Book Review: "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu" by Sax Rohmer

Sax Rohmer wrote a book titled "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu" in 1913. It also sells under the name "The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu." From the eponymous character came the name for particular style of beard, but this book was much more. It was a concoction of racism, Sherlock Holmes-esque detective work and mysticism. To be honest, the thing that stood out to me the most was the blatant use of racial slurs and paragraphs dedicated to belittling the Chinese. Nonetheless, it was a decent and even educational read and I intend to continue the Fu Manchu series.

I want to start with the racism because, as I said, it was the most memorable part of the book. I suppose that is only true of a modern reader, but I have read that Rohmer's protagonists were heavily racist even for the time. I won't add snippets of derogatory remarks strewn about by Nayland Smith (a detective of sorts) and even his tamer friend Dr. Petrie. I will suffice it to say that terms like "preservation of the white race" were used copiously to describe the motivation of our Smith and Petrie. However, what I find most interesting is that Dr. Fu Manchu, their Chinese archenemy is endowed with extraordinary intellect and other talents, so we are talking about a peculiar type of racism that does not underestimate the enemy, but rather finds him evil.

I'm not going to get into a plot summary, as I have never come across a faster moving plot in my life. There are frustrating moments, as the "good guys" never seem to get ahead, but they are always on the go. There is always a goal in sight. Instead, I want to talk about the language used by the author. Sax Rohmer has an uncanny grasp of archaic word usage. You can expect some dated language in a book more than a century old, but even contemporary readers must have wondered what some of the words he used meant. For example, he used the long outdated usage of queue to mean a braid at the back of the head at one point. Keep your dictionary open. Better yet, use Google.

You are not going to find depth of character, well described settings or anything of the like in "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu." What you are going to get is a good old-fashioned detective story peppered with sensationalism and some vocabulary building words. The reading goes fast and you are bound to have a few laughs at the ideas presented in some parts of the novel. It's hard to be offended by something about as influential and a restaurant menu.

Shelly Barclay 

Review and Summary of "The Beast in the Cave" by H.P. Lovecraft

While H.P. Lovecraft is one of the reigning, though deceased, kings of horror, there were definitely trends in his work that bordered on repetition. You can chalk this up to him being one of the universe creators of horror.  You would frequently see cities of a time long past or glimpses of other worlds. There was something, to use one of his favorite words, phantasmagorical about his work. As much as I love these stories from Lovecraft, I enjoy "The Beast in the Cave" all the more for its break from this trend. Do not worry. You will still recognize his handiwork, but you may find it hard to believe that this short story was written in 1905. Lovecraft was only 14 at the time.

[Spoilers ahead]

The entirety of "The Beast in the Cave" takes place in Kentucky in the company of the nameless narrator. He is stumbling through Mammoth Cave with a dying torch after having lost his tour group. You learn that he has been lost for many hours and considers his plight terminal. This deep in the caves, even a guide would have a difficult time finding a way out. This setting is perfect for a story wrought with cloying claustrophobia.

As you may have guessed, our narrator soon encounters a beast. Well, he hears what he thinks is a beast. It is walking on all fours and padding along behind the lost tourist. We join the narrator in his head while he ponders what could possibly be this deep into the caves and how being lost from the light may have affected any creature so beset by tragedy. Soon, our hero loses his light and finds himself cornered. The creature comes ever closer as the man reaches for a rock, throws it and incapacitates his tormenter.

Surely, that is a creepy enough story, but not for a teenaged H.P. Lovecraft. The guide, after noticing one of his charges went missing, goes searching for the narrator. They meet just after the confrontation with the so-called beast. As the guide sheds a light on the thing, which they can tell is expiring by its breathing, the two men realize with horror that what was chasing the lost tourist was his fate were he to have remained too long in the cave. It was a beast all right, but a beast that was once human and had changed with the lightless ecosystem of Mammoth Cave.

If you are just starting off with Lovecraft, this is as good a place as any. The story is just a few pages, is not as wordy as some of the adult Lovecraft's stories and does not fail to chill.

Shelly Barclay

A Character Analysis of Peter Pan

In the collective conscious of readers and Disney movie lovers everywhere, there is but one boy who comes to mind when the words cute, bold, adventurous and immortal are mentioned. That boy is Peter Pan, but there is often much more to him than depicted in the various plays and films that bear his name or the name of his home -- Neverland. It is even possible that your version of the boy who never grows up is much more watered down than the version that J.M. Barrie envisioned when he wrote this boy into existence.

Peter Pan presumably decided he never wanted to grow up before he made it to Neverland. He was once a mortal boy with parents. He left these parents at an undisclosed age and made his way to Neverland. It is stated that he did once go back to see them, but saw there was a baby boy in his place. Assuming his parents did not want him, he returned to his life as an immortal adventurer.

Of Peter Pan's appearance and age, there are only hints. He is a beautiful boy, which could mean just about anything in regard to his complexion, hair color, etc. He dresses in leaves and sap, though Barrie puts it far more romantically than that. Well, he also mentions "skeleton leaves," which I do not understand, so I could have it all wrong. Nonetheless, he wears leaves in many adaptations.

The character is inspired by Barrie's own mother's memories of his brother, who died just before he turned 14. However, Peter Pan is clearly not as old as J.M. Barrie's brother. He states that he still has all of his baby teeth. According to the American Dental Association, permanent teeth begin to erupt around 6-7 years of age. Whether this is the age that Barrie intended or not, this is the age implied by the statement. Therefore, we can place him at a quite young age, which is a mite disturbing when you consider various actions made by the boy.

Peter Pan has several skills that even the Lost Boys do not possess or possess to a lesser degree. Firstly, he does not age, as I have mentioned. Secondly, his imagination is so powerful that he is able to think things into existence in Neverland. Thirdly, he can fly with the help of lovely thoughts and fairy dust, provided by his sidekick Tinker Bell. (The Lost Boys and the Darlings can also fly, but Peter Pan is especially good at it.) Lastly, he is a very skilled swordsman. He is so skilled that he is able to fight adult pirates, often even winning battles and memorably taking Captain Hook's hand.

While Peter Pan's personality is attractive in its nearly fearless and adventurous aspects, it leaves much to be desired in other areas. He is quick to come to the aid of friends, as evidenced by his rescue of Tiger Lily. However, he is also known to abandon his friends in their times of need. When the Lost Boys grow older, Peter "thins them out," which has been taken to mean exiling them or killing them. There is a theory that they become pirates, but this does not pan out, so to speak. Peter will switch sides in the middle of a sword fight with the pirates for fun, presumably injuring or even killing his usual comrades. As far as his smugness is concerned, that can be summed up by his proclamation, "Oh, the cleverness of me." after Wendy helps him reattach the shadow that he misplaced. He is also remarkably forgetful, which seems to be a result of his unending youth.

Regardless of Peter's characteristics, he is loved and/or respected by his many friends. When the Darlings are introduced to the Lost Boys, there are six, though there have been untold numbers before them. The Indians seem to have a peace with him and even the mean mermaids have a spot for Peter. Tinker Bell seems to be quite in love with him and maybe Wendy too. His only enemies are the pirates and maybe the Lost Boys that he maybe killed along the way, but you will not even see that on the Peter Pan Wikipedia page. It's clearly a delicate subject.

Shelly Barclay