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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

To recap:  This book has two versions.  The version I own, what I call the children's version, lacks one chapter of and includes a different ending than the other, original, version.  At the suggestion of someone in the Classics group, I searched for the original online and quickly found it.  So now, having read the story as it was intended to be read, I am able to review this book.


One other note:  The difference between the two versions is striking.  One is a romance of far-away places and supernatural wonder, the other a horror novel.  All because of one chapter and a different ending.


Not that the first one, the romance, (which was actually the second written), is a very good romance; it isn't.  The reason is clear enough:  it starts out as a horror story and it isn't until near the end that it shifts gears.  The tender feelings of the ending don't mesh well with the horrible doings of the mid-section.


The original, however, is a different story.


My copy quotes "The Times" as saying that Jewel is "widely considered [Bram Stoker's] best supernatural novel."  I doubt that.  Unless Dracula is excluded due to some weird classification system, Jewel doesn't even come close.  Is it better than Lair of the White Worm?  Sure, but that isn't saying much.


What it is, is a good, if seriously flawed, book that starts slowly, picks up steam in the middle, turns preachy, and then briefly races home to a magnificent end.


I wouldn't blame anyone for concluding on the basis of this that it isn't a "good" book at all.  But I liked it.  Take the slow beginning.  Jewel begins with a man being called to the house of a young woman with whom he's recently become infatuated.  Her father, an Egyptologist, has fallen into a stupor (that is, a coma), leaving behind instructions that, while hinting at strange forces at work, explicitly state that neither he nor the artifacts in his room are to be disturbed.  Later, we learn that all the artifacts are associated with an ancient Egyptian queen, who was so feared in her time that her tomb was hidden and warded with a powerful curse.  But that comes later.  Here, in the beginning, very little happens.  So little, in fact, that I was beginning to think of Stoker as a one-hit wonder (someone along the lines of Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers).  Then things got conspiratorial.


One of my favorite scenes in all of literature is the one in which Dr. Bennell listens to Jack Belicec's theory about the body in his basement, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  It's atmospheric, creepy, mysterious -- and quite cozy.  The Egyptologist's condition is so inexplicable that the narrator isn't the only one called to the house; a cop gets called in, too.  But the cop isn't in love with the daughter.  And facts are facts.  Why is it, he asks the narrator, that whenever anything odd occurs, she is always first on the scene?  It's these moments of conspiratorial dialogue that I appreciate from the first third of the book.


The preachier bits later on also struck a chord with me, particularly in the chapter excised from the children's version.  Here we've got a veritable exegesis of the problem inherent in religiously-themed horror:  how do we reconcile the supernatural with God?  It isn't as detailed or as deep as Blatty's analysis, Legion, the wonderful sequel to The Exorcist, but it's powerful and thought-provoking just the same.


It all leads to an ending I won't give away here, except to say that it is, itself, a little jewel of perfection.