Late last night I completed the second book in Sax Rohmer’s series about the fiendish, master-criminal Dr. Fu-Manchu and it was exactly the pulp tale I expected to be. That was not meant to be an insult. I love the old pulps and I don’t read them for their literary merit, but for their momentary diversion they provide with their outlandish, exaggerated tales of heroic exploits, over-the-top villains, and heroes that are either muscular (Conan of Cimmeria), intellectual (Sherlock Holmes) or both (Doc Savage). And of course throw damsels that are either innocent victims or deadly enemies into the mix and you have...well at least for me...a few hours of entertainment.
Of course, the old pulps are also politically incorrect, but if you have a rebel streak and are neither affected or offended by views of the dead, unchangeable past, the faux pas are easily ignored.
In The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1916), we return to the London of Dr. Petrie, the erstwhile friend of Sir Denis Nayland Smith, a colonial police commissioner in Burma. In the first book, The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, Fu-Manchu is introduced as an agent and assassin for a Chinese secret society called the Si-Fan. Throughout the tale, Fu-Manchu causes a lot of problems for Smith and Petrie and at the end, Fu-Manchu’s plans have been thwarted and he has escaped back to China. Now, three years later, Petrie has resumed his medical practice in London and Smith is back in Burma, but Fu-Manchu is not dead and his threats and danger are very present and very real.
The only irritation I have about the early stories is the incredible ease by which Smith and Petrie fall into Fu-Manchu’s traps. In Chapter 28, Fu-Manchu actually goes into a traditional villain’s monologue mocking them for their stupidity in falling for his traps time and again, never learning from their past mistakes.
And that is before Fu-Manchu introduces the readers and Smith to the Six Gates of Joyful Wisdom, an ingenious torture device consisting of a segmented body cage and the introduction of four starved rats.
“In China,” resumed Fu-Manchu, “we call this quaint fancy the Six Gates of Joyful Wisdom. The first gate, by which the rats are admitted, is called the Gate of Joyous Hope; the second, the Gate of Mirthful Doubt. The third gate is poetically named the Gate of True Rapture, and the fourth, the Gate of Gentle Sorrow. I once was honored in the friendship of an exalted mandarin who sustained the course of Joyful Wisdom to the raising of the Fifth Gate (called the Gate of Sweet Desires) and the admission of the twentieth rat. I esteem him almost equally with my ancestors. The Sixth, or Gate Celestial—whereby a man enters into the Joy of Complete Understanding—I have dispensed with…Yeah, this is a great pulp series that in spite of its flaws can still thrill the reader.
On August 5th, 2010, I started logging what books I read. The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu is #214.
You can learn more about the literary and cinematic world of Dr. Fu-Manchu here and here. You can read The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu legally free here and here.