brilliant Soviet scientific rationalization by the mind of Professor Wagner in Moscow. Wagner’s inventions baffle his own assistants—including the transparent, hollow, man-sized rubber ball—but his most amazing achievement to-date is the keeping and growing of a live brain—that of a man named Ring, who was young German scientist who died in Abyssinia. Wagner’s unparalleled rationalization skills allow him to benefit the young German by transferring his brain to that of an elephant, which is the only animal large enough to house his artificially grown brain.
Regardless of the unprecedented feat in modern science, Ring is ungrateful as he casually spends his life in a circus making money for its ringleader; and regardless of his size, Ring is irresponsible in his range of possibilities as she shuns manual labor for which he is clearly built. Once on his stubborn rampage, Ring is only calmed down by the assurance that he will meet Wagner, who may be the only person who truly understands his existence as an elephant. Hoity-Toity/Ring agrees to come back to the circus after a two-week vacation in the Alps, with the professor and his assistant along. Here, the professor is not only a great logic-minded scientist, but he is also a compassionate soft-hearted human.
Review: In his introduction to the collection, Isaac Asimov outlines three stages of American science fiction:
Stage One (1926-1938): adventure dominant
Stage Two (1938-1950): technology dominant
Stage Three (1950-?): sociology dominant
Being a Soviet science fiction story, you’d immediately assume that the premise for the story to have either an obvious sociological banner for communism or a clever underlying message… so, stage three. While the story starts out with hints of allegory about the responsibility of all Soviet labors—big and small, high and low—the story quickly turns into one of adventure and science, thereon losing all of its social currents in the beginning. This is a weak start to an otherwise hearty collection.