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Friday, 24 May 2013

The Lair Of The White Worm

The Lair Of The White Worm

Ken Russell’s film of this novel popped up on Sky, so I recorded it, as I hadn’t seen it in years, but I thought I would read the short novel first, and it had been sitting on my shelf unread for a long time. I’ve only read one of Stoker’s novels, the classic DRACULA, which I enjoyed, apart from healthy grown men fainting in horror all the time like a bunch of wussies. I’ve read a number of Stoker’s short stories too, varying from very good [“The Judge’s House”, “The Burial Of The Rats”] to poor [about half the stories in “Dracula’s Guest”].

I read THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, impressively, on three different mediums; on my kindle, on my android phone [it is a free download from Amazon or Project Guttenberg] and I even read some of it from my book, with pages in made from that paper stuff. Unfortunately, whichever medium you might choose, it won’t improve this confusing, boring, unbelievable, chaotic and slightly strange story.
Adam Salton has come from Australia to the Welsh border-country where he befriends his uncle, whose near neighbours are an odd lot; Sir Caswall is hated by the local farmers but fawned over by would-be-wives, hungry for his money, including another neighbour Lady Arabella March who is involved in some strange collusion with a primeval monster, the White Worm of the title. This beast nestles on rock outcrops and props itself up on its tail, surveying its territory with piercing luminous eyes. Every so often it eats someone. Two other characters, Lilla and Mima Watford, are local girls, whom Ada#m Salton takes a shine to, and despite being fairly important characters, are given no dialogue at all.  
The novel is confusing because the plot seems to have little structure; important events are afterwards almost forgotten by the characters, and any decisions to be made must be mulled over and discussed for a chapter or two. It’s disjointed; the book has too many wrists and ankles, and not enough brain. Events seem to be related, told to someone else, rather than actually happen, and there’s little mood or atmosphere.  There are psychic battles between people, which seem to consist of just looking at each other all afternoon. Mongooses [mongeese?] are torn apart with bare hands; a scary black African servant appears menacingly then falls in a hole and that’s him done; there’s a mildly interesting bit about vast flocks of birds and a giant scarecrow kite; this is quite interesting, but what is the point: if there ever was one, I’ve forgotten it. The characters do and say ridiculous things, that often are faintly stupid and in complete contrast to the natural evolution of the plot. It’s akin to a character being in a burning house and suddenly saying, “Oooh, I fancy a banana.” And Lady Arabella March, great name, interesting character, but was she the worms-keeper or did she actually transform herself into a vast were-worm; Stoker doesn’t really tell us; you sort of get the feeling he thinks he has, but actually, he’s just minced his words and forgotten.

 In fact, that seems to be a theme running through the book; Stoker seems to be in a muddle. Sometimes it seems that he’s forgotten to include a chapter, like he’s written it in his head but not in reality, or that he’s had a stray idea in his head – largely unconnected with his story – and decided to write it down and stick it in somewhere. It’s a messy, poorly-written, terribly executed, muddled story. It should have been great, it had some great ideas to be great, but it hasn’t worked.  WORM was Stoker’s final novel, and it was written in his final years when his health was failing, and, possibly, he was addicted to laudanum. Those circumstances would certainly help to explain this difficult-to-read book. In a later edition, the publishers actually removed several chapters, which would only seem to confuse the plot even further. Lovecraft, in his “Supernatural Horror In Literature” says that Stoker has “poor technique”, and, of WORM, he writes; “Stoker...utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile”. Stephen King, in DANSE MACABRE, notes that it is was not as successful as DRACULA, while Glen St John Barclay, in his strange book ANATOMY OF HORROR says, among other insulting things, “ could not possibly have been less competently written.” I wouldn’t quite go that far [it could have been written less competently by a blind dyslexic paraplegiac bat-monkey creature] but I agree strongly with Lovecraft here; It is a poor swan-song for Bram Stoker, and a novel which, were it not by the celebrated author of DRACULA, arguably the most famous and successful horror novel in literature, WORM  would almost certainly never have been published, and had it been, it would be deservedly forgotten today. Read DRACULA instead, or his short stories “The Judges House” or “The Squaw”.

1 comment:

  1. Well now I have to wonder if I should read it at all. I downloaded this for my Kindle a while ago, and had left it sitting there as something to try later, but it sounds like I might be better off giving the time to something else, and running with someone else's movie interpretation of it instead.

    "...appears menacingly then falls in a hole and that’s him done"...oh, I do hope that made it into the movie! I'd watch it for that alone. I'm of the opinion now that every book should have someone appear menacingly and then drop into a hole for no reason. It sounds like a wonderful literary device.