Friday, 6 August 2010

Snark Hunting and Asian Masterminds

I have already written about “Forgotten Books” and I probably will mention the site and the books I get from there every now and then in the future. This time, I will talk about the first novel I got from them and about a very long, but very interesting poem. I will talk about “The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu” by Sax Rohmer and “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll.

I’ll start with the Snark, though. Years ago, during my Star Trek phase, I found an excerpt of the poem (in eight chapters) in the novelisation of the second movie, “The Wrath of Khan”. The novel (which was not about a Snark or Lewis Carroll) only cited a few verses, but it was enough to stick in my head. Unlike “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”, though, “The Hunting of the Snark” is not all that well-known in Germany.

Naturally, when I had all those books on the site at my disposal, I went hunting for the Hunting. And I was successful, even though this book merely is a scan (like a few others I’ve found) and thus a bit harder to read than those that have been set anew for the publication as PDF-file. Still, the e-book contains not only the text, but also the illustrations, both of which were taken from the 1876 edition of the book.

I started reading the poem (even though it has about a hundred pages as an e-book, it’s still one poem, not a collection of them), looking for the few lines I remembered about the characteristics of the Snark. (Admittedly, playing a casual game called “Snark Busters Welcome to the Club” before help to remember this poem … ahem.) But the more I read of it, the more amused I was. I read it out loud and found it great. It has its own rhythm to it (but that’s what rhyming is all about, isn’t it?) and flows perfectly.

I enjoyed the poem and will surely re-read it from time to time to be amused (about the Baker who forgot everything, including his name, when he arrived on the ship, about the blank map and about the Beaver and the beaver-specialized Butcher). Thanks to Forgotten Books I have had the chance to get to know it. I really appreciate it.

Now on to someone less benign than the common Snark (when it’s not a Boojum, of course). Gaze, oh gentle reader of this blog, on the cold and scaring face of Dr. Fu-Manchu.

I will start writing about him by admitting that I had my first encounter with the doctor and his methods before I read the novel. I happen to be a fan of Christopher Lee and in the 70s he played the doctor in a couple of movies (most of them with a partly German cast). I own a DVD collection of the movies and it mentioned the original stories in the booklet.

Still, the mention of a novel in a booklet isn’t the same thing as reading the novel itself. The novel was first published in 1913 (though not as a novel, but as a series of shorter stories which now make up the novel). It predates the German equivalent of a dangerous doctor by about ten years, as the first “Doktor Mabuse” story was published around 1923. Still, I found it easier to read than the other story.

It’s not a very complicated story, but a very good adventure. In every chapter (in every shorter story once published separately) there’s the usual action sequence: a threat, a reaction to it, a murder, a dangerous situation, the heroes win, but Dr. Fu-Manchu is not apprehended. This makes it a good, short read.

I can understand why even the contemporaries claimed it was racist, there are a lot of prejudices against people from Asia in the story (not just the doctor himself, but also his helpers, willing and unwilling). But I understand a novel (especially one that close to a penny dreadful) as entertainment. That might include prejudices (older novels include a lot of prejudices against women, for instance, picturing them in a very one-dimensional way) about which I don’t care. This only goes for novels, though, not for any non-fictional work.

As far as novels go, this one is a quick read. The style isn’t glorious, but easily readable, even for someone who can’t claim English as her native language.

Reading old books that are not widely know can have different results. In this case, it had great results and make me look for quite some other books as well. Anyone should at least try it sometimes.

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