The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra

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The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra
FST Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra album cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJanuary 1974
ProducerThe Firesign Theatre
The Firesign Theatre chronology
Not Insane or Anything You Want To
''The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra''
Everything You Know Is Wrong
Professional ratings
Review scores
The New Rolling Stone Record Guide2/5 stars
Allmusic3/5 stars[1]

The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra is the seventh comedy album released by the Firesign Theatre and released in January 1974 by Columbia Records.

Track listing[edit]

Side one - London[edit]

  1. "Chapter 1 - Not Quite The Solution He Expected"
  2. "Chapter 2 - An Outrageously Disgusting Disguise"
  3. "Chapter 3 - Where There's Smoke, There's Work"

Side two - Chicago[edit]

  1. "Chapter 4 - Where Did Jonas Go When The Lights Went Out?"
  2. "Chapter 5 - Pickles Down The Rat Hole!"
  3. "Chapter 6 - The Electrician Exposes Himself!"

Title and narrative premise[edit]

The title is derived from an aside in the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1924.

Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

Holmes fans and writers of Sherlockiana have speculated on the nature of the giant rat story for decades. The Firesign Theatre version seems to begin with Watson about to write the tale anyway since the pair are desperate for money, but he never quite gets around to telling it.

Philip Proctor plays detective Hemlock Stones (Sherlock Holmes) and David Ossman plays Flotsam (Watson), his "patient doctor and biographer". The lighthearted tale is full of puns, including a running gag in which Flotsam, eager to chronicle the adventure, tries to write down everything Stones says but mishears it all as something similar-sounding; for example, "rattan-festooned" is written down as "rat-infested." Allusions also are made to Sherlock Holmes's use of cocaine ("Stones, you snowball!"), his violin playing, and other familiar story elements.


Following a string of solo projects and anthologies, this was the group's first album to consist entirely of a single cohesive narrative since I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus.

An earlier version of these sketches, released as the bootleg By the Light of the Silvery, is closer to the spirit of the group's nightclub performances, and is strikingly reminiscent of The Goon Show, which was one of the group's main inspirations. It bears almost no resemblance to the version that was finally committed to vinyl.

This album was followed by Everything You Know Is Wrong and In the Next World, You're on Your Own before the group finally ended its association with Columbia Records.

Releases and reissues[edit]

This album was originally released simultaneously on LP and 8 Track.

  • LP - Columbia KC-32730
  • 8 Track - Columbia CA-32730

It has been re-released on CD at least once

  • 2001 - LGH1076


Members of the group themselves have taken varied attitudes towards this album. In the liner notes to Shoes for Industry: The Best of the Firesign Theatre, David Ossman was cheerful when discussing it and said that "I always thought it was the closest thing to the relentlessly pun-filled one-acts we did in clubs." [2] Phil Austin, on the other hand, said, "The Sherlock Holmes album didn't do anybody any good . . . the general public was by that point beginning to tire of psychedelia anyway, and we were unfortunately always going to be associated with that."

The review in 1983's The New Rolling Stone Record Guide calls this album "A halfassed comeback containing only one good joke."[3]

The Firesign Theatre commentary website calls it "the least understood Firesign album" and notes that "careful listening reveals Firesign in all their glory: poetic ("blackening peasant's houses", "me and the doc on the dock with the dog -- the deadly dog"), silly ("I sat on my pipe!"), strange (the hole in Lake Acme), and filled with meaning and non-meaning alike. It is well worth repeated listenings—it rivals "Bozos" and "Dwarf" in number of listenings—and pays dividends of laughter and insight."[4]


  1. ^ Carruthers, Sean. The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, Allmusic.
  2. ^ Firesign Theatre. Shoes for Industry: The Best of the Firesign Theatre. Sony/Legacy, 1993.
  3. ^ Marsh, Dave, and Greil Marcus. "The Firesign Theatre." The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1983. 175-176.
  4. ^ "Firesign Reviews - Giant Rat of Sumatra."


  • Firesign Theatre. The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Columbia Records, 1974.
  • Firesign Theatre. Firesign Theatre. 19 Jan. 2006 <>.
  • "FIREZINE: Linques!." Firesign Theatre FAQ. 20 Jan. 2006 <>.
  • Smith, Ronald L. The Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide. Iola: Krause, 1996.