OK, so we did Bram Stoker a while back. We talked about Dracula. That should have been that. We should have been finished. Good God, how we could have been finished. But no. I had to walk by my bookshelves. No, I had to read their spines. And so. Yes. We’re gonna talk about The Lair of the White Worm.
This book is just weird. And, in a few ways, insulting. Look, Dracula was bad enough, with its obsession with sexy women and how they have to be evil demon children, really, and not smart individuals. It has that weird vibe about masculinity, and what it means, and whether or not you can be masculine while being molested by a hairy Romanian dude. Sure. OK. But this?
Adam Salton is a standard Stoker protagonist. You know them today as harem protagonists. Seriously. He’s nice, good, earnest, open, giving, kind, and basically without personality. He gets upset whenever anyone challenges his uprightness, but immediately calms down when told they expected him to be upright, but they had to check, blah blah male bonding blah.
Adam is also from Australia, but his family is British. This isn’t weird, given that Britain sent a lot of settlers to Australia. Interestingly, though, most of them were the crappy members of the family, if the family was well-to-do, and the Saltons definitely are. His uncle calls him back to England because he’s heir-less, old, and wants to reestablish a family with Adam as his heir. So back Adam comes, despite what we can only presume was his uncle’s complicity in forcing his father to Australia in the first place. That never comes up. If you expect any cutting social commentary, read a different book. We have thinly-veiled modern problems to slay with good old fashioned conformity!
Adam is basically a cowboy, except only when it’s cool, and he can dress really well, naturally. So, being a sort of cowboy, when he notices a bunch of snakes infesting the grounds of his new family estate in the middle of nowhere, he doesn’t tell anyone to just start killing snakes, no. He buys a fucking mongoose and patrols the grounds with it, hunting snakes. In the course of his snake-hunting rambles he meets two women, Lucy and Mina – no, sorry, Lilla and Mimi. Lilla is blonde and vapid and goofy and generally the perfect woman for a Victorian male. So, defying expectations for the only time in this novel, Adam decides to be in love with Mimi, who is dark-haired and maybe a gypsy? It’s not clear.
Anyway. Some guy is in love with Lilla! That guy is creepy! His name is Edgar, because it has to be, at this point, right? He visits Lilla all the time, and eventually Mimi tells Adam that she’s worried, because Edgar sits silently across the table from Lilla, staring and grunting, and naturally she’s concerned that Edgar is masturbating furiously under the table.
Actually, it turns out he’s trying to hypnotize her. Edgar’s secretly (not so secretly, it seems to me, since he’s doing it in front of witnesses, several times a week) a follower of Mesmer, the quack who basically invented hypnosis. Except in this book he’s not a quack, I guess. He has Mesmer’s trunk, supposedly full of magical secrets, and, uh, that’s it. The trunk never really gets explained, even when a servant opens it one night, despite Edgar having tried for years.
Are you with me so far, by the way? No? Good, then I’m conveying the novel pretty well.
We’re really still with the subplots. All right. In the course of smoozing with the local gentry, Adam meets a woman named Arabella. She lives at the super-spooky house down the road attached to an ancient forest named Diana’s Grove. Note that name, I’ll come back to it later. Arabella is smooth and attractive for a widow, but Adam senses something off about her, because he’s the protagonist. Later, when they meet in the woods, Adam’s mongoose tries to fuck up Arabella’s shit. Arabella pulls out a gun and shoots it.
Let me reiterate that for you, if you’re confused. She pulled out a pistol and shot a mongoose because it was mad at her. Look, it’s not a Rottweiler, it’s a mongoose. Have you seen a mongoose before?
Later she catches Adam’s new mongoose and tears it apart with her hands. This makes Adam suspicious.
Adam is not what I would call bright. Or interesting. Or useful.
He then sees her murder a black servant, who has been the subject of an entire other subplot about how he’s evil and wants to backstab everyone, because he’s black, I guess? This also makes Adam suspicious.
Oh, wait, look over here, there’s a kite!
Seriously, there’s a whole thing about how Edgar’s kite is evil and scares all the peasants. It’s hawk-shaped and he used it to scare away pigeons from his farmers’ crops. Except suddenly it’s evil. EVIL!
He appears to be using it to help in the psychic battle against Lilla, meant to, uh, defeat Lilla in psychic battle? Not too sure how this is helpful, honestly. He eventually pushes too hard and basically kills Lilla.
Wait, look over here! Giant snake!
Yes, finally, we get to this. There’s a giant snake in an enormous series of caverns beneath Arabella’s house, beneath Diana’s Grove, and Arabella is some sort of snake monster lady, I guess. She wants to marry Edgar to get his money, and she’s trying to keep everyone out of the way, including Lilla. Everyone sort of sits around in dining rooms and figures this out, without ever really getting any evidence, facts, or first hand knowledge, and they set out to kill her. They manage to put a bunch of dynamite in the basement of Arabella’s house – they intend to (I’m not making this up) fill all the miles of caverns with sand and then blow them up with the explosives. Look, I understand you can’t just blow up caverns all willy-nilly, you have to have something for the shock to compress, but all the caverns? With sand? Really?
Except, instead, Arabella summons Edgar to a tryst, he dies, I think Mimi kills him maybe, and then when Arabella runs home lightning hits the hawk kite, which is now inexplicably connected to her dress or something, and her house blows up when the lightning hits the dynamite.
So Diana is the Roman goddess of virtue and chaste women, right? Does it strike anyone else as weird that the evil snake lady lives in her grove? This book is pretty much about how independent, strong-minded women are the devil.
So, yeah. Enjoy that.