The history of our quest for eternal youth is a history of fools’ errands. It’s also, if your glass is half full, a buoyant tribute to the human imagination—or at least to the spirit of determination. We want so badly to stay young. We’ve sought to bathe in the Fountain of Youth, to imbibe the Elixir of Life, and to—well, to do whatever it is one does with the Philosopher’s Stone. (Grind it up and snort it?) But few solutions to the problem of aging are as risible or as tragic as that of Serge Voronoff, who essayed to stave off death by replacing old men’s testicles with those of healthy young monkeys.
Let’s skip the inevitable fall from grace and concentrate instead on Voronoff’s appropriately robust cultural legacy. He was the basis for a scalpel-happy, gland-obsessed Professor Preobrazhensky, in Bulgakov’s Heart of the Dog; E. E. Cummings gave him a line (“famous doctor who inserts monkeyglands in millionaires”) and the Marx Brothers a song (“If you’re too old for dancing / Get yourself a monkey gland”). But the strangest tribute is The Gland Stealers, a 1922 science-fiction novel by Bertram Gayton. I’ve just finished it so you don’t have to.
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