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Literature / The Up-to-Date Sorcerer

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First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (July 1958 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This Short Story is his take on Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, The Sorcerer, with a Setting Update to 1950s America. The magazine republished it in The Best From Fantasy And Science Fiction, Eighth Series (1959).

The story starts with a Framing Device where one of the principle characters, Justice of the Peace Nicholas Nitely, is speaking to an unnamed character (an Author Avatar for Dr Asimov) in a gentleman's club and their discussion turns to why Nitely (named in contrast to the original's Dr Daly, a vicar) chooses to remain a bachelor. Nitely tells the story about how he was (temporarily) married...

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Alice and Alex, students of Professor Johns, have just learned about his amatogenic cortical principle (which Alice immediately calls a love-philtre). Alex, excited about the idea of sharing their true love with all of their friends, convince the Professor to mix it into the punch bowl during the Senior Dance. Suggesting that they need to drink it as well upsets Alice, who storms off, not to be seen again until the party.

During the party, Alice (as well as numerous background characters) drink the amatogenic principle, causing her to fall in love with Nitely. Alex is devastated to learn that their love is no stronger than mere hormones, and Professor Johns starts working with Nitely to find a way to break the "spell". They discuss Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, The Sorcerer, and Nitely claims that the ending, where the sorcerer (Johns in this case) commits suicide, is badly written and not nearly as good an ending as usually attributed to Sir Gilbert. Instead, Nitely proposes a new ending, where all affected couples marry each other.

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Returning to the Framing Device, Nitely admits that it worked just as expected, since the up-to-date love philtre had no effect on married couples. As soon as he and Alice were married, she agreed to an annulment. However, another gorgeous woman has entered the gentleman's club, causing Nitely to flee the room through the window.

"The Up-to-Date Sorcerer" has been republished several times;Fiction (issue #70, September 1959), Venture Science Fiction (April 1965 issue, UK distribution), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Urania (issue #570, July 1971), Sirius (issue #14, August 1977), The Penguin Book Of Witches And Warlocks (1990), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).


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"The Up-to-Date Sorcerer" contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Because of Dr Asimov's tendency towards Beige Prose, many of the characters from the original Gilbert and Sullivan's The Sorcerer are absent, reduced to only four named characters and a much shorter length, set inside a Framing Device.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The original story, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Sorcerer, had a large cast. In this Short Story, only four characters are retained. Alexis Poindexter is changed to Alexander Dexter, Aline Sangazure is changed to Alice Sanger, John Wellington Wells is changed to Professor Wellington Johns, and Dr Daly is changed to judge Nicholas Nitely (creating a Night and Day Duo contrast).
  • Author Avatar: In the Framing Device, the narration is in italics and a different character from Nitely, who is the other person in the dialogue. It is implied to be Dr Asimov, at one of the many gentleman clubs he was a member of.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: As usual, Dr Asimov writes dialogue and internal narration to the exclusion of action and scenery. The most involved descriptions of action are while Alice is so enamoured of Nitely that he can't use his right arm due to her holding on so tightly and while a woman comes into the club intent on chasing him with amorous intent.
  • Fix Fic: This Short Story is a chance for Dr Asimov to modify the ending of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Sorcerer. The title itself refers to the Setting Update of modern times/people. After the similarity to the opera is identified, the characters discard the solution used in the play as unworkable and come up with a better way to resolve the dilemma; marry the characters as the love philter doesn't work on married couples. References to this alternative ending have made their way into The Complete Annotated Gilbert And Sullivan by Ian Bradley (1996).
  • Love Potion: The so-called sorcerer is an endocrinologist who has figured out how "true love" (not lust/sexual attraction) occurs as a biological phenomenon. As in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Sorcerer, the amatogenic cortical principle ("Call it a love-philtre, Professor," said Alice, with a melting sigh.) only affects unmarried couples. Naturally mishaps happen, causing one of the love interests to fall in love with the elderly Justice of the Peace. In order to eliminate the artificial infatuation, the affected couples are married (which negates the hormones) and then their marriages are annulled.
  • Night and Day Duo: A subtle contrast is played, as Nitely's character is based on Dr Daly from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Sorcerer. Both are broadly similar, as they are determined bachelors who help couples marry. The contrast is chosen as a pun; Night-ly and Day-ly.
  • Setting Update: The original, a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta named The Sorcerer, was created in the 19th century and took place in their modern times. This story, having been created in 1958, is created in its modern times, and this is reflected in the title; an "up-to-date" retelling of the story. The two young love interests are college students, the sorcerer is a college professor of endocrinology, and the priest is now a judge.
  • Shout-Out: Made as a Homage to Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, The Sorcerer, it and Ruddigore are mentioned by name, and Dr Asimov has a character say "Sir William Schwenck Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote, respectively, the words and music of the greatest musical comedies the world has ever seen."
  • Super Window Jump: At the end of the story, in the Framing Device, Nitely is chased out of the room by a woman, and the most efficacious way out was through the nearest window.
    "He rose and, with an agility remarkable in one so advanced in years and weight, made his way through a window."

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