The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker (1911) 163 p.

I can’t remember why I had this sitting around on my ereader (apart from it being public domain and therefore free). I think it might be because it was supposedly an influence in Stephen King’s short story “Jersualem’s Lot” in Night Shift, which I quite liked, but since then I’ve read Stoker’s Dracula and really didn’t like it. Compared to The Lair of the White Worm, though, Dracula is a beautiful masterpiece. This is a really, really, really bad book. Even amongst Gothic scholars, Stoker’s die-hard fans and general lovers of old-timey English horror literature, The Lair of the White Worm is a rambling and nonsensical novel.

The plot, such as it is, involves young colonial lad Adam Shaw returning to the motherland at the invitation of his great-uncle, who wishes to pass on his Staffordshire mansion to him. But it turns out one of their neighbours is an ancient and monstrous wyrm-like creature in human guise, so they take it upon themselves to destroy her. There are also weird psychic battles between unrelated characters, a horrifically racist caricature of an African voodoo priest, and a gigantic kite which controls birds or something? I gave up trying to follow the plot after about forty pages. Oh, and despite being set in 1860, the climax involves copious amounts of dynamite, which wasn’t invented until 1867.

It explained a lot when I found out The Lair of the White Worm was written after Stoker had a a number of strokes in the midst of tertiary syphilis, and he died not long after finishing it. Apparently the original version had forty chapters; I appear to have read the edited 1925 version which removed almost a hundred pages, and thank God for that. I can’t imagine the malarkey that would have gone on in those extra chapters. The Lair of the White Worm is an outright bad novel, and was only published because it was written by an extremely popular author and would have sold no matter what its pages contained.

(And what the hell’s going on with that cover? Why does the Worm have arms?)

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