The Curse of the Snake is the Guy Boothby title I have been waiting years to read. I previously covered the five books in his Dr. Nikola series as well as his 1899 novel, Pharos the Egyptian for Black Gate. Boothby is an author whose works have fallen into relative obscurity, but his influence was quite pervasive. A contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, he turned out works that stand up well against their more celebrated efforts. Most importantly, the influence of Dr. Nikola is felt heavily upon Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Boothby’s great flaw was that he was a prolific author of serialized novels who made no effort to correct inconsistencies when his works were published in book form. This hurt his reputation and, along with the speed with which he produced new works, unfairly suggested he was little more than a hack.
Dr. Nikola is another highly influential Victorian character who has been all but forgotten in the intervening century. The creation of Australian novelist Guy Boothby, Antonio Nikola was one of the earliest examples of a villain granted his own series. Nikola appears in five novels: A Bid for Fortune (1895), Dr. Nikola Returns (1896), The Lust of Hate (1898), Dr. Nikola’s Experiment (1899), and Farewell, Nikola (1901).
Many of the trademarks associated with later criminal geniuses begin with Nikola. Like James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld and his ever-present white Persian cat, Nikola is rarely seen without his black cat Apollyon. Fu Manchu’s pet marmoset Peko is often depicted perched on his shoulder in Sax Rohmer’s thrillers, so Apollyon is regularly described as perching on Nikola’s shoulder.
It is Fu Manchu who owes the most to Nikola. The description of Fu Manchu’s “brow like Shakespeare and face like Satan” finds a parallel in Nikola’s similarly striking features. Nikola is described as having “the Devil’s eyes.”
Even more so, Fu Manchu shares with Nikola an uncharacteristic code of honor that makes these villains somewhat sympathetic in the reader’s eye. Both villains make generous gifts to the individuals they formerly persecuted treating the entire affair as if it was merely a game.