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.
The name John Dee conjures up images of a Tudor-era mage plumbing the mysteries of the occult and speaking with angels through his system of Enochian magic. This is how most people know Dr. Dee, and it is all I knew about him until I visited an excellent exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians in London.
Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The Lost Library of John Dee sets the record straight on a misunderstood and often maligned Renaissance man. Far more than a mere occultist, Dee was a geographer, mathematician, astronomer, world traveler, and cryptographer. He was influential in two royal courts and was an early advocate for the colonization of the Americas.
When Arthur Henry Ward adopted the nom de plume of Sax Rohmer, he found a match for the bohemian occultist persona he was working to cultivate. The very name sounded exotic and foreign. It was less of a name than it was a statement of intent. As part of his new identity, Rohmer claimed to be a Rosicrucian as well as a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It appears that both claims were false, although the Ward family doctor, R. Watson Councell was active in occult circles.
It was Dr. Councell who provided much of the information for Rohmer’s 1914 study of the occult, The Romance of Sorcery. It is possible Dr. Councell actually wrote sections of the work considering his own later publication, Apologia Alchymiae (1923) which featured a preface by Rohmer. In the 1970s, Rohmer scholar Dr. Robert E. Briney came across four privately printed titles published by The Theosophical Publishing Society of London credited to one Arthur H. Ward: The Song of the Flaming Heart (1908), The Seven Rays of Development (1910), The Threefold Way (1912), and Masonic Symbolism and the Mystic Way (1913).
I’ll come right out and admit I have mixed feelings about ebooks. I travel considerably for my day job and don’t mind having portable versions of books I own for quick reference, but the idea of owning books that cannot be found in print editions on my shelves at home irks me. That said, I recognize the market for digital-only titles is steadily growing, particularly among small press publishers. This, of course, is having its impact on the “New Pulp” community. Witness Pro Se Press’s decision earlier this year to discontinue their pulp magazine, Pro Se Presents and replace it with their Single Shot Signatures line of short stories available exclusively as ebooks.
My first sampling of the above is the newly published Magee, Volume One – “Knight from Hell” by David White. At first glance, I was struck by the apparent illustration of publisher Tommy Hancock on the cover, but on second glance I determined it was actually author David White wearing one of Tommy’s trademark hats. Of course, I was wrong on both counts since the illustration actually depicts the anti-hero of the piece, Magee.
Magee, it transpires, is actually the fallen angel Malachi who was exiled from Heaven after a fight over a woman with the archangel Michael. We’ll pause right here and note that David White is not a theologian and plays fast and loose with Christian tradition on such celestial matters. Following that disclaimer, we’ll make mention of the fact that Michael likewise banished the archangel Lucifer from Heaven following a similar fight. It seems that God is an absentee deity in these proceedings as He has abandoned Heaven to putter around in the Garden of Eden for several thousand years now.
“The Mysterious Mummy” marked Sax Rohmer’s first appearance in print. Only 20 years old at the time, Rohmer was then writing under the byline of A. Sarsfield Ward. Born Arthur Henry Ward, Sarsfield was a surname of historical repute from his mother’s side of the family, which he adopted at the start of his writing career.
A preview of the story was featured in the November 19, 1903 issue of Pearson’s Weekly, with the full story printed in the November 24 issue. “The Mysterious Mummy” languished in obscurity until it was reprinted by Peter Haining in the 1986 anthology, Ray Bradbury Introduces Tales of Dungeons and Dragons. Haining also included the story in the 1988 anthology, The Mummy: Stories of the Living Corpse. Rohmer scholar Gene Christie selected the story for inclusion in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense, published in 2011.
The most interesting feature about this first foray into fiction is that it is not at all a living mummy story, but rather a straight heist caper. Rohmer later disingenuously claimed that a copycat theft was attempted in France and the thief was arrested with a copy of Pearson’s Weekly on his person, featuring the story which he claimed was so good he had to risk trying it in real life. Rohmer, of course, was a terribly unreliable interview subject. While it is possible the press were more gullible a century ago, it is more likely they viewed his tall tales as good copy.