The Mysteries of London: The Forgotten Gothic Victorian Classic

How does one even begin to write about George W. M. Reynold’s mammoth classic The Mysteries of London (1844)? The new Valancourt press edition that I recently read is two volumes and runs around 2,300 pages. It may be the longest novel in the English language after Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). It may also be one of the most important, yet most overlooked novels in Victorian and Gothic fiction. The novel is hard to define, and yet it must have influenced the genres that followed it. It is not by any means the first crime novel, nor is it properly the first mystery novel—there is no detective solving crimes, but there is plenty of crime and not a little mystery. In this case, mystery refers more properly to secrets and criminal plots than any effort to solve mysteries. Its title is more in keeping with Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842) which I have previously blogged on. Radcliffe is paid homage to in the use of a place name Montoni in the novel. Montoni is the villain of Radcliffe’s masterpiece. Sue is largely ignored other than one passing reference to Paris, but that is because Reynolds was basically stealing Sue’s idea and popularizing it for himself.

The Mysteries of London has been reprinted in a wonderful new two volume edition by Valancourt Press, with all the original illustrations.

Part of the novel’s obscurity is due to Reynolds’ piracy and the sense that a penny dreadful type story cannot be great literature. Reynolds was not a plagiarist in the sense that he stole passages from other authors, but he certainly stole their ideas and capitalized on them. Not only did he capitalize on Sue’s novel, but Paul Feval in the same year began writing a French novel, Les Mystères de Londres, so he claimed Reynolds had stolen his idea. (Feval didn’t seem to care that he himself had stolen Sue’s idea.) But even before Reynolds began The Mysteries of London, he had already likely infuriated Charles Dickens by publishing Pickwick Abroad, or the Tour in France (1837-1838), an unauthorized sequel or offshoot to The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), which ran simultaneously with Dickens’ novel. Dickens is said to have despised Reynolds, and one cannot blame him, but one also has to wonder whether Reynolds influenced Dickens. Critics today claim the novel belongs on the shelf beside other great social novels like Dickens’ Bleak House (1853) and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875). And while we cannot know whether Dickens read The Mysteries of London, he must have been very aware of it and read pieces, if not all, of it, or at least have known of its characters. After all, Reynolds far outsold Dickens. The Mysteries of London is said to have sold 50,000 copies a week in its serial format and over a million copies the first year it was published in book form. Those numbers would have been far beyond any Victorian authors’ dreams.

To summarize the novel in full would be impossible, but I will just mention a few of the main plot highlights. The novel opens with a young man in a bad neighborhood who ducks into an old building when he fears for his safety. Inside, he overhears criminals plotting to rob the Markham house; then he is captured by the criminals and thrown into a trap door, which they don’t realize has an outlet. The young man warns the Markhams without revealing his identity. Later, we learn this young man is really a woman, Eliza Sydney, who is passing herself off as her brother to gain the inheritance that was supposed to be left to him, but which she will not acquire because he is deceased. Poor Eliza is being tricked into this crime by another who hopes to profit by it. Eventually, when it’s time to collect the inheritance, her identity is revealed and she’s sent to prison for her deceit. After she is released from prison, she makes some good acquaintances, which allows her to be introduced into high society in Italy, where she emigrates. There the Grand Duke of Castelcicala falls in love with and marries her.

The other major plot concerns the Markhams, whom Eliza had warned of an impending robbery. When the father dies, his two sons, Eugene and Richard, make a pact that they will each make their own way in the world and then meet again after twelve years on a given date in 1843. The novel then follows Richard Markham through his ups and downs. All the while, Richard wonders how his brother is faring in the world. Richard befriends some gentlemen who turn out to be swindlers and get him tossed in prison, although he is innocent of the forgery he’s accused of. Numerous plots surround Richard, but in the end, he falls in love with the beautiful Isabella, and eventually, he learns that her father is a count and the nephew of the Grand Duke of Castelcicala, who has married Eliza. When the Grand Duke refuses to allow his land to become a republic, he is overthrown and Richard is part of the effort to overthrow him and then establish the count—who by then is his father-in-law—on the throne. As a result, Richard becomes a prince and a hero. But despite his triumph, he is continually pursued by the criminal Anthony Tidkins, also known as the Resurrection Man, because he digs up the dead and sells their corpses to scientists. Tidkins hates Richard and is continually trying to kill him. And then, in the final scene, after Tidkins has been murdered by another criminal, Crankey Jem, Richard reunites with Eugene.

Eugene has, meanwhile, been living under two different identities, first as Montague and then as Greenwood. Throughout the years separated from his brother, he has been committing numerous white collar crimes of embezzling, forgery, counterfeiting, and cheating people through fake stock speculations. He has also debauched several women, including Ellen Monroe, who is the daughter of Richard’s legal guardian during his youth. Eugene’s rise to wealth happens as Richard finds himself cast into poverty and prison, but then everything changes; while Richard becomes a hero and prince, Eugene becomes impoverished. Finally, Eugene keeps the appointment and the brothers meet again, but a man Eugene has cheated assails him just as he is heading to the meeting, and as a result, he dies soon after meeting his brother. Richard and all those he has wronged assure him he is forgiven so he dies in peace—a true redeemed Gothic wanderer.

The Resurrection Man is the other great Gothic Wanderer of the novel, although he is a hardened criminal who never in the end feels remorse for his crimes. However, we are given his backstory of how he tried to be honest, but between a miserable childhood and all society being against him because of his past, he finally quits trying to be good and becomes so angry at society that he strives to be a true criminal always. It should be noted that Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) has a Resurrection Man character in Jerry Cruncher, and later, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Body Snatcher (1884). Of course, that does not mean Reynolds influenced them since there were real resurrection men at the time, but that Reynolds created one of the greatest criminals in literature means one can’t help wondering whether Tidkins did influence other resurrection men counterparts.

One of the Resurrection Man’s cronies is “the old hag” whose name is never given but who continually helps to lead women into ruin. When Ellen Monroe is desperate for money, she goes to the hag, who leads her to a painter, then a sculpture, then a theatre manager, and, eventually, to Greenwood. Each one is a step closer to debauchery—Ellen agreeing to disrobe to be painted or sculpted nude, and finally, she sells her body to Greenwood. In the end, the hag, however, does feel some guilt over the women she has wronged, especially Harriet Wilmot, who turns out to have had a child with Richard and Eugene’s father—Katherine Wilmot—their long-lost sister whom Richard plays first benefactor to before he meets her as his sister. In the end, the hag is robbed and beaten to death by the Resurrection Man. As she is dying, Ellen Monroe forgives her. Here is another case of a Gothic wanderer figure—one who ends up feeling remorse for her crime.

The Resurrection Man threatening Adeline.

Numerous crimes occur throughout the novel, but for me, perhaps the most fascinating criminal plot concerns Lydia Hutchinson. Lydia finds a teaching position in a boarding school for young ladies, where she befriends one of the ladies, Adeline. Adeline gets Lydia to act as chaperone to her, but eventually, she leads Lydia into disgrace when they both start having sexual relations with a couple of young men. Adeline ends up pregnant and gives birth to a stillborn child in the school, which Lydia passes off as her own to protect Adeline. Lydia, as a result, is dismissed and sinks further and further into degradation. She continually asks Adeline for help but Adeline ends their acquaintance. Through a series of twists and turns, however, Lydia gets a position as a lady’s maid to Adeline and starts to blackmail her after Adeline has married and become Lady Ravenswood. Lydia has gone from virtue to vice and becomes a truly horrible taskmaster to Adeline until Adeline can take no more and hires the Resurrection Man to murder Lydia. After that, Adeline is haunted by the crime, rather like Lady Macbeth; eventually, she tries to redeem herself through being charitable. The Resurrection Man, however, has no remorse. He has buried Lydia’s body, but when it suits him, he digs it up and threatens to blackmail Adeline with it. When he shows her Lydia’s corpse, she is so overcome with horror and guilt that she faints, bursts a blood vessel, and dies.

Overall, The Mysteries of London, while it contains no supernatural elements, other than a claim that Ravensworth Hall is haunted, has plenty of Gothic guilt and redemption, plenty of villains, and plenty of mysterious and horrid haunts in London and its surroundings. This is urban Gothic, and Reynolds helped to develop it, drawing upon Sue’s novel and setting the stage for the Gothic atmosphere Dickens and other writers would also create in their depictions of London.

Of course, the string of Newgate novels, focusing on criminals, were already being published several years before The Mysteries of London was published. Oliver Twist (1838) had already depicted the darker side of London life, but never to the extreme Reynolds’ does. There is also plenty of sensationalism in the text long before what are considered the first sensational novels appeared—works like Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). There is cross-dressing to hide identities, although cross-dressing had been in fiction and on the stage long before. (See my blog on Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809) as an example.) Murder, however, is more abundant in The Mysteries of London than in any novel prior to it. So is gambling and the cheating of others. Gambling is a huge theme in the novel which is often overlooked as a major theme in Gothic fiction (see my book The Gothic Wanderer for a detailed discussion of gambling as a transgression in nineteenth century Gothic fiction.) Reynolds also fills his pages with family secrets, including those concerning illegitimate children and mysterious parentages (a theme that goes back to Radcliffe), and there are very contemporary themes such as Richard Markham’s campaign in Castelcicala to reclaim the throne for his father-in-law and establish a republic, a theme relevant to the Italian effort for unification—the Bandieri brothers made a failed effort/raid in 1844 in Calabria for this purpose which Reynolds no doubt followed and was inspired by. And most interesting for lovers of the Gothic, beyond the mysteries, the horror, and the dead bodies, is the recurring themes of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption.

The redemption theme is at the heart of understanding criminal psychology in the novel. While Reynolds creates some truly despicable and horrible villains—the Resurrection Man, the old hag, Lady Ravenswood—in each case, we see the villains feeling remorse for their crimes, even when they find themselves unable to stop from continuing them, either through an addiction to their criminal behavior or under threat of having past misdeeds revealed, so they must commit new crimes. We also have several stories within the story (an Arabian Nights plot device frequently used in Gothic fiction) where the criminals tell their histories and we come to understand the miserable childhoods and experiences they had and how even when they tried to walk the straight and narrow path, their poverty and a judgmental society pushed them into lives of crime.

Reynolds is nothing if not charitable toward his criminals. Here he is following Eugene Sue’s model, and while I don’t think he is as effective in his arguments for reform—after all, I think his first purpose was to sensationalize his storyline so it would sell—I believe his heart was in the right place. Eugene Sue’s main character, Rodolphe, who turns out to be a prince in disguise, makes a concerted effort to walk the streets of Paris, meet the poor and criminals, and help them through charity and a good example to reform. Reynolds’ Richard Markham is cast in Rodolphe’s mold with some differences. He is not a prince but eventually he rises to that status through marriage and his campaigns in Italy. He does not seek out the poor or try to help them, but when he comes across those in need, he does help. He is benefactor to several characters, mostly women, before the novel ends, but he also gets at least one criminal—Talbot—to reform.

Eugene Markham, Richard’s brother, whose alias is Montague and Greenwood, and who is known as the worst of the upper class criminals in London, is allowed a long and moving death scene of reconciliation with his brother and the chance to receive forgiveness from those he has wronged before he passes away into a state of peace, a scene that surely had at least an indirect influence upon Dracula’s death scene a half century later.

Eugene’s death

One final point concerning reform to make is that one of the minor characters, Henry Holford, a young criminal, breaks into Buckingham Palace, planning to help the Resurrection Man rob it. He ends up hiding under a sofa and witnessing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s courtship. Reynolds makes the point in these scenes that Queen Victoria is a young, innocent queen who is completely ignorant of the poverty and desperate situations of so many of her people. Holford becomes enamored with the palace and the queen and continually sneaks into the palace to spy on them until Prince Albert spots him. Holford manages to escape but does not dare try to return to Buckingham Palace after that. However, he decides he wants to become famous and will do so by assassinating Prince Albert. He ends up shooting at the prince while he and Victoria are in their carriage. (Four of eight assassination attempts against Queen Victoria had already been attempted at this point when she and Albert were in their carriage.) Holford’s murder attempt fails and results in Holford spending the rest of his life in an insane asylum. These are very daring chapters because while most Gothic novels previously had been set in the past, Reynolds is not only setting his in the present but depicting the royal family as characters in it and criticizing them. We are left with a Queen Victoria who is a type of Marie Antoinette, clueless about the poor, and the sense that perhaps revolution will occur in England as it did in France. That we also have a revolutionary plot in Italy in the novel suggests Reynolds may have been thinking revolution in England not so unlikely either.

Reynolds’ Epilogue states that now that the novel is finished, virtue has been rewarded and vice punished, and then Reynolds argues that his work has always had a moral purpose, concluding his tome by saying:

Kind Reader, who have borne with me so long—one word to thee.

If amongst the circle of thy friends, there be any who express an aversion to peruse this work,—fearful from its title or from fugitive report that the mind will be shocked more than it can be improved, or the blush of shame excited on the cheek oftener than the tear of sympathy will be drawn from the eye;—if, in a word, a false fastidiousness should prejudge, from its own suppositions or from misrepresentations made to it by others, a book by means of which we have sought to convey many an useful moral and lash many a flagrant abuse,—do you, kind reader, oppose that prejudice, and exclaim—“Peruse ere you condemn!”

For if, on the one side, we have raked amidst the filth and loathsomeness of society,—have we not, on the other, devoted adequate attention to its bright and glorious phases?

In exposing the hideous deformity of vice, have we not studied to develope the witching beauty of virtue?

Have we not taught, in fine, how the example and the philanthropy of one good man can “save more souls and redeem more sinners than all the Bishops that ever wore lawn-sleeves?”

If, then, the preceding pages be calculated to engender one useful thought—awaken one beneficial sentiment,—the work is not without its value.

If there be any merit in honesty of purpose and integrity of aim,—then is that merit ours.

And if, in addition to considerations of this nature, we may presume that so long as we are enabled to afford entertainment, our labours will be rewarded by the approval of the immense audience to whom we address ourselves,—we may with confidence invite attention to a SECOND SERIES of “THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON.”

The Mysteries of London, Vol 2. Reynolds would go on to write The Mysteries of the Court of London because of the popularity of the series.

Little scholarship has appeared on The Mysteries of London to date. The only volume to my knowledge on the author is G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press edited by Anne Humpherys and Louis James. It is a collection of essays on Reynolds. Published in 2008, this volume is priced so that hardly anyone can afford it. At Amazon, the hardcover sells for about $100 and even the ebook is priced at $54.95. This is not the way to get more people interested in Reynolds, who deserves far more attention than he has received.

Is Reynolds as great as Dickens or Trollope? No, I have to admit both are far better authors. Both are better stylists, and both do more to develop their characters. Reynolds characters are constantly active, but there is little in the way of interior monologues so we will feel we really know them as real people. Even the guilt-ridden characters are not depicted in ways to make us truly feel their guilt like a great novelist would do. But Reynolds was not writing for a literary but a lower and middle-class audience that wanted cheap thrills and a soap-opera type plotline. That he tried to infuse some morality into his storyline shows that he knew his audience and also knew the power of the pen to reform as well as entertain. That he doubtless influenced countless of his contemporaries and literary successors cannot be denied although the full extent of that influence needs more research. I hope in the years to come more affordable and readable editions of Reynolds’ novels will be produced (currently, most that can be bought are poor quality editions that are scanned and reprinted versions, unlike the fine edition that Valancourt Press has produced of The Mysteries of London) and more scholarship will be devoted to him. It is long past time that Reynolds’ place in Victorian fiction receive the recognition it deserves.

If you have not read any of Reynolds’ other novels, I highly recommend, besides The Mysteries of London, his three supernatural works, all of which I’ve previously blogged about:

Wagner the Wehr-Wolf

The Necromancer

Faust: Or the Secret of the Tribunals

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, a study of nineteenth-century British Gothic literature from 1794 (The Mysteries of Udolpho) to 1897 (Dracula) with a look at twenty and twenty-first century texts like Tarzan of the Apes, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Tyler has also written Haunted Marquette, a history of hauntings in his native city of Marquette, Michigan, Spirit of the North: A Paranormal Romance, and the historical fantasy The Children of Arthur series, which details the story of King Arthur and his descendants, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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My Newest Book: Haunted Marquette-Ghost Stories from the Queen City

October 2, 2017—Marquette, MI author Tyler Tichelaar will be giving his readers a treat this Halloween season. On Wednesday, October 11 at 6:00 p.m. at the Marquette Regional History Center he will be releasing his newest book, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. The book contains more than forty stories of ghosts and paranormal activity within the city of Marquette.

More than forty haunted places are highlighted in Haunted Marquette.

“For years I’ve heard stories of various hauntings and collected them,” says Tichelaar. “I never thought I’d have enough for a book, but as I interviewed people, one story led to another. I’ve found sufficient evidence to make me believe several buildings in Marquette may be haunted or have experienced hauntings in the past.”

Haunted Marquette is divided into several sections on hauntings in Marquette’s churches and cemeteries, the downtown businesses, the lakeshore, various houses, and Northern Michigan University. Tichelaar researched each location to determine the likelihood of a haunting there and whether any historical evidence existed to make the haunting plausible. He also interviewed numerous people about their personal experiences with ghosts.

“I was afraid I would end up talking to a bunch of crazy people when I set out to write this book,” said Tichelaar, “but everyone I talked to was very sincere. Not one of them was seeking attention; most had not believed in ghosts before until they had a strange experience they could not explain logically.”

Numerous city landmarks are highlighted in the book as locations where ghosts have been sighted, including the former Holy Family Orphanage, Park Cemetery, the Marquette lighthouse, the Landmark Inn, the Peter White Public Library, and the Thomas Fine Arts building at NMU.

“Only a couple of the hauntings can really be described as frightening,” says Tichelaar. “Most of these stories are about unexplainable

Author Tyler Tichelaar is a long-time lover of the Gothic and supernatural. As a seventh-generation resident of Marquette, he loves investigating its lore.

phenomena; a few are heart-wrenching when you realize the tragedies some of the alleged ghosts experienced while still human, which has caused them to linger on this earth.”

Tichelaar will release Haunted Marquette at the Marquette Regional History Center on Wednesday, October 11. A presentation will begin at 6:00 p.m. and last about an hour, followed by a book signing. Partial proceeds from the book signing will be donated to the history center.

Tyler R. Tichelaar is a seventh generation Marquette resident. He is the author of The Marquette Trilogy, My Marquette, and numerous other books. In 2011, he received the Outstanding Writer Award in the Marquette County Arts Awards, and the Barb H. Kelly Historic Preservation Award. His novel Narrow Lives won the 2008 Reader Views Historical Fiction Award. In 2014, his play Willpower was produced by the Marquette Regional History Center at Kaufman Auditorium. You can learn more at Tichelaar’s website www.MarquetteFiction.com and at the MRHC’s website www.marquettehistory.org.

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Sin, Sexism, and Gothic Wanderers: Haggard and Lang’s The World’s Desire

The World’s Desire (1890) is one of the most interesting, strange, possibly sexist, and only partially satisfying novels I have ever read. This collaboration between H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang deserves to be far better known simply because it is a collaboration between two of the great Victorian writers of adventure novels, or male romance, but more so, because of its fascinating Gothic wanderer figures—Odysseus, Helen, and Meriamun.

The 1890 first edition of The World’s Desire

The World’s Desire will not appeal to all readers—it’s definitely a novel written for men rather than women, but it is also a book deserving of attention. Written as a sequel to Homer’s Odyssey, literary critics have praised Lang for his ability to recreate Homer’s style and diction. That said, I feel the hand of Haggard more firmly in it. The novel is in his style and tone largely and reads like a strange sort of dream that reminds me especially of one of my favorite of his works, The Ghost Kings, as well as the Conan stories of Robert Howard. The atmosphere is very Gothic, and the theme is Gothic, without the typical Gothic trappings of castles. The supernatural is prevalent throughout the novel, though more in the form of Greek goddesses and biblical plagues than typical ghosts.

The story begins with Odysseus returning home from a second voyage he made after his initial return to Ithaca at the end of The Odyssey. He reaches Ithaca only to find that plague has killed everyone there, including his wife. He goes to the temple of Aphrodite to pray and ask for direction and she tells him he has always followed Athena, not her, but now it is time for him to follow her and truly have a great love. He is to seek Helen of Troy, to learn what became of her, and with her he shall know true passion. Unsure how to find her, Odysseus prepares for the search by putting on the armor of Paris that he received as a gift from Menelaus. Then the island is invaded by slavers who kidnap him. They take him to Egypt, where he manages to escape from them by slaughtering them.

Once in Egypt, Odysseus (who throughout most of the novel is referred to as “the Wanderer”) hears stories of terrible plagues that are happening. (These are the Biblical plagues of Exodus.) He is told that some blame the plagues on the Apiru (Hebrews) who wish to be set free from being Pharaoh’s slaves, but others blame the goddess Hathor or the one who poses as her. The most beautiful woman in the world is living in Hathor’s temple, claiming to be her, and some believe the true goddess is punishing Egypt in anger over the impostor.

Eventually, Odysseus makes his way to the Pharaoh’s presence. All this while he wears Paris’ armor and does not give his true name to anyone. Pharaoh is married to his half-sister, Meriamun. She only agreed to marry him in exchange for equal power with him. She is also a sorceress, and she comes to recognize Odysseus’ true identity and love him. Odysseus, however, is not interested in Meriamun and instead believes Hathor may be Helen, so he goes to the temple to see her, even though he is warned that all the men who have dared look upon her have died, struck down by some ghostly spirits that guard her. Of course, Odysseus survives. Helen is surprised to see him, fearing he is Paris’ ghost at first. Once he reveals his true identity to her, they swear their love for each other.

However, Meriamun is furious. She hates Helen for being the only woman in the world more beautiful than her, and now, she hates her for having Odysseus’ love. Through sorcery, she makes a Faustian pact with the Snake, also known as Sin (the biblical Garden of Eden snake clearly); she must always carry him about her like a girdle, and in exchange, she is able to change her image to be that of Helen. Of course, she seduces Odysseus, and while they sleep, the Snake curls itself about them.

When Odysseus learns he has been tricked, he is devastated, and it doesn’t help that Meriamun accuses him of raping her and has him throne in prison. Her goal now is to kill both Odysseus and Helen. Meanwhile, Pharaoh has been off pursuing the Apiru at the Red Sea and has lost his army. He returns and has a terrible dream (created by Meriamun’s sorcery) that convinces him, since his army is gone, he must send Odysseus to fight his other enemies coming from over the sea to attack Egypt, so off Odysseus goes to serve Pharaoh. Aphrodite tells Odysseus the only way he can be purged of his sin from being with Meriamun is to do so.

Meriamun now poisons Pharaoh and places the blames for his death on Hathor, who is still blamed even though the plagues have ended with the Apiru’s departure because so many men have died from looking at her. Meriamun gets the Egyptian women to attack the temple where Helen lives but Helen escapes.

H. Rider Haggard is today best known for King Solomon’s Mines, but his bestselling novel She introduced a powerful Gothic supernatural woman that would fascinate readers for centuries. Meriamun of The World’s Desire is very much written in her shadow.

Odysseus is now fighting the men from over the sea, including “Wolf, the Son of Signy, Son of the were-wolf” who is a “wanderer from an evil race that of old had smitten his [Odysseus’s] ships and devoured his men.” He is a giant man so one assumes he might be kin to the Cyclops. But Odysseus manages to kill him. Helen now arrives at the battle to come to Odysseus’ aid, but it is too late. Telegonus, the son of Circe and Odysseus, thinking Odysseus is Paris, shoots him with an arrow that kills him. Odysseus does not die, however, before revealing his identity to his son. Telegonus says he has been seeking his father all this time but now he has slain him. Odysseus dies on Helen’s breast with the promise that they have been together in past lives and will be together in future ones. They will meet again and then “our sin be purged and peace be won, and the veil be drawn from the face of Truth.”

Meriamun is present at the funeral when Odysseus is burnt on a pyre. In her agony over Odysseus’ death, she tears from her the snake she must wear as a girdle according to her Faustian pact. She casts it into the fire, but the priest Rei (the narrator of the book) tells her that because of her vow, she must go where the snake goes. She is then drawn to the fire and casts herself onto Odysseus’s body. The snake then wraps itself around both of them and laughs. (The reader is left with the impression that Sin rather than Love has conquered.)

The novel ends with Helen wandering into the night and into the desert, and we are told she will wander until the Wanderer comes again.

A strange novel. Critics have suggested that Odysseus is an imperial Gothic hero, one not a part of empire but one who fights for empire. Clearly, he is supposed to be the hero of the novel and the one the male reader is to admire, but this reader personally thinks all the characters are rather flat and not fully fleshed out. It is a romance and not a realistic novel, of course, but only Meriamun feels like a fully developed character. Many critics have discussed the sexism of the novel. Critics claim Lang and Haggard did not like women, did not like having a female queen, and were seeking to create lands where men could have control again. Meriamun is a version of Eve with her Snake who brings about destruction, but what a wonderful villainess she is. The depictions of her making her pact with the Snake are fabulous. I’ll just quote the scene when she first awakes the Snake before he tells her his terms:

For awhile she gazed upon it, shuddering, as one in doubt.

“Minded I am to let thee sleep, thou Horror,” she murmured. “Twice have I looked on thee, and I would look no more. Nay, I will dare it, thou gift of the old wisdom, thou frozen fire, thou sleeping Sin, thou living Death of the ancient city, for thou alone hast wisdom.” Thereon she unclasped the bosom of her robe and laid the gleaming toy, that seemed a snake of stone, upon her ivory breast, though she trembled at its icy touch, for it was more cold than death. With both her hands she clasped a pillar of the chamber, and so stood, and she was shaken with throes like the pangs of childbirth. Thus she endured awhile till that which was a-cold grew warm, watching its brightness that shone through her silken dress as the flame of a lamp shines through an alabaster vase. So she stood for an hour, then swiftly put off all her robes and ornaments of gold, and loosing the dark masses of her hair let it fall round her like a veil. Now she bent her head down to her breast, and breathed on that which lay upon her breast, for the Ancient Evil can live only in the breath of human kind. Thrice she breathed upon it, thrice she whispered, “Awake! Awake! Awake!”

And the first time that she breathed the Thing stirred and sparkled. The second time that she breathed it undid its shining folds and reared its head to hers. The third time that she breathed it slid from her bosom to the floor, then coiled itself about her feet and slowly grew as grows the magician’s magic tree.

Greater it grew and greater yet, and as it grew it shone like a torch in a tomb, and wound itself about the body of Meriamun, wrapping her in its fiery folds till it reached her middle. Then it reared its head on high, and from its eyes there flowed a light like the light of a flame, and lo! its face was the face of a fair woman—it was the face of Meriamun!

Now face looked on face, and eyes glared into eyes. Still as a white statue of the Gods stood Meriamun the Queen, and all about her form and in and out of her dark hair twined the flaming snake.

At length the Evil spoke—spoke with a human voice, with the voice of Meriamun, but in the dead speech of a dead people:

“Tell me my name,” it said.

“Sin is thy name,” answered Meriamun the Queen.

“Tell me whence I come,” it said again.

“From the evil that is in me,” answered Meriamun.

“Tell me whither I go.”

“Where I go there thou goest, for I have warmed thee in my breast and thou art twined about my heart.”

Then the Snake lifted up its human head and laughed horribly.

Today Andrew Lang is best known for writing the fairy books, each named for a different color, but he was also fascinated with curses, as is clear in The World’s Desire and his writing another novel, The Mark of Cain.

“Well art thou instructed,” it said. “So I love thee as thou lovest me,” and it bent itself and kissed her on the lips. “I am that Ancient Evil, that Life which endures out of the first death; I am that Death which abides in the living life. I am that which brought on thee the woe that is in division from the Heart’s Desire, and the name thereof is Hell. From Life to Life thou hast found me at thy hand, now in this shape, now in that. I taught thee the magic which thou knowest; I showed thee how to win the Throne! Now, what wilt thou of me, Meriamun, my Mother, my Sister, and my Child? From Life to Life I have been with thee: ever thou mightest have put me from thee, ever thou fliest to the wisdom which I have, and ever from thee I draw my strength, for though without me thou mightest live, without thee I must die. Say now, what is it?—tell me, and I will name my price. No more will I ask than must be, for—ah!—I am glad to wake and live again; glad to grip thy soul within these shining folds, to be fair with thy beauty!—to be foul with thy sin!” “Lay thy lips against my ear and thine ear against my lips,” said Meriamun the Queen, “and I will say what it is that I will of thee, thou Ancient Evil.” So the human-headed Evil laid its ear against the lips of Meriamun, and Meriamun laid her lips against its ear, and they whispered each to each. There in the darkness they whispered, while the witch-light glittered down the grey snake’s shining folds, beamed in its eyes, and shone through the Queen’s dark hair and on her snowy breast.

At length the tale was told, and the Snake lifted its woman’s head high in the air and again it laughed.

No doubt, a female villain in a male-written novel may well be sexist. That said, it is Meriamun who is remembered when the novel is closed. I am left not caring if Odysseus or Helen ever unite in a future life. I care only to see if Meriamun will return and continue her reign of sin. Some critics have argued that Meriamun is an embodiment of the New Woman that the authors are reacting against, and yet it is clear that they are most fascinated by her. Many a Gothic novel has been read as subversive to female gender roles, offering alternatives and pushing against accepted social boundaries while in the end having a conservative ending. However, here we have a subversive female villain who ultimately gets the upper hand by winning over, through fascination, the authors who seek to condemn her. Meriamun has managed to step outside the book and work her witchcraft on her creators and their readers. That in the end, she feels, if not guilt, despair over Odysseus’ death transforms her from a mere villain to a female Gothic wanderer—and she is one of the most memorable.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Romantic Wanderers and Cross-Dressing in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs

The Scribner’s 1991 reprint of The Scottish Chiefs

The Scottish Chiefs (1809) by Jane Porter (1776-1850) is one of the earliest historical novels and some scholars claim it to be the very first. It tells the story of Sir William Wallace and his efforts to restore Scotland’s freedom after King Edward I of England invaded the country and tried to suppress it to his rule. Porter grew up first in Durham and then in Edinburgh and from early childhood heard tales of Sir William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and other Scottish heroes from a family nurse and many others in her neighborhood. The result was that in 1809, she penned her most famous novel The Scottish Chiefs. The novel would go on to be translated into numerous foreign languages and become a bestseller in Europe. It was so popular that Napoleon had it banned because of its message of revolt against an oppressive tyrant. It is said that US President Andrew Jackson was inspired by it when fighting the British in the War of 1812. It remained popular into the twentieth century, so popular that a comic book version was made of it: http://comicbooksonline.blogspot.com/2007/08/classics-illustrated-067-scottish.html and in 1921 Charles Scribner’s and Sons decided to produce a special illustrated edition of it, complete with a foreword by Kate Douglas Wiggin (author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) and illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, one of the greatest illustrators of the time. A 1991 reprint of that edition is the copy I own and have read.

I first heard of The Scottish Chiefs in 1992 when I found the Scribner’s illustrated edition in a bookstore. I loved the illustrations and loved British literature so I bought and read it. I admit I found it rather dull, and as the years passed, I remembered little of it, but it did make me know the name of Sir William Wallace for the first time, before I traveled to Scotland in 1993 and before the film Braveheart made his name once again famous to a wider audience in 1995.

I recently decided to reread the novel after rewatching Braveheart. I knew the film was grossly historically inaccurate in many ways, and more so, it was a very different story from that which Jane Porter told. I also wanted to reread the novel because of my interest in Gothic and historical fiction and my having recently learned that Sir Walter Scott had known Porter. Scott is, of course, arguably the father of the modern historical novel, so I wondered whether Porter had influenced him. I was also interested in rereading the novel because I had a few years before read Porter’s other well-known novel Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) and thought it quite interesting.

While Porter does not use Gothic elements in either of her two best-known works, she does rely upon the wanderer theme. Thaddeus of Warsaw is less a historical than contemporary novel since its events take place just over a decade before its publication. Its main character is a Polish refugee. The novel tells the story of how Poland was invaded and divided up between Russia and Prussia. Thaddeus befriends a British officer and also learns he is part-British. He then travels to England where, eventually, he meets his long-lost father. He also falls in love. Once Thaddeus is in England, the novel becomes largely a novel of manners. What is interesting to me as a student of the Gothic wanderer figure is that Porter repeatedly refers to Thaddeus as a wanderer in the novel because he is an exile from his native land.

Sir William Wallace and his wife Marion,, illustrated by N. C. Wyeth.

Porter does not use the term wanderer in The Scottish Chiefs very often, but the novel is not without interest, and her prefaces do play on the wanderer theme. Unfortunately, Porter’s prefaces are hard to come by since they are not always reprinted in copies of the novel. The Scribner’s edition I own does not contain them, and the Wiggin introduction is more focused on how much Kate Douglas Wiggin and her sister enjoyed the novel as children (this edition was, after all, being marketed to children so to have a famous children’s author introduce the novel was, apparently, a better marketing strategy than to have Jane Porter herself introduce it.) I did find the prefaces online at the University of Pennsylvania’s website: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/porter/chiefs/chiefs.html. In fact, it might be said that the prefaces are more interesting than the novel itself.

The 1831 preface contains a lot of insight into Porter’s interest in writing about Sir William Wallace. Porter describes her childhood hearing tales of Wallace from various people she knew, particularly an elderly neighbor named Luckie Forbes. Equally important, she heard from her sister’s nurse, Bel Johnston, about Bonnie Prince Charlie and how his cause was lost at the Battle of Culloden. Porter personally knew many of the widows of men who fought at Culloden. They were venerable old ladies in her childhood.

But the most striking point made in the introduction is when Porter relates how, as a child, she and her siblings were playing outside when a poor gentleman came to their home. The children begged him to come inside and rest, but he refused. He was an elderly man who explained that he had suffered from fighting with Prince Charles. Porter’s mother convinced him to come inside and let her give him something to eat once she explained that war had also made her a widow. He informs her then that he “received a wound worse than death: I shall never recover from it!” and then goes on to say, “I cannot go back…. I ought never to have come back anywhere. Sin should always be an outcast!” Porter’s mother tries to comfort him by saying Prince Charles’ followers were unfortunate, but “their fidelity could not be a sin!” What we have here is a Gothic wanderer figure—someone haunted by the past and past wrongs who has consequently become an outcast. All these widows and those who supported Prince Charles were outcasts in Porter’s childhood, some forty years after the Battle of Culloden, so Porter was very familiar with the outcast theme. Her desire later to write of Scottish history reminds me of Margaret Mitchell’s childhood being raised on stories of the Old South that eventually led to her writing Gone With the Wind (1936)—the Confederate cause was a lost one just like that of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Later, this old soldier leaves the Porter family and is referred to as “wandering along the fields towards the town.”

But what makes this particular soldier even more fascinating is that eventually it is revealed that he is really a she. Porter relates how later the soldier had an accident. Upon a doctor examining him, it’s revealed that not only is a limb fractured but also two ribs broken, and that the soldier is a woman. Knowing she’ll die from her wound, the woman says that if her relatives are contacted, they will “come to lay in a decent grave the last remains of an unhappy wanderer….” Eventually, the woman dies but her relatives reveal her identity as that of Jeannie Cameron, a woman who fought with Prince Charles as if she were a man. Many people considered Jeannie Cameron as possibly Prince Charles’ lover, and in Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones (1749), she is referenced as such. Readers can easily find out more about Jeannie Cameron, although the truth about her age and her role in Prince Charles’ service are somewhat confused. Visit Wikipedia for more information on her, including the fact that she was likely possibly a mix of several women whose identities were confused and melded together: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanie_(Jenny)_Cameron

If Jeannie Cameron is not a historical person, or not the person legend claims she was, it is surprising that Porter mentions her as if she were a real person whom Porter knew personally. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Porter to say whether she is being honest here, or just using what would become a standard device in historical fiction—the revelation of a stranger’s identity as being that of someone famous. (See my blog on James Malcolm Rymer’s The Black Monk, in which King Richard I keeps his identity secret; King Richard does the same thing in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819), posing as the Black Knight.) What I do know is that cross-dressing happens twice in The Scottish Chiefs where women put on men’s clothing, and I suspect these instances were inspired by Jeannie Cameron’s story, whether or not Porter ever really met her.

A comic book version of The Scottish Chiefs

Sadly, a full-length biography of Porter has never been written, nor do there seem to be many scholarly articles about her. Thomas McLean, a scholar in New Zealand, has written a few articles about her and is working on a project about her and her sister and brother. Her sister Anna Marie Porter was also an author and her brother Sir Robert Ker Porter was a noted painter. Porter’s relationship with Sir Walter Scott especially needs more discussion. We know Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor to the Porters’ home when they lived in Edinburgh. Scott, however, never acknowledged Porter as a source of influence upon his writing historical fiction, but instead said he was influenced by Maria Edgeworth, whose Castle Rackrent (1800) is also a contender for the first historical novel. In her article “Transporting Genres: Jane Porter Delivers the Historical Novel to the Victorians,” (published in Victorian Traffic: Identity, Exchange, Performance, edited by Sue Thomas), Peta Beasley discusses how Scott never acknowledged Porter’s influence on him and even wrote a scathing comment about her portrayal of Wallace in a letter to his friend James Hogg. Beasley also discusses the possible date for the commencement of Scott’s first historical novel, Waverley (1814). Scott said he began it in 1805 but then mislaid the manuscript so he did not appear to resume it until 1810 or later (by which time he had no doubt read The Scottish Chiefs). In any case, it is a shame that more isn’t known about Porter and I believe it’s time for a full-length biography of her, including a more thorough discussion of her relationship with Scott.

It’s also time for a critical edition of The Scottish Chiefs. In her prefaces, Porter insists that she has sources for almost all the incidents in the novel and only a few characters are fictional. (She never says who those fictional characters are). She does have a few notes in her novel but they are meager and just simply tell us what she is writing is true. For example, the most interesting woman in the novel is Joanna, the Countess of Mar. After Wallace rescues her and her husband, she falls madly in love with Wallace and becomes extremely jealous of her stepdaughter Helen, whom she suspects Wallace loves. Joanna professes her love to Wallace, who instantly rejects her, knowing it isn’t honorable since she is a married woman and also he is obviously not attracted to her. Regardless, Joanna persists in believing he can love her, and she dreams and manipulates behind the scenes so that Wallace, rather than Bruce, will be offered the crown and then she can marry him and become a queen. However, even after her husband, Donald, Earl of Mar, dies, Joanna is rejected by Wallace. At one point, she even dresses in men’s clothing so that she can get close to Wallace, but when he rejects her again, she threatens him. At the end of the novel, partially through her treachery, Wallace is captured by the English. When Joanna learns he has been killed, she blames herself and goes mad. Joanna is a true Gothic wanderer figure in the moment she goes mad, finally feeling guilt for her sinful actions.

Once Wallace is in prison in London and sentenced to death, Joanna’s stepdaughter, Helen Mar, travels to be with him. She disguises herself as a man so she can get inside the prison. There she and Wallace are married just before he dies.

Perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, however, is Edwin Ruthven. He is a young boy of fifteen and a relative to Helen. He is completely enamored with Wallace and hero-worships him. Wallace treats him like a little brother, taking him under his wing. Edwin is no coward and repeatedly does brave things to the point where the English he is fighting are amazed that a boy is so strong and brave. All that said, modern readers cannot help but think Edwin is homosexual in the way he is portrayed, constantly professing his devotion to Wallace. At one point, Wallace and he are sleeping and Edwin is resting his head on Wallace’s bosom. In this scene, they are attacked and Wallace is taken prisoner, but not before Edwin tries to protect him by taking an arrow through the heart for him.

Of course, there is a fine line between a boy who worships his hero and being gay, and since Jane Porter, a female author, is writing the novel, she may have oversentimentalized the relationship between two men. Certainly, also, homophobia was not as rampant in 1809 as it has been in more recent years and the definitions of masculinity have changed since Porter’s time. Still, I suspect Porter was doing some literary crossdressing herself, projecting herself into the character of Edwin a bit too much in his speaking his admiration for Wallace. She likely projected herself into Helen as well, but in a more acceptable way because Helen’s romantic feelings for Wallace are heterosexual.

Helen descends the Glen of Stones, a scene that recalls for me the sisters in The Last of the Mohicans being taken along cliffs and forest trails as captives. Helen has just been rescued by a mysterious man in this scene.

I have been unable to find information online about most of these characters in the novel. While obviously Wallace and Robert the Bruce are historical, as is Donald, Earl of Mar, I could not find anything about Joanna Mar or Helen Mar. Helen’s sister Isabella Mar would marry Robert the Bruce so she is historical as well. Joanna’s mother was reputedly a princess of Norway so she must be historical and Porter says she was. As for Edwin, I could find nothing about him either. It is for these reasons that I think a critical edition of The Scottish Chiefs is long overdue so we can get a better sense of where Porter romanticized and where she drew from historical facts or at least from the ballads and stories she heard growing up about Sir William Wallace. Certainly, the Wallace depicted in this novel is a far cry from the one portrayed in Braveheart.

I will admit, despite my interest in the novel, that it is rather dull reading at times. I continually found my thoughts drifting away. I think the primary reason is because the characters are never fully fleshed out. They are more shadows than real people. Porter never really lets us into their minds but stands back and presents them through her sentimental and hero-worship lens. The only ones who really seem to live are Joanna, Helen, and Edwin. The rest show no real emotion. Wallace himself is one of the less memorable characters in the novel. His best scene is when he travels to England and visits Edward’s court disguised as a minstrel. At one point, Queen Margaret is rumored to have had an affair with him, but Wallace writes a letter to King Edward declaring she is virtuous, for which he is later thanked by her brother, the King of France when Wallace goes to France for support in Scotland’s cause. Wallace’s death scene is quickly brushed over—there are no explicit and gruesome details as there are in Braveheart.

The comic book version of Sir William Wallace’s death at a scaffold – no ripping out of entrails like in Braveheart.

One final interesting part of the novel is that the action begins with a box containing a secret that comes into Wallace’s possession and that he protects throughout the novel. In the end, it’s revealed that the regalia of Scotland is contained in the box. One wonders whether this mystery in the novel had any influence on Sir Walter Scott’s desire to find the regalia of Scotland, which he later located hidden away in Edinburgh Castle.

Ultimately, I have read a lot of Sir Walter Scott and I can well believe The Scottish Chiefs inspired him, but it is often as dull as James Fenimore Cooper’s novels and it reminded me a great deal of The Last of the Mohicans—especially in the scene where Helen is abducted and later rescued and led through the forest, including a dangerous journey over a bridge. One has to wonder how our ancestors could have been so taken by this novel, or even those of Scott and Cooper, but historical fiction was new then, and they had no movies to watch and no better historical novelists to read. These authors were pioneers of their time, and while I doubt anyone but literary historians are interested in them now (supposedly The Scottish Chiefs remains popular among Scottish children, but I doubt it’s any more popular than other books like Ivanhoe and The Last of the Mohicans which are also often published in children’s classics editions, but remain largely unread and not enjoyed if read. I read them as a child and found them dull and still do.) Nevertheless, Porter deserves a higher place in the history of historical fiction than she has so far been granted.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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The Mummy: Tom Cruise as Gothic Wanderer (Again)

Yes, Tom Cruise is officially a double Gothic Wanderer. His first Gothic Wanderer role was as Prince Lestat in Interview with a Vampire (1994). Now he comes back as a cursed soul, but more of that in a minute. First, he has quite an adventure on the way to becoming a cursed soul, and The Mummy depicts that journey.

The Mummy is the first of the new Dark Universe films, a reboot of Universal’s classic monster films.

The Mummy is the first film in the new Universal Studios remake of its 1930s monster franchise, which it will call the Dark Universe. (Dracula Untold was supposed to be the first film in the Dark Universe series, but apparently, it has now been dropped and won’t tie into the other films planned. A real shame because I thought it was probably the best Gothic film in years as I previously blogged about.) In any case, I am delighted that we will have a new series of Monster films, and despite some of the negative reviews, this film is not just a rehash of old Mummy films but is unusually fresh and does far more with the Mummy theme than any of its predecessors while retaining the themes of undying love, forbidden knowledge, and immortality that have been part of the mummy legacy since the first mummy film of 1932.

The general public’s interest in mummies began because of the early explorations by archeologists in Egypt in the late 1800s, resulting in early mummy novels such as Jane Webb’s The Mummy!, or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827) and Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903) and eventually movies like The Mummy (1932). Therefore, it is surprising that the film is not set back in the early twentieth century like the recent films starring Brendan Fraser.

Instead, (spoiler alert from here on) we have a prologue set during the Crusades showing that English knights captured a large ruby from ancient Egypt and brought it back to England where they buried it in one of the knights’ tombs. This ruby was part of a dagger that the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet used to try to kill her lover so the God Set could enter him and take on human form. When the knight’s tomb is discovered in modern-day London during a Crossrail construction, we are given a flashback scene to how it got there. Princess Ahmanet was denied the chance to succeed her father, the pharaoh, when his second wife gave birth to a son. Wanting the throne for herself, Ahmanet sold her soul to the Egyptian god Set, who gave her a special dagger to transfer his spirit into a human body. After murdering her family, Ahmanet tried to sacrifice her lover so Set could enter his corpse, but her father’s priests slew him before the ritual could be completed. They then mummified Ahmanet, sentencing her to be buried alive for eternity inside a sarcophagus surrounded by mercury so she could never escape. (I need not tell any Gothic Wanderer lover here that selling your soul is a very Faustian act and common in Gothic Wanderer novels. It also, in Ahmanet’s case, seems to have made her immortal, and immortality is a major Gothic Wanderer theme as well.)

Back in modern times, soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton and his partner Chris Vail accidentally discover the tomb of Ahmanet in Iraq. Jenny Halsey, an archaeologist who had a one-night stand with Nick, arrives to investigate the tomb and comes to realize it’s actually a prison. They raise up Ahmanet’s sarcophagus from where it is enchained in the pool of mercury, and then it is placed on a plane to be brought to England, along with Nick, Chris, and Jenny.

During the flight, Chris, who was bit by a spider in the tomb, becomes possessed by Ahmanet’s power. He tries to open the sarcophagus to free Ahmanet, and when the soldiers try to stop them, he starts stabbing people until Nick shoots and kills him. After that, he will start to haunt Nick. But not before a magnificent plane crash scene occurs—it is really the best plane crash scene I’ve ever seen. Jenny escapes with a parachute, but Nick goes down with the plane. He ends up waking in a body bag but doesn’t have a scratch on him. Why? Because Ahmanet is already possessing him—she has decided he will be the man whose corpse will one day allow the God Set to live in human form.

Meanwhile, Ahmanet’s sarcophagus has fallen out of the plane as it crashed. She escapes from it and starts feeding on people to bring life back into her body. She also finds the blade of the Dagger of Set, absent its jewel, in an ancient church where the Crusaders hid it. While Nick and Jenny are out looking for the sarcophagus, Jenny reveals to Nick that he must be connected to Ahmanet somehow, which turns out to be true when she starts to pursue them, but at the last minute, soldiers appear and subdue her.

The soldiers turn out to be followers of Dr. Henry Jekyll (of Jekyll and Hyde fame). He tells Nick that he and Jenny are part of Prodigium, a secret society that tries to stop supernatural threats. Dr. Jekyll, however, has his own ideas for how to stop evil—he wants to let Ahmanet complete her ritual so Nick will die and be possessed by Set; then Jekyll can destroy both Set and Ahmanet and stop their evil. Of course, Nick doesn’t like the idea of dying, but before he can stop Jekyll, who turns into Mr. Hyde briefly and must be subdued, Ahmanet escapes and begins to wreak havoc on London.

From this point, we have a typical action film until we get to the final showdown between Nick and Ahmanet. She explains to Nick that she loves him and wants him to live forever; she tries to stab him but he gets the dagger (with its jewel restored to it now) away from her, then decides he wants to be immortal so he stabs himself. However, he also remembers Jenny telling him there is good inside of him, so once he has immortality, the good in him wins out enough to make him destroy Ahmanet.

All this is lead up to the most interesting point of the film. Nick tells Jenny now he must leave her because he doesn’t know what he is now and he doesn’t want to hurt her. Then he swiftly disappears. In the final scenes, Dr. Jekyll tells Jenny that Nick is now going to spend his life with an internal battle of good and evil within him. He has achieved his redemption as a human by becoming a monster, but sometimes what the world needs is a monster (a line that was also used in Dracula Untold). In the final scene, Nick is with his friend Chris, whom he brought back to life through the powers he gained from Ahmanet. He says they will now have an adventure. Jekyll says Nick will spend his time seeking a cure for what he has become (rather like the Incredible Hulk), but truthfully, Nick doesn’t seem too concerned about it in the end.

That Nick is now cursed and immortal is high Gothic at its best. Unfortunately, it’s also where the film ends, with Nick a true Gothic Wanderer. I was left wanting more.

Yes, the film has gotten mostly negative reviews, but very unjustly in my opinion, and it has done well at the box office overseas if not in the U.S. At Rotten Tomatoes, the general consensus is “Lacking the campy fun of the franchise’s most recent entries and failing to deliver many monster-movie thrills, The Mummy suggests a speedy unraveling for the Dark Universe.” All I have to say to that is that while I liked the earlier Mummy films with Brendan Fraser, thank God that this film didn’t have campy fun. It’s about time we get some more serious horror films. Furthermore, a good horror film isn’t just about scaring the viewer. It’s about creating tormented characters, and this film sets up Cruise’s character to be a wonderfully tormented soul. This is the very essence of the Gothic Wanderer figure—the tormented soul. It is in the tradition of Frankenstein and Dracula and many other characters. Hollywood, please bring us more tormented souls and less chainsaw murderers, shark attacks, and crap films like Sleepy Hollow (1999) that can’t take their subjects seriously. Tormented souls are what life is about—aren’t we all in some way tormented souls and Gothic Wanderers looking for redemption? That Universal understood that when it made Dracula Untold and continues to understand it with The Mummy is why these are relevant films that can resonate with viewers—and also why they are far better than most of the superhero and other horror films being made currently, both of which owe a huge debt to the Gothic.

In addition, I want to say that I know Tom Cruise gets a lot of criticism these days. Frankly, I don’t care about his religion or his personal life. I care about whether he can make a good movie, and as far as I am concerned, he’s just as handsome, cool, and capable of creating a good action film as he was in Top Gun, The Firm, or any of his much earlier films. He’s hot, cocky, charming, talented, and looks incredible for his age. (In fact, in one scene Russell Crowe’s character remarks to Tom Cruise’s character, “You’re a younger man than me.” Actually Cruise was born in 1962 and Crowe in 1964, but Crowe is starting to look old and overweight. (He reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in this film, while Cruise could still pass for a man in his late thirties.) How much their looks are the result of makeup I can’t say. I’ll just say that Tom Cruise still rocks as a Hollywood megastar and anyone who says otherwise must just be jealous. I hope Cruise has plenty more Mummy and other Dark Universe films in his future.

More Dark Universe films are in the works, including films of Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. (See more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Monsters#Dark_Universe).

Universal, bring them on! You can’t make them fast enough for my taste! The Gothic Wanderer lives on—but why am I not surprised?—after all, in most renditions he is immortal.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at http://www.ChildrenofArthur.com and http://www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Powers of Darkness: The Icelandic and Possibly Lost Version of Dracula

I was so excited when I first heard several months ago about the publication of Powers of Darkness. This book creates a whole new mystery for Dracula scholars and fans to puzzle over.

Powers of Darkness is the new translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

You see, in 1900, in Iceland, a man named Valdimar Asmundsson published in serial form a translation of the novel Dracula in the journal Fjallkonan. The book was later published in book form with a preface written by Bram Stoker. For a long time, scholars were aware of this preface which was not included in the 1897 publication of Dracula in Britain, but everyone assumed Makt Myrkranna, the name given in Iceland to Dracula, which translated means Powers of Darkness (I’ll refer to it by this title going forward) was a straightforward translation of the novel.

However, Hans C. de Roos, Dracula scholar, recently discovered it is not the same and has translated the Icelandic version of the novel back into English so scholars can compare the two versions. The result is that the Icelandic version can clearly be seen to have drastic and notable differences to Dracula. How drastic? As Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew, explains in his preface to Powers of Darkness, the Icelandic manuscript is divided into two sections. The first describes Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle, and the second describes Dracula’s time in England. The description of Harker’s time in the castle in Dracula is 22,700 words, but in the Icelandic version, it is 37,200 words—a 63 percent increase. The rest of the novel is 137,860 words in Dracula, but in the Icelandic version, it is a rushed 9,100 words—a 93 percent reduction. Obviously, the word count alone reveals significant changes.

The next most noteworthy change is that Harker’s section is written as a diary, as it is in Dracula itself, but in the Icelandic manuscript, the first-person diary, letter, and recordings format is dropped to be replaced by a nameless narrator who describes all the action. Also, the expanded scenes in Dracula’s castle introduce several minor characters, including a beautiful young woman who tries to seduce Harker. In the later section, she shows up in England as a countess. The second section is very rushed and reads more like plot summary than a thought-out and developed storyline. For example, it will simply state that a conversation was held rather than detailing the dialogue of that conversation.

Several of the characters also have different names. Harker’s first name is Tom rather than Jonathan. Mina becomes Wilma, which Roos notes is also a shorter version of Wilhelmina, as is Mina. (Roos also suspects the name Mina, which scholars continue to debate about the origins for, may have derived from a governess within Stoker’s brother’s family who was named Minna.) Lucy is Lucia in Powers of Darkness, and while most of the other characters have their usual names, several other characters appear in the storyline who are not in Dracula itself, and most notably, Renfield is completely absent.

The biggest change concerning the characters, however, is the way Dracula is treated. He is far more visible in London, appearing at dinner parties, and befriending Lucia and Wilma, after being introduced to them as Baron Székely by Lucia’s uncle. His purpose also appears to be different. While in Dracula, the Count seems to have little purpose other than to quench his thirst for blood, in Powers of Darkness, he seems intent on playing a political game. His speeches to Harker make it clear he is not a fan of democracy; instead, he seems to be wanting to create some sort of new world order, and he also has several other foreigners and diplomats who gather about him in England and seem to be aiding him in these pursuits. Once Dracula is destroyed, these foreigners quietly leave England and one commits suicide. The Count’s death is also notable because he is killed in England, and when he is killed, he is simply killed. There is no passage here as in Dracula that shows a peaceful expression coming across his face as if he is relieved to be freed of his vampirism. Nor does Wilma, unlike Mina, show any pity for him; she is not as linked to him either, never drinking his blood as in Dracula.

A more nuanced difference between Dracula and Powers of Darkness is the language used in the latter—numerous words throughout the book seem to have been inserted specifically for an Icelandic audience, and several references are made to Icelandic mythology. This change makes it clear that Asmundsson as translator probably was taking liberties with the text to make it more palatable to an Icelandic audience, but how far did he take it? Is he responsible for all the changes in the novel, or just some of them? To what extent was Bram Stoker aware of the changes made?

We could easily believe that Asmundsson just decided to rewrite the novel and make it into something different as he serialized it, and then getting tired of it, decided to rush it to an end. This supposition doesn’t explain everything, however. Why would Asmundsson have so drastically changed and expanded the scenes with Harker at Dracula’s castle if he had the full novel to serialize? Also, several of the differences in Powers of Darkness reflect Stoker’s notes for Dracula and ideas he had that he did not incorporate into the final version of Dracula.

No one has the answers to these questions, but personally, I believe Asmundsson was working from an earlier draft of Dracula that somehow fell into his hands; in the introduction, Roos speculates on different ways the manuscript might have made it to Iceland or who may have put Stoker in touch with Asmundsson. I believe the fact that several of the changes reflect Stoker’s notes makes it clear that Asmundsson did not act alone but in conjunction to some degree with Stoker. Stoker apparently approved of the publication of his novel in Icelandic since he provided the introduction. The question, however, is did Stoker know about all the changes made? Even if Stoker had provided an earlier manuscript of Dracula, Asmundsson clearly took some liberties with it by introducing references that would be more familiar to Icelandic readers.

The only way answers could be found to all the questions this new edition of Dracula raises would be if the manuscript Asmundsson worked from were to be found. At this time, however, that seems unlikely. Even so, Powers of Darkness adds to the mystery of Dracula. It opens new interest in Stoker’s writing process and how Dracula may have evolved over time into the novel we have today. Ultimately, I found Powers of Darkness a far less satisfying read than Dracula, although it certainly has its interesting moments. I think the scenes with Harker are the best, and yet, that the Harker chapters were significantly reduced in Dracula from what appears here is a sign to me that Stoker knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff to make his novel more powerful, frightening, and nuanced than if he had retained everything in those opening sections of what I believe is an earlier version of Dracula. He also realized what was not working and obviously improved upon it in the later sections of the novel. Other than the possibility of small changes made by the translator, I suspect what Powers of Darkness reflects is an early draft of Dracula. It will be interesting to see if more information is eventually discovered about the novel to help us better understand why Stoker would have let this version be published—if he did—and how his novel developed to become the classic it is today.

This new edition has both an informative preface and introduction and there are also 352 annotated notes in the glosses of the pages pointing out plot and character differences between Dracula and Powers of Darkness, including Icelandic wordings of interest. There are also a few illustrations. Altogether, anyone who is a lover of Dracula will want to read this book.

For more information about Powers of Darkness, visit the book’s website www.PowersofDarkness.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

Balkan Vampire Novel One of the Best: A Review of Kiss of the Butterfly

Kiss of the Butterfly delves into Balkan vampire folklore to create a satisfying and fast-paced vampire tale.

James Lyon’s 2013 novel Kiss of the Butterfly is one of the best vampire novels written in recent years. Its author did impeccable research into vampire folklore, not relying solely on how vampires are depicted in films or even in the novel Dracula and all the vampire fiction that has followed its 1897 publication, but by digging into the true legends of vampires in the Balkans.

Lyon is also the translator of the novel After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic, which has previously been discussed on this blog. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880, seventeen years before Dracula was published. In his 2015 translation of that novel, Lyon discusses Serbian vampire folklore in detail, and many of the details he discusses he also uses in Kiss of the Butterfly. (Lyon has also written Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of World War I, so he is obviously very knowledgeable about the Balkans.) I won’t go into all the vampire lore details in the novel, but a few are worth mentioning here along with a little plot summary (with a few spoilers, but not giving away the ending) to explain why this is such a great vampire novel.

First off, an explanation about the title. You may not associate butterflies with vampires, but as Lyon explains, butterflies have traditionally been associated in Balkan folklore with the soul. Consequently, a vampire can transform itself into a butterfly. When vampires are killed, it’s important not to let the vampire’s soul escape from its mouth in the form of a butterfly. Of course, the kiss part of the title refers to one of the best scenes in the whole novel when a female vampire attacks the main character.

The novel’s plot is well-paced. It’s just over halfway into the novel when vampires show up in the main storyline, but the lead up to their appearance is suspenseful. I never felt bored at all. The main story concerns Professor Marko Slatina, a Serbian professor teaching in California, and his graduate student, Steven Roberts. Slatina helps Steven get connections in Serbia so he can go there to study vampires for the dissertation he is writing. It’s not easy to go to Serbia at this time since it’s the early 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic is waging a war of genocide in the former country of Yugoslavia.

Once in Serbia, Steven begins his studies in earnest, meeting some professors and other students whom he shares his research with. He also meets some girls, one of whom doesn’t like his interest in vampires, but the two find themselves attracted to each other regardless. The novel educates the reader about Balkan vampires without being boring and builds up to Steven discovering an old book about vampires at a library that he wants to read. The librarian tells him the book was forbidden during the communist regime but he can now look at it. The next day he goes back to look at the book again, only to find that the librarian has been dismissed from her job and the book cannot be located. Obviously, someone does not want him to read it.

Lyon keeps the story moving by having short historical interludes at the end of each chapter that are set between the 1730s and 1980s. These interludes tell us about vampires still existing in Serbia and their history during this period. Most notably, there are twelve vampires in the novel, one of whom is the famous Vlad Dracula. In the 1730s, eleven of the vampires were imprisoned in an underground chamber by a man who had been in love with one of them, Natalija, before she became a vampire. Because of his love for her, he is unable to bring himself to kill her and end her vampirism, so instead, he imprisons her and her fellow vampires. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, the vampires escaped.

As the plot thickens, Steven finds himself being hunted by these vampires, who are intent on killing him before he finds out more about them. Professor Slatina also travels to Serbia at this point and reveals the truth to Steven—that he sent him to the Balkans to find out information about the vampires. Slatina also reveals that he is a vampirovic, the child of a vampire who had sex with a human female. The children of such unions grow up to be vampire hunters and they are basically immortal. I loved this fact, which is part of Balkan folklore, because when I wrote my novel Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, which is largely a sequel to Dracula, I depicted Quincey Harker, the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, as having special powers and an extended life because Quincey’s mother drank Dracula’s blood. I didn’t know at the time that vampire children were part of the vampire tradition, but thought on my own such a child would be special, so I guess I was right.

Slatina also turns out to have been the husband of Natalija, the female vampire. At one point, he confronts her and she begs him to show his love for her by killing her rather than locking her up. At this point, he explains that he didn’t kill her because he has been working on trying to figure out how he can save her by redeeming her. Elsewhere in the novel, Lyon explains that some vampires can feel remorse, try to repent, and achieve redemption. This, of course, fascinated me since I have traced in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, how Gothic wanderer figures like the vampire go from being damned to redeemed throughout the course of the nineteenth century, the most notable being the title character of Varney the Vampire (1846), who continually tries to end his misery by killing himself and who eventually finds redemption.

One additional interesting use of the vampire theme in the novel comes when the vampires attack Steven and his friends. A male vampire attacks a female, which is perfectly acceptable, since it’s heterosexual, but Natalija attacks a female, which is a lesbian act. Much has been made by critics of homosexuality in vampire novels, although in the nineteenth century novels, authors were always careful never to have vampires attack humans of the same sex. Natalija must have been really thirsty, I suspect, rather than into girls since she is married and later seeks to seduce and have sex with Steven—she literally does want sex with him, not just to drink his blood, or so she says. I suspect Lyon gave no thought to the lesbian possibility of her drinking a female’s blood since the scene is not in any way erotic or really significant ultimately. Oh, and I should mention that the vampires can also become werewolves, another part of Serbian folklore Lyon uses.

I won’t give away all the rest of the plot—needless to say, you can imagine how it ends. I will say I thought the pacing very good; the novel never became insincere or fell into being comical like too many vampire films become. Even when one of the vampires loses its head and remains talking, it did not become comical but rather fit into the vampire lore, as explained in the novel. The scene where a female vampire tries to seduce Steven was especially a page-turner.

I’ve read many vampire novels that were written in the last two hundred years. Of the more modern ones, I would say Kiss of the Butterfly is the best one since Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. It is far better than cheesy and boring Twilight novels or Elizabeth Kostova’s slow and anticlimactic The Historian. I would even read a sequel if Lyon writes one.

Anyone interested in real vampire lore that predates the success of Dracula should definitely read Kiss of the Butterfly.

(I wish to thank Robert Burke, a regular reader of my blog, who introduced me to this novel and James Lyon’s translation of After Ninety Years.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula