As they say you either love it or hate it (I’m in the latter camp) and that’s about it – it’s not something I’ve ever given a great deal of thought to …… until now.
I’m glad you asked.
When it was first invented by John Lawson Johnston in the 1870s, Bovril was not Bovril.
Instead it was called Johnston’s Fluid Beef, which is possibly the worst name they could have come up with, although it does have the advantage of sounding as disgusting as it tastes.
And so it was until the decision was made a few years later to change the name to Bovril. If you break it down, Bo comes from the latin for ox or cow , but Vril? That is straight science fiction all the way.
Vril comes from the novel The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer Lytton, which focuses on a race of massively advanced people called the Vril-Ya, who live in subterranean caverns and tunnels but are discovered by the narrator of the story.
The secret of their superiority is the fluid Vril, which they control through training their mind.
It can be used to heal, to change matter, to destroy, or to communicate telepathically, sometimes by using a magical staff – basically the Force by any other name, but 100 years before the Force.
At the time it came out, the novel was massively popular, with Johnston changing the name of his product to associate his liquid beef with Vril’s elixir-like properties.
Lytton’s Vril and the Vril-ya have had much more wide-ranging resonance than that though, with a Vril Society in 1930s Germany said to be a forerunner of the Nazi Party by several authors, most notably Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels in their 1960 novel Morning of the Magicians.
The Vril Society were also supposed to have been involved with the development of a range of top-secret Nazi UFOs, known in popular myth as foo-fighters with fantastic sounding names like Rundflugzeug, Flugkreisel and Kugelwaffen.
With Germany’s defeat in 1945, the UFOs were meant to have retreated to a secret base in Antartica and then disappeared.
Taking another science fiction leap, I’d say that Vril would almost certainly play a large part in the Space Nazis from the Moon indie-sci-fi film Iron Sky, which is being filmed as we speak.
Whether they do or they don’t, this unearthing of Bovril’s science fiction origins have made me look at it in a whole new way.
Not with love, or with hate, but with a growing interest.
- Ride a goose to the moon: the British Library’s SF odyssey (guardian.co.uk)
- Iron Sky: Nazi Space Invaders Are Coming! (screenrant.com)
- US Military: 38 Levels Above Top Secret Part Two: Historical Backgrpound (photonicportal.wordpress.com)