Monday, September 10, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu – Part One

Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu was originally serialized in Collier’s from May 7 to July 23, 1932. It was published in book form later that year by Doubleday in the US and the following year by Cassell in the UK. It became the most successful book in the series thanks to MGM’s cult classic film version starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy that made it into theaters later that same year. Paramount’s option on the character had been exhausted after three pictures and one short starring Warner Oland as the Devil Doctor. The Paramount series had been responsible for Rohmer’s decision to revive the character with Daughter of Fu Manchu. The Mask of Fu Manchu served as a direct sequel and was again narrated by Shan Greville.

The novel gets underway with the brash Sir Lionel Barton having recently joined a colleague, Dr. Van Berg in completing an excavation of the tomb of the notorious heretical Masked Prophet of Islam, El Mokanna in Persia. Shan Greville, Sir Lionel's foreman, is awakened in the middle of the night by his fiancée Rima Barton, Sir Lionel’s niece, who was disturbed by a strange wailing. Upon investigating, Dr. Van Berg is found dead in his room, his bloodied corpse slung over the jade chest containing the artifacts from the dig. The artifacts, still intact, are El Mokanna’s gold mask that hid his disfigured features, his heretical New Creed of Islam carved on gold tablets, and the bejeweled Sword of God with which the messianic prophet planned to conquer the world.

Sir Lionel and his party are informed by the authorities that El Mokanna still has fanatical followers in Persia and that a new imam has risen to prominence and is seeking the treasures they foolishly recovered in defiling the Masked Prophet’s burial place (something no Moslem would dare to have disturbed). Worse still, this new imam is believed by the cultists to be the resurrected El Mokanna. Soon enough Sir Denis Nayland Smith arrives on the scene. While Greville is relieved to see him, he is puzzled why Scotland Yard is involved. Sir Denis informs him he retired from the Yard six months ago to accept a post with British Intelligence. Smith is concerned that Sir Lionel’s actions will result in an uprising that will threaten the stability of the Near and Far East.


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