In his early days in Victorian London, Robert Rankin performed street magic alongside such greats as Bernard the Man-Cabbage and The Amazing Fabuloso of Penge. Robert's act often grabbed the attention of hundreds - sometimes even dozens - of passers-by. His most popular trick was most probably "sawing a plank in half", a feat of such incredible prestidigitation that no magician since has dared to perform it in public.
Blessed with the power to heal the sick using only a hospital, and the power to return sight to the bland, Robert Rankin's reputation grew and grew. He gathered about himself a band of followers, men and women who gladly abandoned their professions and former lives to spread the word about him. They shouted his name from the rooftops, they circulated his name on Ye Internette, they posted posters in the post office, and by the turn of the century almost everyone in London had heard of this man who, they said, could perform miracles.
Unfortunately, at the peak of his career Robert Rankin was cruelly struck down by a runaway offal cart - the first of many signs of his apotheosis, according to followers of The First Church of Rankin - and wasn't heard from again until his reincarnation in 1949 - the first of many signs of his deification, according to the followers of The Second Church of Rankin.
The Book of Jeffrey, Chapters 12-14, states: "There shall be a sacrifice of the fatted calf and thigh, and, lo, verily even, shall come again a man who will work miracles, and if within a week you can find the same miracles cheaper anywhere else, he will refund double the difference."
In accordance with the prophesy, Honest Bob's Miracle Warehouse was established in 1978, and offered solutions to many world problems, including all seven of the armageddon scenarios (plague, famine, ecological disaster, comet smashing into earth, punk rock, alien invasion, single European currency). It should have signalled the start of a new Aquarian Age, but sadly after a mere three weeks the business was forced to close due to the number of complaints lodged with the advertising standards association. The building, it turned out, was not a warehouse but a converted storage shed.
Unperturbed by this, Robert Rankin formed the Brentford Poets and Paramilitary Association. This is where he learned that his word could be spread more widespread if the word was written down, along with some other words, and published in hefty religious tracts, or "books."
Robert Rankin's first book was, is, and ever shall be The Antipope. It was quickly followed by two more, then a little pause, and then a fourth. These books, plus a more recent one, have become known in many circles as The Blessed Trilogy - the miracle of five books in three. The books tell of the exploits of Jim Pooley and John Omally, two reluctant heroes who continually save the world from such diverse enemies as a resurrected Pope, an alien invasion fleet, and Hugo Rune. They are aided in their struggle by their old friend Professor Slocombe, a man of great mystery and power, who, according to James Bacon, the leader of the Fifth Church of Robert Rankin, will eventually be seen to be none other than Mister Rankin himself.
Robert's next series of books was the Armageddon trilogy, which deal with the struggle of humanity against a meddling alien race. The hero of these books is one Rex Mundi, aided by Elvis Presley, who in turn is aided by a sapient, time-travelling sprout called Barry. These books are probably the most complex that Mister Rankin has written to date, and on re-reading they offer up much in the way of fresh nuggets for the observant reader: They're not so much a trilogy as an investment.
Subsequent books include the Huge Rune trilogy, in which the young heroes Cornelius and Tuppe are faced with finding that ancient master of the mystical arts, Hugo Rune, and his book The Book of Ultimate Truths. Indeed, so popular was this series that fans of Robert Rankin tend to find themselves on their own quest for The Book of Ultimate Truths. Thus, art becomes life… Was it prediction, or mere chance? Both of the followers of the Twelfth Church of Robert Rankin believe it to be the former. "Most Holy - that's Robert, by the way - knows what has gone before and what is to come," said the Church's founder James Bacon.
There are also a number of stand-alone novels, such as A Dog Called Demolition and The Garden of Unearthly Delights. Like most of his other novels, both of them present a complex parable, which the layman (you, in other words) must interpret as best as possible. Interestingly, the followers of the Zeroth Church of Robert Rankin believe that the true path is not the reading and understanding of the books, but the purchasing of the books. The Zeroth Church is the most recent of the many churches, their name chosen by their leader James Bacon in the belief that they'd be listed first in the phone book. They subsequently discovered that the entries in the phone book are listed alphabetically, not numerically, so they're last instead.
Robert Rankin has also written about his own life, though many believe those books to be allegorical, or, in their terminology, "fabricated from lies and half-truths." However, among his followers those criticism of those books is regarded as tantamount to blasphemy, punishable by sneering.
The belief of The Fort Chruch of Roburt Ranken that he is the Davine Savier is particularly strong, as expressed in their mannyphesto, written by the Chruch's leader, James Bacon*: "Roburt is probly the best ever savier that weve ever had. When offficer Joans reads the book's to me I go all cam and sadated."
For the less fanatical, there is another group of people who frequently gather to pay homage to the great man. Calling themselves "SproutLore", they publish a fan magazine four times a year and provide news about forthcoming events. It is with this group of fine bodies that I, your humble servant, am affiliated. It has been predicted that one day every person on Earth will be a member of a Robert Rankin Appreciation Society, so I strongly urge you all to join the One True Society, SproutLore, before you are indoctrinated into any of the other, lesser, groups.
For those of you who are still unsure, I urge you to read - and re-read - as many of the Great One's books as you can find. Please bear in mind that each copy of his books can only be properly read once: as soon as the words have been absorbed into your brain, the books lose their power. For this reason, you should only buy new copies, and to re-read them, you must buy additional copies.
In the unlikely event that you ever get to meet Mister Rankin, the correct way to greet him is as follows: Respectfully grasp the left side of your collar in your right hand, bow your head slightly in supplication, and mutter the sacred words, "He's right in front of me, all units close in."
You should then proffer at least three shiny new Robert Rankin books for signing. It is not necessary to have three different books, as long as they are all new. Note: you may be asked by one of his Apostles to show proof of purchase.
Once this is done, you should close the ceremony by making a token sacrifice of a twenty-pound note, an ancient tradition whose origin has long since been lost, but without which you could very well bring bad luck upon yourself.
You should also be wary of the many Robert Rankin impersonators who attempt to cash in on Most Holy's success. Most of them can be easily spotted, for they are not tall and dashing and handsome, and do not carry about them an air of divinity, but there are others who are masters of disguise. These charlatans should be approached with caution. Remember, only the true Robert Rankin knows the answer to this question: "Where do you get your ideas from?" Should you suspect the Robert Rankin you meet to be a fake, simply ask the question. If the answer fails to satisfy you, then that Robert Rankin is most likely false. You should then remove your clothes and stand naked in front of him, as a sign of protest, but only if you are female.
*Note: perhaps I should make it clear at this point that "James Bacon" is the honorary title bestowed upon the leaders of all Robert Rankin societies.