From the collection of Lawrence Knapp

London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1985
with an Introduction by D. J. Enright
Cover illustration by Povl Webb

In his Introduction, D. J. Enright (a poet, critic and novelist who was formerly a Professor of English at the University of Singapore) makes the following comments about Sax Rohmer's classic description of Fu Manchu.

"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." -- Sax Rohmer

Sax Rohmer was so taken with this description of his villain, voiced by his hero Nayland Smith in the first novel, that he repeated it verbatim in the second, The Devil Doctor. A brief examination of the passage shows how effective it is, in its way, and also how effective a writer Rohmer was, in his way. We note the highbrow (and alliterative) references to Shakespeare and Satan, the conventionally sinister adjective 'feline' (backed up by 'long, magnetic eyes'), the unexpected 'high shouldered', the shuddery allusion to 'cruel cunning', the menacing talk of 'giant intellect' and 'the resources of science', the term 'yellow peril' (originally inside quotation marks, as if to admit to its vulgar journalistic origin while pointing to some dreadful truth in it), and the rather grand touch, 'incarnate in one man'. The reader enjoys the agreeable feeling that what he has embarked on is a cut above the common-or-garden thriller -- Shakespeare and Satan! -- but still well within his expectations. Rohmer knew one secret of popular success in writing -- to blend stock situations and characters with little nuggets of recondite information and occassional ventures into what might be called (without any pun intended) the mandarin style.(vii-viii) 

The essay goes on for another seven pages and this edition of The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu is worth obtaining for the essay alone -- not to mention the Povl Webb cover illustration.


Go to The Page of Fu Manchu

Copyright 2000 Lawrence Knapp. All rights reserved.

scarab.jpg (2690 bytes)