One of my favourite garage-sale treasures ever is a huge, garish door-stopper of a book that cost me roughly fifteen cents a pound—that is, it weighs just under seven pounds, and cost me only one Canadian dollar. Its title is a simple, direct question – “What is Scientology?” – and it was compiled by the staff of the Church of Scientology International, who should certainly know. But of its many wondrous chapters, my favourite is the third, which recounts the adventures of an amazing fictional superhero known as L. Ron Hubbard.
Okay, I know there was a real historical figure called L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, who could be celebrating his 102nd birthday today* if he hadn’t decided to discard his body in 1985 – but surely he cannot be the same guy as the one in the book.
The fictional Hubbard spent his childhood on his grandfather’s vast Montana cattle ranch, where the local Blackfoot shamans taught him their wisdom, and made him a blood brother at the tender age of six. The real Hubbard’s grandfather sold coal and automobile accessories, and lived in a house in Helena – the same house where the real Hubbard grew up.
The fictional Hubbard spent his latter teenage years wandering alone through Japan, the Philippines, Guam, and the remotest corners of China, having astounding adventures, studying with mystics, partying with lost tribes and Mongolian bandits. The real Hubbard spent a few months on Guam, where his father was stationed, and made a couple of short trips with his mum and dad to China, which he didn’t much like. Apparently, it had too many “chinks”.
The fictional Hubbard was a much-decorated naval war hero, wounded all over – that is, all over the world, as well as all over himself. The real Hubbard had an ulcer and served mostly in home waters, and his brief and only command ended when he inadvertently attacked Mexico.
Etc, etc. Whole books have been written about Hubbard’s full, rich fantasy life and what came of it. Before the war, a fellow pulp writer inconsiderately calculated that Hubbard would already need to be 84 to have accomplished everything he claimed by that point, in his outpouring of tall tales. This is not unusual in charismatic, messianic characters like Hubbard. It is standard for that breed to have their origins glamorized, their past aggrandized, their achievements exaggerated or even fabricated. Many cult messiahs lay their own groundwork, but the full flavour of their legends may not develop until many years after they die. What is notable about L. Ron Hubbard is how ruthlessly creative he was about building his own legend in his own time; what is notable about his followers is that they can contemplate Hubbard’s outrageous brags while keeping a straight face.
Anyway, Commodore Hubbard, whatever planet you’re on now, Happy 102nd Birthday – I guess.
*Hubbard’s birthday is the 13th of March. I wrote this yesterday, but life got in the way of posting it until this morning. So sue me – no, wait, I didn’t mean that.
UPDATE: Of course, I should have realized that today is Albert Einstein’s birthday – so, a genuine and heartfelt birthday toast to him!