Are the railings round the tomb to prevent body-snatchers and medical students getting in?
Or are they perhaps to prevent something Undead getting out?
Sax Rohmer, author of the Fu Manchu stories, suitably dressed above, was born Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward in 1883 in Birmingham. Before his literary success he was a civil servant and then a comedy sketch writer. The Dr Nikola stories were clearly a forerunner, while Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe were also major literary influences.
Rohmer ensured that, like other powerful and popular villains, Dr Fu Manchu had exceptional eyes:
“But their unique horror lay in a certain filminess (it made me think of the membrana nictitans in a bird) which, obscuring them as I threw wide the door, seemed to lift as I actually passed the threshold, revealing the eyes in all their brilliant iridescence.”
The Mystery of (or The Insidious) Dr Fu Manchu, by Sax Rohmer, was published in 1913, at first in episodic form. What it owed to Dr Nikola is evident.
“Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government–which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”
“He is the advance-agent of a movement so epoch-making that not one Britisher, and not one American, in fifty thousand has ever dreamed of it.”
The character became so popular that there were many successive stories and films – the most recent series had Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu. There were understandable objections from China.
In Guy Boothby’s Dr Nikola’s Experiment (1899), a Dr Ingleby is engaged in London by Dr Nikola. He is to take care of an aged and sick Spanish gentleman, Don Moreno, who is accompanied by his lovely young great-granddaughter Dona Consuelo. The group travel to a remote castle in Northumberland but are followed by a threatening Chinaman with half an ear missing. Dr Nikola shows Ingleby his laboratory where he hopes to restore youth to the Don.
The experimental treatment is a combination of modern electricity and an ancient remedy found in the book Dr Nikola had stolen from the Tibetan monastery. Unfortunately it works only partially, leaving the Don youthful in body but infantile and aggressive in mind. The story ends in a death struggle between Don Moreno and the Chinaman when both fall over the cliff.
Dr Ingleby and Dona Consuela are happily united and Dr Nikola will no doubt continue his researches.
Just as Dr Nikola is about to be installed as one of the Triumvirate of the Monastery, the real Chief Priest of the Temple of Hankow arrives. Dr Nikola and his friend Bruce are taken under guard by the monks, to be hurled from the battlements. But, in his scientific way, Nikola suggests:
“Since we must die, is it not a waste of good material to cast us over that cliff? I have heard it said that my skull is an extraordinary one, while my companion here boasts such a body as I would give worlds to anatomise. I have no desire to die, as you may suppose; but if nothing will satisfy you save to kill us, pray let us die in the interests of science.”
They are temporarily reprieved, but in the night they raid the secret medical treasures of the monastery, especially ‘a small book written in Sanscrit and most quaintly bound’, and make a daring escape…
Dr Nikola and his companion Bruce in their Chinese disguise are accepted into the monastery and start to be shown some of the astonishing results of medical and occult wisdom accumulated over many ages. First, the monks cure a man of complete paralysis through a mysterious potion and massage. Then a dead body is brought in, and the monk in charge says:
“Gaze upon this person, my son; his earthly pilgrimage is over; he died of old age to-day. He was one of our lay brethren, and a devout and holy man. It is meet that he should conduct thee, of whose piety we have heard so much, into our great inner land of knowledge.“
The monk attaches connects himself to the body via a large electric battery and performs some prayerful manoeuvres. He points at the dead man’s face, and the eyes open. Then he points at the arms and they each lift. The monk calls out:
“Ye who are dead, arise!”
And then… that man who had been ten hours dead, rose little by little from his bier and at last stood before us… and then the corpse fell in a heap upon the floor.
Finally Dr Nikola is shown a vision which penetrates into ‘The Land of Shadows’ and there appear before him ghostly figures of the past leaders of the sect.
The next day will be the installation of Dr Nikola as one of the Trumvirates of the Order, when more secrets will be revealed…
Dr Nikola, in search of the ultimate arcane medical knowledge, travels to a Tibetan monastery with a new companion. They are disguised as a Chinese Abbot with his secretary, and of course are both excellent mountaineers and fluent in Mandarin. The approach is typically Gothic:
There it stood gaunt and lonely, on the edge of the ravine, a dark grey collection of roofs and towers, and surrounded by a lofty wall.
Following a silent procession of dwarfs, they climb a broad stone staircase which wound upwards in spiral form.
It was a weird performance, and had it not been for the reek of the torches, and the fluttering of bats’ wings as the brutes were disturbed by the flames and smoke, I should have been inclined to imagine it part of some extraordinary dream…
The suspense mounts – will their mission succeed, will their deception be found out?
They have over them as king the angel of the abyss. His name in Hebrew is ‘Abaddon’, but in Greek, he has the name ‘Apollyon’. (Revelation 9:11)
Apollyon, Dr Nikola’s constant companion (some would say ‘familiar’) was ‘an enormous cat, black as the Pit of Tophet’ , who liked to leap up suddenly and settle on his master’s shoulder.
He is introduced as one who can see things that humans yet cannot, perhaps from beyond death. Uncannily, he can read minds and point at letters and numbers to indicate the answers.
Dr Nikola remarks:
“You are thinking that Apollyon and I are not unlike. When we get out our claws, we are dangerous.”
Apollyon’s appearance in the stories always adds a sinister effect to the ensuing scene.