Fantastic Victoriana: W

ade, Hilda. Hilda Wade was created by Grant Allen, the very prolific author of (among many other things) Lois Cayley and Colonel Clay. Hilda Wade, similar in several ways to Lois Cayley, appeared in a number of stories in The Strand Magazine in 1899 and between hardcovers in Hilda Wade (1900). (The last two episodes of Hilda Wade were composed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after Allen fell ill). Her name isn't really Hilda Wade, however; her real name is "Maisie Yorke-Bannerman," but she adopts the identity of Wade to clear her dead father's name. As Wade she's a nurse. She's not married because she doesn't want to, so the alternative is work--nursing, in her case. She's pretty, "gentle and lovable," but also keen and insightful, having a perfect memory as well as loads of "female intuition." However, she's not a particularly good detective, given more to persistence than to deductive evidence gathering. Her male admirer/Watson is Dr. Hubert Cumberledge, who she loves but won't marry until her father's name is cleared. Naturally, she succeeds and marries Dr. Cumberledge, thereby retiring from the detection game.

Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose
The original novel, in scanned images of the pages, from the Canadian Institute for Historical Reproduction.

New Women - New Crimes
An excellent essay (indeed, one would expect no less) by Chris Willis on "Grant Allen's Detectives-Heroines."

ag, Charley. Charley Wag appeared in Charley Wag, the new Jack Sheppard (1865). It was written by "George Savage," which was the pseudonym for George Augustus Sala, a writer of a number of penny dreadfuls. Jack Sheppard was a legendary British thief who inspired a number of stories; more information on him can be found in the Jack Sheppard entry. Wag was not related to Jack Sheppard, but the two did share a predilection for crime, and Wag was nearly as popular with the boys who consumed his story as Sheppard had been. Best described as a "rapscallion," Wag was not ill-inclined, only doing real harm (apart from stealing, I mean) to those who really deserved it; undoubtedly society was to blame for his thievery. He was left on the doorstep of an elderly spinster and brought up working in a mill. It was no wonder, then, that he became a problem child, developing a bad attitude towards those in positions of authority, and by the time he was thirteen he was a belligerent "man cut short" with nimble feet and fingers and a very precocious taste for tobacco and women. Charley began stealing small, picking pockets and breaking into the lock boxes of the wealthier mills, but progressed to robbing banks and charming society ladies with his looks and daring; hiding behind his mask, he was the subject of much interested speculation from the well-bred women of London. He was finally arrested for murder (but the scoundrel had it coming to him--trying to stab a woman! It was perfectly understandable that Charley should shoot him!) and was facing Tyburn when Charley's real mother came forward; she was a duchess who pleaded (most affectingly, too) with the court for mercy and clemency for poor Charley, who never knew the love of a real mother (naturally, elderly spinsters are unable to provide that). The court pardoned Charley unconditionally. Whereupon Charley's mother was dragged to a charnel house by her mad husband and strangled. Charley killed his step-father and then fled for the Continent.

ag, Charley (II). This Charley Wag, the second added here, apparently precedes the first (see above). This Charley Wag appeared in Charley Wag: the New Jack Sheppard, which appeared in a 52-part serial from 1860 to 1861. Its author was Harry Hazleton, the creator of Fanny White (see her entry below). The two characters follow roughly the same story arc, although the background of (II) is given more space. Wag, an unwanted child, is flung into the Thames as an infant by his mother, and is then rescued from the river by Mr. Toddleboy, an eccentric "who spent his life in a fog of gin and tobacco." Toddleboy does care for Wag, but exercises no control over him, and Wag grows up into an uncontrollable young man, "pugnacious, great at punching heads and bunging up eyes," smoking cigars at 13 and chasing women ("a regular rascal"). He rescues one, Lucinda, from the Duke of Heatherland, the premier of England, "who is always scheming to oppress and grind down the already over-oppressed and ground-down working classes." (He's a lecher, too) Wag begins with small-scale burglaries and works his way up to become the most successful thief in London, his deeds including a pilfering of the Bank of England. Eventually Wag is wrongfully arrested for murder, and ends up hung.

agner, Johann. Wagner appeared in Wagner the Wehr Wolf, a penny dreadful published in 1847 by G. M. Reynolds. Wagner is a simple peasant who hates his poverty, his hateful wife, and his ungrateful children, and one Halloween Eve walks into the Black Forest (Wagner and his brood live on the edge of the forest) at midnight and shouts out loud that he curses God and that if the Devil will appear, he (Wagner) will sell his soul. (I really wish that reproduction of the illustration of this moment would have been possible; the image, though somewhat stiff, is still on the better side and quite nicely captures the spirit of the moment--almost better than the writer manages) The Devil, knowing a good deal when he sees one, appears, and agrees; he gives Wagner eternal youth and sorcerous powers in exchange for Wagner's soul. There's one more thing, of course. Every seven years Wagner becomes a werewolf during the full moon for twelve months. Wagner kills his family and builds himself a fortune using his powers. Wagner seduces the beautiful daughter of a local nobleman, and eventually marries her; she commits suicide when she sees him changing into a wolf. Wagner gets involved in piracy, as a way to keep himself in funds, and with the local Rosicrucians, as a means to more power. In his adventures he's accompanied by the ruthless and vicious Nisida, who cannot turn into a werewolf but is happy to be Wagner's mistress anyhow. Wagner does fight against the Turks, but on the whole he's mere vicious scum, and eventually the peasants of the Black Forest chase him down while he's in wolf form and run him through with silver. Wagner the Wehr Wolf is on the wilder side, but its vivid over-the-top quality is actually rather entertaining.

Site Master's Note: I have, in the past, relied upon the contributions of a few other people to put together this site, and some of these people sent along entire entries, such as this one. I have suspected for a while now that some of these entries were, to put it kindly, somewhat embellished. Now, thanks to Justin Gilbert and the good people of the Bloods and Dime Novels mailing list, I've begun to find out which entries were created from whole cloth, rather than accurately reported to me. I'm not very happy about this, you understand.

The real Wagner the Wehr Wolf is set in the Black Forest, in Germany, in 1516 and 1517. Fernand Wagner does have a mistress Nisida and is involved with the Rosicrucians, and possibly the Turks, but the dreadful is otherwise quite different from the preceding description.

allace, William. This fictional edition of William Wallace appeared in Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs (1810). Porter (1776-1850) was a Scots novelist, born in Britain but living in Edinburgh from age three, who was a predecessor to Sir Walter Scott in writing historical romances. The Scottish Chiefs predated Scott's Waverly (see the Waverly entry below) by four years and was very popular, both critically and with the buying public. William Wallace actually existed, actually fought against the British, and actually had an adventure-filled life; Braveheart wasn't entirely a romanticized lie. The William Wallace of The Scottish Chiefs, however, follows the Braveheart path of biography and presents an historically inaccurate and didactic version of Wallace. Porter's Wallace is the perfect Christian medieval knight, having no flaws--at least, nothing that a medieval Christian would have recognized as flaws. Porter's Wallace is a military genius, very skilled at arms, a born leader, someone who knows every path and crag in Scotland, is merciful and able to recognize honor in his enemies, and is willing to suffer lies in silence in order to maintain the honor of a friend's family. He's perfect, in other words, just as his English enemies are utterly vile cowards and backstabbers. Unfortunately, the hagiography of Wallace and Porter's dense and to me uninteresting prose style made The Scottish Chiefs a difficult and unrewarding read. (It's hardly "one of the greatest historical adventures of all time," as some like to call it. But then, I'm biased against the entire generation of historical writers of Scott's time).

allingford, Dover. Dover Wallingford appeared in Jack London's "The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone," which first appeared in the November, 1899 issue of Conkey's Home Journal. London, of course, should be known to you all, as the author of Call of the Wild and "A Thousand Deaths" (see below). "The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" is about Dover, a chemist, who engages in argument the nameless narrator, an old school chum of his. The argument is about whether reversing old age. Dover believes that "were it possible to remove the large deposits of phosphate, carbonate of soda, and so forth, the bone would regain the  spring and rebound which it possessed in its youth. Merely apply this process, in varying measures, to the rest of the anatomy, and you have what? Simply the retardation of the system's break-up, the circumvention of old age, the banishment of senility, and the recapture of giddy youth."

Naturally, Dover succeeds in doing this, distilling a "heavy, almost colorless fluid, with none of the brilliant iridescence one would so naturally expect of such a magic compound." Dover then rejuvenates his "superannuated Newfoundland" Hector (thus proving to the narrator that the formula works) and then his Uncle Max, aka "Major Rathbone," who is brought from senility to the flush of youth in three months. The Major goes out and enjoys his new youth, acting as a political firebrand, working against labor "agitators," and lobbying to join the war against Spain.

Dover and the narrator despair over his undue "friskiness," but then remember a former girlfriend of his who he'd long ago quarreled with. They rejuvenate her, she and the major are reunited, and off the major goes, putting aside all thoughts of war to concentrate on his new romance.

"The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" is a minor tale, but not without interest.

allingford, James Rufus "Get-Rich-Quick." Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford was introduced in George Randolph Chester's Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1908) and appeared in a number of short stories and collections over the next 13 years. Chester (1869-1924) was an American novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and film writer-director. Wallingford is one of the great confidence men of the first half of the twentieth century, which is why I'm including him here; he appeared a few years after Victoria's death, but he's quite memorable, and, hell, it's my page.

He's a large man, tall and tending towards portly, and he wears a silk hat to make himself appear even taller. He dresses very well, spending what money he has on elegant and confidence-inspiring clothes. Everything about him inspires confidence and the admission of confidences; he is suave, sophisticated, affluent-looking, affable, and generous with his cash--every bit the gentleman. Or so he appears. He's a confidence man, and uses his appearance to swindle the well-to-do out of their funds. To quote one critic,

Wallingford has every appearance of an eminently successful man, one of those suave and sophisticated beings for whom the world's finer things are obviously intended. He never walks; he strides. He never eats; he dines. He never asks; he commands. He is a gentleman whose word is as good as his cash (which he distributes generously and flamboyantly--when he has it)...he is the center of attention in any gathering.
Which is why the wealthiest and most influential people of every town line up to make his acquaintance, invest in his "Universal Covered Carpet Tack Co." (or any other company he represents), and have him fleece them of as much as he can get. Wallingford is married to a lovely young woman named Fannie, and is good and charming to her, but she vaguely suspects that he's not entirely honest with her (or anybody else). She does feel guilty about her suspicions, however, Wallingford might be thought of as a quintessential W.C. Fields character, only more genial and more successful.

andering Jew. This particular version of the Wandering Jew was created by Henry Neele and appeared in “The Magician’s Visitor” (Forget-Me-Not, 1828). Neele (1798-1828) was a British author, poet, and critic who went insane and killed himself. “The Magician’s Visitor” is a short vignette from the life of Cornelius Agrippa, the notorious alchemist and necromancer of the 15th and 16th centuries. Late one night in Florence a Stranger comes to Agrippa’s door. The Stranger flatters Agrippa but sounds doubtful when Agrippa talks of his “long years” (“thou, who hast scarcely seen fourscore since thou left’st thy cradle”) and himself speaks of how much better it is to slumber than to be the sun, who must run “the same dull and unvaried, but toilsome and unquiet, race.” Agrippa is taken aback by the Stranger, who goes on to request that Agrippa use his magic mirror, “in which whosoever looks may see the distant, or the dead, on whom he is desirous again to fix his gaze. My eyes see nothing in this outward visible world which can be pleasing to their sight: the grave has closed over all I loved; and Time has carried down its stream every thing that once contributed to my enjoyment.” The man’s passionate pleading touches Agrippa, who usually declines similar requests for the use of the mirror, and he agrees to use it. The Stranger tells Agrippa that he wants to see Miriam, his daughter, but he is coy about how long ago she lived. This is a difficulty for Agrippa, who must wave his wand for every ten years which have lapsed since her death. Agrippa keeps asking how long ago she died, and the Stranger keeps saying, “Wave on, wave on.” Finally the image of Miriam appears on the mirror, and the Stranger is overjoyed to see it, but despite Agrippa’s warnings touches the mirror, which ends the enchantment and knocks out the Stranger. When he awakens he thanks Agrippa and offers him gold for his troubles. Agrippa declines if the Stranger will only tell him his name. Agrippa points out a portrait on the wall and says “Behold!” Agrippa says, “with an emotion of horror,” “That is intended to represent the unhappy infidel who smote the divine Sufferer for not walking faster; and was, therefore, condemned to walk the earth himself, until the last period of that sufferer’s second coming.” “‘Tis I! ‘Tis I!” and the Stranger rushes out of the house.

This is a short, predictable Wandering Jew story. Although the story of the Wandering Jew is innately anti-Semitic, this story is a relatively sympathetic version of the myth. Unlike many of his contemporaries, especially European, Neele’s Ahasuerus is not evil, but rather sympathetic. He has elements of the Gothic Hero-Villain (see the John Melmoth entry for more) character type in him, but is more pitiable than conflicted by evil. The characterization is histrionic but not cartoonish. The story itself is predictable, but not without interest.

The Stranger is handsome, but has an air of mystery and even something repellant about him. He looks very youthful but is bowed with the weight of years. His face is pale, beautiful, wise and sad. He is obviously very guilty and wants to die, and misses Miriam more than anyone else.

arland, Owen. Owen Warland was created by Nathaniel Hawthorne and appeared in “The Artist of the Beautiful” (United States Magazine and Democratic Review (XIV, June 1844). Hawthorne (1804-1864) was the creator of a number of other characters on this site, including Dr. Heidegger. “The Artist of the Beautiful” is seen as a classic, but I found it, for all its virtues, not just disappointing but at times infuriating.

Owen Warland is an artist. Even as a child, he’d produced inspired and beautiful work. His medium was matter--wood and metal. What he sought to create was not useful works of art, but rather art that expressed beauty, the principle of the Beautiful. But the inhabitants of the New England town Warland lives in see no usefulness in works of art that are not useful. Warland’s old master, Peter Hovenden, has little but scorn for Warland’s efforts. Hovenden’s daughter Annie, a childhood friend to Owen, is more kindly inclined to Owen, but does not really appreciate him. And Robert Danforth, the local blacksmith and a friend of sorts to Owen, has a genial contempt for Owen, seeing far more utility (and therefore good) in his own brute efforts with fire and iron than in Owen’s delicate attempts. Owen is wounded by their scorn for his work–Owen’s feelings are as delicate and as fragile as his art–but persists in striving toward excellence, despite setbacks. He tries and fails, tries and fails, is inspired by nature, especially butterflies, but falls short of capturing true beauty. Annie, who Owen is somewhat in love with, marries Danforth, which emotionally crushes Owen, for he saw Annie as both an inspiration and as the one person who could truly appreciate his art. He recovers from that and returns to his work, and eventually, after much effort, creates a miraculous, beautiful artificial butterfly which has absorbed his “being” into itself and takes its energy from Owen’s “spiritual essence.” When Robert and Annie see it, they are amazed. When Peter Hovenden sees it and it alights on his finger, it begins to die. When Annie’s infant child (by Robert) touches it, it initially gains great vigor and life, but then the child crushes it with his hand. Owen is unaffected by this seeming setback, however, for

He had caught a far other butterfly than this. When the artist rose high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the Reality.
“The Artist of the Beautiful” is told in a quite different style from the other Hawthorne stories on this site. Rather than use the straightforward delivery of “Young Goodman Brown” or the sardonicism of “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” Hawthorne chooses a philosophical style, so that “Artist” has several asides about the role of the artist and the nature of the Beautiful. How one reacts to the asides depends on your appreciation of (and tolerance for) those philosophical asides. I generally don’t have much patience for that sort thing, and found them annoying despite Hawthorne’s readability. More distressing to me was the basic theme of the story, which was that Owen Warland is a delicate artiste unappreciated by the coarse and thoughtless bourgeois townsfolk. In Hawthorne’s view, the artist is a superior being, “hard, brute force darkens and confuses the spiritual element,” and those who scorn the artist and value utilitarian work, “main strength and reality,” are wrong and inferior. I might almost suppose that Hawthorne was having the reader on, and that his comments about how the artist must defy the “incredulous world” are sarcasm. But that is not, I think, the case. I think Hawthorne was buying into the cult of the artist who is to sensitive for a coarse and undeserving world. Needless to say, that sort of pretentious twaddle sticks is more than slightly irritating, even when delivered as skillfully as Hawthorne has done here.

“The Artist of the Beautiful” is generally seen as a “classic” and “masterpiece.” And it has easily discernible themes of the sort critics love to explore: Hovenden as rationalism; Annie as love and emotion; Danforth as strength and energy; and Warland as beauty and the ideal. And it certainly works as a kind of early science fiction, although the details about the artificial butterfly are left quite vague, and the story can just as easily be interpreted as fantasy, with magic being what creates and motivates the butterfly. But the characterization is simplistic and harnessed to (and restrained by) Hawthorne’s themes, so that Warland et al aren’t so much three-dimensional characters (though Hawthorne does his best) as instruments Hawthorne uses to prove his case.

Owen Warland evolves, in “The Artist of the Beautiful,” from an emotionally frail and too sensitive man to a true artist. He is wounded by exposure to the brutal realities of life and the uncaring and even hostile attitudes of the bourgeois who surround him, and when his emotional harmony is disrupted by contact with Hovenden or Danforth he is not just unable to work, but he ruins his work. He is even daunted by his early encounters with Danforth, feeling that his “ethereal” power of creativity becomes “vain and idle” in his own eyes after encounters with Danforth. But he suffers and devotes himself to his art, willingly sacrificing his part in society for his art, and eventually he creates Art.

arner, Duncan. Duncan Warner was last seen in A.C. Doyle's "Los Amigos Fiasco" (1892). "Los Amigos Fiasco" is a brisk tale of surprising droll humor, well worth checking out. In the town of Los Amigos, set in an unspecified American location but presumably, from the name of the town, somewhere in Texas or the Southwest, the people are eager to put their "great electrical generating gear" to use in executing someone. When Duncan Warner ("murderer, train robber and road agent...a man beyond the pale of human pity") falls into their hands, they determine to electrocute him.

The town doctor argues against it, suspecting that they will use too much electricity, but he is overruled. What happens confirms the doctor's suspicions; the electricity increases Warner's "vitality until he can defy death for will take the wear of hundreds of years to exhaust the enormous nervous energy" with which he's been drenched.

Warner is literally unkillable. He survives repeated attempts at electrocution, hanging, and even six bullets through the body (his only response to this being "Coats must be cheap where you come from," said he. "Thirty dollars it cost me, and look at it now. The six holes in front are bad enough, but four of the balls have passed out, and a pretty state the back must be in"). The story ends with the law in Los Amigos determining to imprison him permanently, as he is invulnerable.

Warner is a "powerful, muscular man, with a lion head,  tangled black locks, and a sweeping beard which covered his broad chest."

The Los Amigos Fiasco
The e-text of the story. From the World of the Wondersmith site.

ar Syndicate. The Great War syndicate debuted in Frank Stockton's The Great War Syndicate (1889). Stockton (1834-1902) was an American editor and writer, influential and with a sizable output. His enduring claim to fame remains "The Lady or the Tiger."

The Great War Syndicate is about a group of 23 men who form a War Syndicate to help the United States fight against Great Britain. Set "not far from the close of the nineteenth century," events begin when, after relations between the US and the UK become so strained that a total break may take place, an American fishing schooner is "overhauled and seized" off the coast of Newfoundland by a British cruiser. Because of the poor state of relations between the US and the UK, it had become tradition for American fishing boats and ships to be accompanied by U.S. Naval cruisers, to warn the fishing vessels away from violating territorial limits and to protect the fishing vessels from British interference. The American fishing vessel comes too close to Canadian off-shore property and is taken by the British cruiser. After the American cruiser attempts to take the fishing boat back, it is fired on and after a short exchange captured by the British ship.

The American public and government are of course outraged and in less than a week's time war is declared. The immediate impulse is to invade Canada (because Canada had been the source of the outrage, you see) (I didn't say it made sense), but the American government is afraid of the British navy, knowing that the British ships of the line are superior to the American ships. The public quickly becomes afraid, as well, the coastal states demanding ships for defense of the ports and the Northern states demanding armies to defend them and to invade Canada. And then American merchantmen are captured by British ships.

This prompts a group of gentlemen, who had been meeting daily in a hotel in NYC "almost from the beginning of this period of national turmoil," to approach the government. The 23 men were "all great capitalists, and accustomed to occupying themselves with great enterprises," men "of great ability, prominent positions, and vast resources, whose vast enterprises had already made them known all over the globe." They met and formed a Syndicate and formulated a scheme, which they brought to the government. Their plan was that they would take charge--"entire charge"--of the war. They would have total control of the war and assume total expense of the war. As a guarantee, they would deposit "an immense sum of money" in the Treasury; if the war failed, the government would get the money. If the war was successful, however, the Syndicate would get a substantial sum of money from the government, the amount depending on how quickly the war was resolved. The armed forces of the government were to remain under the control of the government, but would be used for defense only.

The government agrees and the Syndicate swings into action. They are offense-minded, and want to end the war quickly and effectively. So "all known inventions and improvements in the art of war had been thoroughly considered by the Syndicate, and by the eminent specialists whom it had enlisted in its service.  Certain recently perfected engines of war, novel in nature, were the exclusive property of the Syndicate.  It was known, or surmised, in certain quarters that the Syndicate had secured possession of important warlike inventions; but what they were and how they acted was a secret carefully guarded and protected."

The Syndicate first buys ten "war-vessels," which they then refit with "elastic steel" backed by "air buffers," which "the force of the heaviest cannonading was almost deadened by the powerful elasticity of this armour." These new ships have only one gun, but it is manned by "a small body of men, composed of two or three scientific specialists, and some practical gunners and their assistants." The Syndicate then constructs "crabs," which are quick-moving, nimble submarines armed with special missiles, called the "instantaneous motor." These are self-propelling and packed with powerful explosives. The crabs also have two "iron forceps" capable of easily destroying a ship's hull. After a number of events and battles America wins.

The Great War Syndicate isn't exactly uninteresting, but the great amount of time spent on the details of the war detract, to some degree, from the book. The more interesting aspects of the concept--international reaction to the United States owning seemingly-invulnerable superweapons, what happens after the war is over, etc--are overlooked in favor of the unnecessary detail and particulars of the war itself and the weapons' effects. Nor is Stockton's style particularly gripping; it's matter-of-fact, but does not in any way communicate any real excitement to the reader. Those aspects of the book, plus the distasteful American exceptionalism and triumphing, make it a book to be avoided, rather than read.

War Syndicate
The Project Gutenburg e-text of the novel.

atcher by the Threshold. The Watcher by the Threshold was created by John Buchan and appeared in “The Watcher by the Threshold,” (Blackwood’s, Christmas 1900). John Buchan (1875-1940) wrote widely, and although he is best known for The Thirty-Nine Steps and his Richard Hannay novels, Buchan also wrote histories, biographies, and some choice supernatural stories. “The Watcher by the Threshold” is one of his best. It’s about Robert John Ladlaw, a land-owner in the north of Scotland. He married a nice young woman, Sibyl, the cousin of Henry, the story’s narrator, and for a time all was well in their marriage. But one May he fell ill, and after that he never quite recovered.

A kind of insistent sleepiness hung over him, and he suffered much from nightmare. Toward the end of July his former health returned, but he was haunted with a curious oppression. He seemed to himself to have lost the art of being alone. There was a perpetual sound in his left ear, a kind of moving and rustling at his left side, which never left him by night or day. In addition, he had become the prey of nerves and an insensate dread of the unknown.
Things get worse:
It became a living second presence, an alter ego which dogged his footsteps. He grew acutely afraid of it...the presence became more real daily. In the early dawning, in the twilight, and in the first hour of the morning it seemed at times to take a visible bodily form. A kind of amorphous featureless shadow would run from his side into darkness, and he would sit palsied with terror. Sometimes, in lonely places, his footsteps sounded double, and something would brush elbows with him.
The “illness” metastasizes into full-blown possession, and so Sibyl beseeches Henry for help. Henry visits Ladlaw and Sibyl and is initially doubtful about what’s plaguing Ladlaw–Henry thinks Ladlaw’s problems are merely hallucinations–but during the visit Ladlaw’s behavior goes beyond eccentric into the truly haunted. He recoils when things touch his left side; Henry says, “I have never seen a more sheer and transparent terror on a man’s face.” He flinches from invisible blows, again on the left side of his body. And when Ladlaw and Henry drive around the moors Ladlaw talks–only he’s not Ladlaw any more:
There was something indescribable in all he said, a different point of view, a lost groove of thought, a kind of innocence and archaic shrewdness in one. I can only give you a hint of it, by saying that it was like the mind of an early ancestor placed suddenly among modern surroundings. It was wise with remote wisdom, and silly (now and then) with a quite antique and distant silliness.
One night Henry thinks he sees Ladlaw’s shadow doubled, and then Ladlaw’s horse, a “harmless elderly cob,” tries to kill Ladlaw. And then Henry is summoned back to his office on an important case, and by that point he is in such a state himself that he nearly flees in panic.

“The Watcher on the Threshold” is a dandy story of ghosts and possession. The ghost isn’t just the being occupying Ladlaw’s body, but the entire cheerless landscape of Northern Scotland (I’m uncertain where exactly the Parish of More is in Scotland–the Grampian Mountains? In the North-West Highlands, on the other side of Moray Firth? Above Perth, at any rate). Buchan does an excellent job of conveying the dreadful (literally full of dread), nature of the environment:

The place had a cunning charm, mystery dwelt in every cranny, and yet it did not please me. The earth smelt heavy and raw; the roads were red underfoot; all was old, sorrowful, and uncanny. Compared with the fresh Highland glen I had left, where wind and sun and flying showers were never absent, all was chilly and dull and dread.
Buchan begins the story with the description of the More, nicely setting the tone and putting the reader in the right frame of mind, then proceeds with the plot. Even better is that Buchan never explicitly explains what is going on, leaving it slightly nebulous and ambiguous, and that there is no closure. When Henry leaves Ladlaw has not been cured, and there is no happy ending for him or for Sylvia. Horror and terror are of course subjective, but I enjoy ambiguity and cosmic/environmental horror more (much more) than monster horror (ala the spider of Guyana), which is one reason I so enjoyed “The Watcher by the Threshold.” But even more than that is Buchan’s skill at description. If you only know his work from his Hannay novels you’ll be surprised at how well and effectively he sketches the spooky landscape of the More.

The Watcher by the Threshold is a spirit from a bygone age, the spirit of Manann or Manaw, the old Pictish land. It doesn’t seem overtly evil; it converses amiably enough with Henry about why certain ancient fortifications were built the way they were, and why well water is warmer in winter than a running stream. But Ladlaw, in his more coherent moments, feels that it is “the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his blood.” And at one point, perhaps possessed by the Watcher, Ladlaw expounds:

If I could explore the secret of these moors, I would write the world’s greatest book. I would write of that prehistoric life when man was knit close to nature. I would describe the people who were brothers of the red earth and the red rock and the red streams of the hills. Oh, it would be horrible, but superb, tremendous! It would be more than a piece of history; it would be a new gospel, a new theory of life. It would kill materialism once and for all. Why, man, all the poets who have deified and personified nature would not do an eighth part of my work. I would show the unknown, the hideous, shrieking mystery at the back of this simple nature. Men would see the profundity of the old crude faiths which they affect to despise. I would make a picture of our shaggy, sombre-eyed forefather, who heard strange things in the hill silences. I would show him brutal and terror-stricken, but wise, wise, God alone knows how wise!
“The Watcher by the Threshold” is a minor gem which deserves much wider reprinting.

aters. Waters was created by “Waters” and appeared in the “Recollections of a Police-Officer” series in Chambers' Edinburgh Review in 1849; his adventures there were collected into The Recollections of a Policeman (1852), with sequels appearing in 1859, 1861, and 1862. “Waters” was the pseudonym of one William Russell, about whom little is known. This is a shame, because Russell is one of the earliest practitioners of the British detective short story. It’s known that Russell died before 1900 and that he had more than a passing familiarity with the procedures of the London police, but little else is known about him. (There were more than a few William Russells at the time, as you might imagine).

Waters is a gambler who dreadful circumstance (being betrayed by a “friend”) and financial ruin drove to join the London police force; he had no other alternatives but the peelers to earn a living, and his beloved wife Emily was depending on him. Once on the force he finds that he is a capable policeman. In his first case involving a rich young man being swindled by gamblers, Waters is lucky; the man behind the swindle is the one who ruined Waters. Waters is able to capture his old “friend” and this starts his career off nicely. Waters is not always successful; in one interesting case he is duped first by the con man he is pursuing and then by the wife and father-in-law of the con man. But generally he gets his man. He lacks the horror of and loathing for crime that Tom Fox had, perhaps because his cases took him much farther afield than the city limits of London. Waters covers most of England if the case calls for it. Waters isn’t a particularly clever detective, either. He’s not unintelligent, but he lacks the supernatural deductive feats of a Sherlock Holmes or even the insight of an Inspector Bucket. Waters is simply an average policeman of slightly above average intelligence who uses persistence, the latest scientific advances, and thorough questioning of suspects to get his man. His stories are proto-police procedurals and are quite gritty for their era; there’s no late-Victorian delicacy in these stories, which are full of murder, broken families, and ruined finances.

averley. Edward Waverley was created by Sir Walter Scott and appeared in Waverley (1814). Scott (1771-1832) is more familiar to modern readers than actually read, but his place in the history of letters is secure; he was one of the best-selling authors of the 19th century, but more importantly he was one of the most influential, his “Waverley” novels (of which Waverley is the first) and Ivanhoe helping to create the genre of historical fiction.

Waverley is about the maturation and education of Edward Waverley, the son of a noble English family in the year 1745. Edward is raised by both his father and his uncle, who are somewhat estranged due to politics (father’s loyal to the king, uncle is a Jacobite) but both love Edward. Once he is old enough his father gets for him a commission in the army. Edward goes north with the army to Scotland. While there he visits an old family friend, Sir Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine, and befriends Sir Bradwardine and his daughter Rose. Edward is also quite taken with the Baron’s servant, Davie Gellatley, and his stories about the wild Highlanders. While Edward is staying with the Baron they are visited by one of the men in the service of Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr, one of the great clan chiefs. Edward, curious about the Highlanders, travels north to meet Fergus. After a brief interlude with a notorious bandit, Edward meets Fergus and Fergus’ sister, Flora Mac Ivor. Edward falls in love with Flora, but Flora turns him down; she has only one goal in life, to see Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne of England, and she feels that Edward, or any man, deserves complete love from a wife rather than acquiescence and tolerance. While with the Mac Ivors Edward is relieved of his command by his Colonel due to his associating with traitors. Angered at this disgrace, Edward tries to go home but is caught and arrested. He is freed by some Highlanders who help him return north and join with the Mac Ivors. Edward enlists in the forces of Prince Charles, who he meets and befriends. They march south and defeat an English army in battle, but a later advance to the South ends badly, with the men losing hope and Prince Charles eventually ordering a retreat. At the battle of Culloden many of the Highlanders are killed, and Edward is separated from his friends. He flees and returns to Scotland and thence to England. Edward’s name is eventually cleared, thanks in large part to the largesse of an English colonel whose life Edward had saved, and he marries Rose, who he decides is preferable to Flora. Fergus is executed as a traitor, the Jacobite cause is ended, Flora packs herself off to a Catholic convent, and Edward and Rose live happily ever after.

Much as I’d been putting it off, I knew that I’d have to read Waverley eventually. Despite my distaste for most pre-1870 historical novels and the horror show that is Rob Roy, I had to include Waverley here. Waverley is a historically important novel. Before Waverley Gothic novels were the vogue, and while they made use of historical trappings their settings or details were not accurate. Waverley changed that. Too, Scott, via Waverley and the Waverley novels, transformed the prose novel from the preserve of women–at least, that is how it was perceived at the time–into a masculine one. Before Scott prose romances were written in large part by women for women. Scott, via Waverley and the Waverley novels, changed that.

But, oh, did I dread it. Ivanhoe wasn’t really that bad, but the scars from Rob Roy run deep. So was I wrong in dreading it?


Waverley isn’t uninteresting. The nearly unintelligible dialect which killed Rob Roy is much more tolerable here. After the first (very long and uninvolving) section, in which the Waverley family and Edward’s childhood and education are given entirely too much space and attention, the novel picks up the pace somewhat, so that the reader finally meets some halfway interesting characters and sees the plot begin to progress. The portrayal of the Scottish culture and language and customs is certainly convincing, even if the amount of detail too often overwhelms what momentum the novel has. There are moments of bracing harshness, as with the fate of Flora and Edward’s father Richard. And as a sentimentalized look into an interesting historical period, it could be worse.

But it certainly could be a lot better. As historical fiction Waverley is important, but it is only marginally interesting now. I can’t help but think of Mark Twain’s questions on Scott:

1. Are there in Sir Walter's novels passages done in good English -- English which is neither slovenly or involved?

2. Are there passages whose English is not poor and thin and commonplace, but is of a quality above that?

3. Are there passages which burn with real fire -- not punk, fox-fire, make believe?

4. Has he heroes and heroines who are not cads and cadesses?

5. Has he personages whose acts and talk correspond with their characters as described by him?

6. Has he heroes and heroines whom the reader admires, admires, and knows why?

7. Has he funny characters that are funny, and humorous passages that are humorous?

8. Does he ever chain the reader's interest, and make him reluctant to lay the book down?

9. Are there pages where he ceases from posing, ceases from admiring the placid flood and flow of his own dilutions, ceases from being artificial, and is for a time, long or short, recognizably sincere and in earnest?

10. Did he know how to write English, and didn't do it because he didn't want to?

11. Did he use the right word only when he couldn't think of another one, or did he run so much to wrong because he didn't know the right one when he saw it?

12. Can you read him? and keep your respect for him? Of course a person could in his day -- an era, of sentimentality and sloppy romantics -- but land! can a body do it today?

Brander, I lie here dying, slowly dying, under the blight of Sir Walter. I have read the first volume of Rob Roy, and as far as chapter XIX of Guy Mannering, and I can no longer hold my head up nor take my nourishment. Lord, it's all so juvenile! so artificial, so shoddy; and such wax figures and skeletons and spectres. Interest? Why, it is impossible to feel an interest in these bloodless shams, these milk-and-water humbugs. And oh, the poverty of the invention! Not poverty in inventing situations, but poverty in furnishing reasons for them. Sir Walter usually gives himself away when he arranges for a Situation -- elaborates, and elaborates, and elaborates, till if you live to get to it you don't believe in it when it happens.

I can't find the rest of Rob Roy, I can't stand any more Mannering -- I do not know just what to do, but I will reflect, and not quit this great study rashly. He was great, in his day, and to his proper audience; and so was God in Jewish times, for that matter, but why should either of them rank high now? And do they? honest, now, do they? Dam'd if I believe it.

Twain was letting his own spleen flow a bit, as usual, but also as usual he makes some decent points. The vast forests of verbiage which Scott poured into Waverley do not add to the reader’s enjoyment of the novel. Scott is not a particularly good stylist, and the old-fashioned narrative style is a massive drag on the novel’s pace. Despite the immense length of the novel colorful or memorable descriptions, whether of scenery or clothing or battles, are lacking. The dialogue is almost obscenely formal and long-winded, the humor is lumbering and faux-jocular, and the countless quotations and allusions, which Scott no doubt intended to be evidence of erudition, come off instead as Scott using his learning like a club on the reader. The people and culture of Scotland are too sentimentalized; the dirt and fear and poverty of that time and place are missing, and one too often gets the feeling that life as a poor Scotsman was a lark. While the awful, awful dialect of Rob Roy is missing, there are more than enough difficult or obscure words, either Scots or English, to require the modern reader to have a dictionary ready while reading Waverley. (I say this not because I lack a sufficiently broad vocabulary but because few modern readers are likely to know, without consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, what “beevor” or “pibroch” or “land-louper” mean). The novel builds up to the battles, but Scott deals with them too quickly and anti-climactically, in the space of a page or two. When Fergus and Waverley quarrel it feels forced and unnatural, as if Scott decided that there needed to be conflict between them and so manufactured some. And while Flora seems to have been intended as the ideal woman, and many critics have taken her as such, her treatment of Edward is so cold and unfeeling that she’s ultimately unlikable. Rose may be childlike and naive, but she’s much more appealing than Flora.

Edward Waverley himself is an uncompelling hero. Scott describes him as “warm in his feelings, wild and romantic in his ideas,” but the reader sees little of that. (Scott has a real problem with telling versus showing). He’s rather colorless, in fact, and much more acted upon than an actor in Waverley. He draws his sword in battle but kills no one and fights (briefly) only one man, otherwise seeming to float, unaffected, through the battles. He joins the Mac Ivors not by choice but because circumstances put him in that direction. Flora describes him well when she describes him as a domestic man, best suited for a domestic life. It’s true. He’s educated and well-suited for the indolent life of a wealthy member of the gentry. But as the “hero” of Waverley he lacks the personality and the adventuring spirit. He’s an over-educated dreamer and loner at the beginning of the novel, and while he has grown up by story’s end he has not become particularly interesting.

My recommendation: read Waverley if you’re a Scott fanatic, if you desperately need to know from whence the historical romance novel sprang, or if there’s nothing else in the house or apartment and all your fingernails have been trimmed to the same length.

erwolves. The Werwolves were created by Honoré Beaugrand and appeared in "The Werwolves" (1898). Beaugrand (1848-1906) was an interesting man, the mayor of Montreal (1885-1887) as well as the author of stories and novels, including La Chasse-Galerie (1900), a classic of Quebecois folklore. "The Werwolves" is an early example of Quebecois horror fiction, as well as an interesting usage of traditional Canadian/Native Canadian mythology. (It was also the source of an eponymous 1913 film which may have been the world's first werewolf movie).

"The Werwolves" is about a band of Iroquois loup-garou. In Quebec in 1706 times are tough; the Iroquois are "committing depredations in the surrounding country, burning farm-houses, stealing cattle and horses, and killing every man, woman, and child whom they could not carry away to their own villages to torture at the stake." But worse than that, there's a band of them who disappear when shot at. An "old weather-beaten trapper" explains that these "red devils" are actually werewolves, and a particularly bad kind

White loups-garous are bad enough at any time, and you all know that only those who have remained seven years without performing their Easter duties are liable to be changed into wolves, condemned to prowl about at night until they are delivered by some Christian drawing blood from them by inflicting a wound on their forehead in the form of a cross. But we had to deal with Indian renegades, who had accepted the sacraments only in mockery, and we had never since performed any of the duties commanded by the Church. They are the worst loups-garous that one can meet, because they are constantly intent on capturing some misguided Christian, to drink his blood and to eat his flesh in their horrible fricots.
"The Werwolves" is more properly a vignette than a story, lacking a true ending or even plot. But it's an interesting vignette all the same.

The e-text. From the Gaslight site.

essington, Agnes. Agnes Wessington was created by Rudyard Kipling and appeared in “The Phantom Rickshaw” (Quartette, Christmas Number, 1885). Kipling (1865-1936) was the author of Kim and many another still well-remembered classic. “The Phantom Rickshaw” is a classic story of supernatural revenge, the kind that is deservedly anthologized again and again.

Jack Pansay is an Anglo-Indian and a bit of a cad. He had a brief affair with Agnes Wessington, the wife of a British officer in Bombay. The affair ran its course, as such things do, and after a season Jack’s “fire of straw burned itself out to a pitiful end,” and he was ready to move on. He let her know this, cruelly: “from my own lips, in August, 1882, she learned that I was sick of her presence, tired of her company, and weary of the sound of her voice.” But Agnes would not accept his rejection: “‘Jack, darling!’ was her one eternal cuckoo cry, ‘I’m sure it’s all a mistake–a hideous mistake; and we’ll be good friends again some day. Please forgive me, Jack dear.’” Jack continues to reject her, and he meets and courts Kitty Mannering, and Agnes grows thin and wan and continues to follow Jack and not accept his insults and rejection. Agnes dies, and Jack and Kitty are engaged and enjoy two delightful weeks together. Then Jack begins hearing Kitty’s voice, calling to him, and begins seeing her rickshaw, drawn by four jhampanies wearing her magpie livery. Jack undergoes a cure at the hands of a doctor; he still sees the rickshaw, with her in it. Jack babbles to Kitty about his relationship with Agnes, and she breaks off their engagement, returns his letters and ring, and tells him she wishes never to see him again. Still the rickshaw follows Jack, still he hears her call of “Jack, darling!,” until finally he asks Agnes’ ghost what it means and what she wants. They begin keeping company again, of sorts, though only he can see her and though everyone in Simla thinks him mad–he conducts long conversations with her in the open. He comes to see that he is dying and that he is being punished for his treatment of her and that he deserves it, although he wonders why he of all the blackguards in the world is being punished on this world and not in the next. The story ends with him waiting for his death.

“The Phantom Rickshaw,” though early Kipling, is very good. Kipling presents the world of Anglo-India with detailed assurance, even if it is the world of the rich British rather than that of the Indian it is still true to life as far as it goes. Kipling’s narrative style underplays the situation in some respects, but this lack of histrionics emphasizes the supernatural feel of the story rather than diminishes it. We do get some moments of impressionistic near-insanity from Jack, as we see him waver in the face of the rickshaw’s presence. All in all, it’s a very good ghost story, in an exotic milieu, told with Kipling’s usual skill. That should be all the recommendation anyone needs to read it.

Agnes is not a bad woman, despite her affair with Jack. She is only needy for affection. Jack and Agnes were in love–initially, at least–although hers was the stronger and purer feeling of the pair. But she could not accept his rejection; her hope that they might be together again was all that kept her alive for months. Even after death her persistent, stubborn hope never left her, although something seems to have been added to it, something a little darker. She still wants him, and hounds him to his death, leaving him to wonder if his fate is to be bound to her for all eternity, punishing him by giving her what she wants....

estern Heroes. I have until now been reluctant to do entries for the Western heroes, simply because there were a bewildering number of them, because most of them held little interest for me, and because I lacked the resources to get adequate information on them. However, now that the estimable J. Randolph Cox has published his Dime Novel Companion, I can finally devote some space to them with the assurance that what I'll put down here is accurate. (Almost all of the information following is from Dime Novel Companion, which is worth twice what I paid for it and which you should all run out and get right now) I can't promise that I'll ever make the effort to get as much information on these characters as I will for the others on this list, but if I run across more on these characters, I'll make it available.

Kit Bandy. Kit was created by Oll Coomes and appeared in Beadle's Dime Library and Beadle's Half-Dime Library from 1878 to 1895. His real name is actually Christopher Columbus Bandy, but everyone calls him "Old Kit Bandy." He's a scout and mountain man detective, around 60 years old, over six feet tall with a long white beard and "long, ungainly limbs, large hands and feet, a long, high head, large ears, a very prominent nose and wide mouth." He is skilled at disguise and a good shot and detective. He's given to a backwoods patois, is assisted in his efforts by Old Tom Rattler and the small, "inimitable" Ichabod Flea, and works hard to avoid his wife, Sabina Ellen Bandy.

Black Tom. Tom appeared in two serials in Munro's Girls and Boys of America in 1887 & 1888. He was (forgive the language) a "mischievous darky" who had various misadventures before finding his real father, an "eloquent colored member of Congress."

Bones. A somewhat noted child hero, Bones was created by Frederick Albert Stearns and appeared in Golden Hours from 1888 through 1904. Bones was a mischievous troublemaker with a taste for practical jokes. When the magazine requires it of him, he instantly grows older and has a like-minded son, Bolivar. Then, later, a second series reboots the Bones' stories, making him a child again and putting him through a new set of adventures.

Daniel Boone. There were, oh, lots and lots of stories about Daniel Boone in the dime novels. The real Daniel Boone was several inches shoulder and did not possess the superhuman strength or tracking ability of the dime novel Daniel Boone, who was, well, a typical dime novel ubermensch.

Buffalo Bill appeared in at least 500 original dime novels, and was the stock (one might say archetypal) frontier and Western dime novel hero, the tracker, marksman, and honorable hero par excellance.

Calamity Jane appeared most often in the Deadwood Dick stories. The dime novel Jane was only (very) loosely based on the real Calamity Jane; the fictional version acted alternatively as Deadwood Dick's enemy and then lover (and eventual wife).

Kit Carson, like Daniel Boone and Buffalo Bill, was fictionalized to be the very model of a modern major dime novel hero, tall, bronzed, honorable, heroic, and a great tracker (as well as moralizer). He had relatively little in common with the real Kit Carson.

Cavalry Jack was a heroic young scout in the Union Army who appeared in Five Cent Weekly in 1883.

Jack Clark. Clark appeared in Blue and Gray Weekly from 1904-1905. He began as a college student and militia leader who volunteers, with his best friend Hal Martin and the rest of their militia unit, to fight in the Civil War. He gets promoted to Captain, and then goes on various spy and guerrilla missions for the Union.

Cool Dan was actually "Daniel Legget," or perhaps "Legget Daniels." He was created by Edward Stratemeyer and William R. Eyster and appeared in Log Cabin Library from 1892-1893. He was a college-educated "road agent" who became the owner of a mine in the West and was forced to defend it against local desperadoes as well as crooked "combination" syndicates.

Dandy Dan of Deadwood appeared in Wide Awake Library from 1891 to 1892. He was a Western adventurer in his mid-20s who dressed neatly (black velvet jacket and slacks, patent leather boots, white shirt with a diamond at the breast, and a diamond-embroidered sombrero) and is accompanied by Meteor, his horse, and Ugly Joe, an animal-skin-wearing scout.

Dandy Rock was created by George W. Browne and appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library from 1879-1880. Dandy Rock, also known as Rock Randel, was a former Texas Ranger who adventures in the American Southwest and in California. His a handsome man (of course) who wears his hair and mustache long, dresses in a "suit of gaudy pattern," and is helped by Jared Jones (aka "Silver Ray" and "Reckless Ray"), a "Down-east Yankee," and by Chauncey Gifford, another Easterner.

Dashing Charlie was a scout and Indian-fighter who appeared in New York Weekly from 1872. He is around 30 years old, also known as the "white whirlwind," rides Black Thunderbolt, a very well-trained horse, and is a general all-around heroic adventurer.

Deadshot Dave was a "gentleman gambler" who adventured in cities from Chicago to points West and appeared in New York Five Cent Library in 1892 and 1893.

Deadwood Dick, who probably deserves an entry of his own (but I lack the energy or time for same at the moment), appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library and, oh, loads other places (as reprints) from 1877 to 1885. He was perhaps the quintessential Western adventurer and frontier dime novel character.

Deadwood Dick, Jr. was not the original's son, but took his name from his hero. He set out to avenge his dead mother, his real name being Richard Bristol. He was a Western adventurer, and appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library from 1886 to 1897.

Denver Dan appeared in Wide Awake Library from 1881 to 1882. His real name was Daniel Fleming, and he was a masked vigilante. He had once been a bank clerk but was falsely accused of theft, and after clearing his name set out to avenge the wrongs inflicted on others. He wore embroidered buckskin and a half mask of black silk, and uses a silver whistle to summon his "mystic band" of followers.

Denver Dan, Jr. was the son of the original, albeit with the exact same motif. He appeared in Wide Awake Library from 1883 to 1890.

Diamond Dick appeared in New York Weekly in 1878. He was one of the more popular and long-running cowboy heroes. His real name was Richard Wade, but for various (unexplained, though seemingly involved with having been hanged and left for dead) reasons he took to the West to fight for justice. His outfit was Spanish-influenced, with a leitmotif of diamonds--diamonds on his clothes and on his revolvers. He wore his hair long. He is accompanied by his son, Bertie, aka Diamond Dick Jr., and by Handsome Harry, a "red-shirted, full-bearded" super-strong giant. They were seen in later series, in the 1910s, as traveling from the American frontier to Central and South American and into the north of Canada.

Dick Drew appeared in American Indian Series in 1910. The child of a cavalry officer, Drew is orphaned when is father is murdered by a band of Crows. (His mother died when he was three) Dick swears revenge, inherits a ranch in Montana and a dozen rich mines, and uses his money to train himself to become "the best-known scout and Indian fighter since Buffalo Bill left the plains to go into show business in the East." He helps the government in various anti-Indian actions and also works as a guide for various Easterners and employees of the railroads.

Fresh of Frisco was created by Albert Aiken and appeared in Saturday Journal and Beadle's Dime Library from 1879 to 1894. Originally he'd been simple Jackson Blake, a twenty five year-old bank clerk, but a friend had been involved in robbing the bank, so Jackson took the blame for the robbery and hit the road, becoming the Fresh of Frisco, so-called because he is "too fresh--too eager to back other men's quarrels when (he thinks) that they have the right on their side and are being imposed upon." He's seen by most people as a "gambler, black-leg, card-sharp, desperado, road-agent, mail-robber, murderer, horse-thief, everything that's bad." What he really is, though, is a "reckless, daring, keen-eyed sharp--equally a man of honor, a genteel ruffian and an irrepressible road-agent." He wanders the West and the South, gaining a reputation so bad that people will duck simply on hearing his name or seeing him. He gains and loses (to murder or disease) several wives, but finally proposes to Belle Hawkins, a lady he defends, and the last story implies that his luck is turning for the better.

Gentleman Joe was created by Joseph E. Badger and appeared in Log Cabin Library from 1892 to 1897. He had been an, as "Joseph Gentry," an Eastern businessman, but he had competed with his best friend for the affections of a woman they both loved, and when Joe came out the loser, he did the honorable thing (in the thinking of the time) and set out for the frontier, wandering and using his skills and quickness to become a gambler, shootist, and miner, righting wrongs and hunting down bad men. He wears his hair long, in the fashion of the day, and operates at various times in Chicago, New York, and Denver. He loses his fiancée and his horse (not the same thing) (not at the same time, either) but is successful in avenging them.

Sgt. Bob Henderson. Henderson, a heroic Indian-fighter, appeared in American Indian Series in 1910.

Wild Bill Hickok. There was, of course, a real "Wild Bill Hickok." James Butler Hickok (1837-1876) existed, and did some of the things that the dime novel character was credited with. But on the whole the dime novel Wild Bill, who first appeared in DeWitt's Ten Cent Romances in 1867, was a sanitized version. He was one of the pluperfect frontier heroes, a great shootist, killer of Indians, horseman, and scout.

Maxwell Hyde. Hyde was a "gunfighter detective" who appeared in American Indian Weekly in 1910 & 1911.

Frank & Jesse James. As with a number of other historical figures, the fictionalized version of the James Brothers is at variance with the historical persons. It should be noted, though, that the James Brothers are often portrayed in an ambiguous rather than uncomplicatedly heroic fashion; where other historical characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill were made into simplistic hero types, the James Brothers were usually anti-heroes, and even enemies of the main characters, as in their Old King Brady appearances.

Klondike Kit appeared in Klondike Kit Library in 1898 and 1899. Kit Cummings, better known as Klondike Kit, was a "lithe, compactly built youth of eighteen or twenty, with a dark and singularly handsome face," dressed in the usual prospector's outfit. He goes a-hunting his fortune with his friends Nell "Nugget Nell" Andrews, his "girl pard," and Bottleneck Bill, his best friend. They travel the Klondike, searching for gold and meeting various colorful prospector types and natives. They are joined by Barney "Pip" Barnato Jr., a mute Aleutian, who becomes Kit's "mascot." The group hits various strikes big and then return to civilization.

Pawnee Bill, the fictional character, was created by Col. Prentiss Ingraham and first appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library from 1888-1890. There was a real Pawnee Bill, Gordon Lillie, but the fictionalized version of Pawnee Bill, like that Buffalo Bill, made him into a rather whitewashed dime novel hero. The fictional Pawnee Bill is a great hero, tracker, and shootist who favors gold-mounted knives (and can throw them for distance with accuracy), gold-mounted hair-trigger guns, and his oddly intelligent horse, Chick-Chick.

Rosebud Rob was created by Edward Wheeler and appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library in 1879. He's actually Robert Mapleton, a typical Western adventurer more notable for his involvement with Nugget Ned and Bel Helene than for his own feats.

Sierra Sam was created by Edward L. Wheeler and appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library in 1882. Sam was actually Samuel Slocum, originally from California and interested, variously, in gambling, gold-digging, sport, and being a frontier detective. He's the "handsomest man in the region," with brown hair and a waxed mustache. He's also very strong. He reads a lot, somewhat unique for dime novel heroes. He is assisted by Jefferson Davis Dump, a former slave, and his wife is Stella Sarony, formerly the Angel of Big Vista.

Violet Vane was created by William Patten and appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library between 1889 and 1892. His real name was Philip Vane Howard, and back east he'd been accused of a bank robbery that he hadn't committed. So, naturally, he headed west to find the real culprit. He hung around the frontier, gambling and fighting crime. He is of medium height, with a modest manner and a preference for wearing mountain violets in the lapel of his velvet suit (hence his nickname). He's good with cards, fists, and guns, although people always underestimate him at all three.

Nick Whiffles was created by Dr. John Robinson and appeared in New York Weekly in 1858. He was a comic character, a humorous stereotype of the frontier scout, guide, and trapper. He's a tall tale-teller, too.

Young Wild West, the "Prince of the Saddle" and the "Champion Deadshot of the West," was created by Cornelius Shea and appeared in a whopping 644 stories in Wild West Weekly, beginning in 1902 and running through 1915. He's actually an 18-year-old who was orphaned in Southern Kansas by the Comanche and was adopted by William West, a hunter passing by the site. He's named "Young Wild West" by his adoptive father because he's young and because the area he was found in was particularly wild and frontier-like. YWW's mission in life is to do good and to avenge his biological family's death, and he does both, wandering from the Missouri River to the mouth of the Rio Grande. He eventually settles down in Wyoming along with his horse Spitfire and his friends: Arietta Murdock, the ridin', shootin', blonde Wyomingian who is YWW's love interest; Charlie Watson, a Cheyenne who was formerly a scout for the Government and an Indian-fighter; Jim Dart, the quiet teetotaler; and Hop Wah and Wing Wah, the stereotypical Chinese (although they are good at fireworks and cards and are sketched with more depth than is usually the case). YWW is, of course, the best shot, horseman, rider, scout, roper, and whatnot in the West, capable of taking down a dozen bandits, rustlers, and owlhoots without much trouble. YWW also strikes it rich early on in his career, and buys the Buckhorn Ranch in Wyoming, where he ends up living. YWW, at the end of his career, takes on German enemies in a World War One atmosphere.

etheral, Dick. Dick Wetheral was created by Robert Neilson Stephens (1867-1906) and appeared in The Road to Paris (1898). Stephens is little remembered today, but during his time, especially during the 1890s, he was a successful author of swashbucklers. Although I'll try to acquire more of Stephens' books, Dick Wetheral is going to have to stand in, for the moment, as a representative of Stephens' heroic characters. Wetheral is born in April, 1758, the child of patriotic Jacobites in Pennsylvania. As he grows his naturally adventurous spirit comes to the fore, and when he is presented with the opportunity to fight for America against the British, he jumps at it and sets out for New York with his father's best friend Tom MacAlister, a Jacobite who fought at Culloden and then came to America as a sergeant in Braddock's army. MacAlister is a soldier of fortune, a fiddler, and the possessor of a thick Scots brogue, and he accompanies Dick to the East and is his best friend for a good long while. (MacAlister's patois is just this side of annoying, and his liking for playing "Over the hills and far away" leaves this reader hearing Led Zeppelin as he reads The Road to Paris, which does not make for a particularly harmonious reading experience).

Dick briefly fights in Massachusetts before shipping out to Quebec, marching across Maine in the winter, attacking Montreal and then being captured and sent to England. He escapes from jail in England, makes friends with a few aristocrats, has a few duels and adventures, is jailed again and put on trial, escapes again, makes his way to France (he's always wanted to be on the road to Paris, hence the title), has various adventures in France and Paris, makes his way to Hesse-Cassle and befriends the Landgrave Frederick II, offends the Landgrave, gets involved in a revolt against him, escapes and makes his way back to Paris with his best English friend, Tom MacAlister, and his "grave" and "beautiful" lady love. Dick Wetheral is no immortal, but he's brave and resolute, neither unreasonably intelligent nor excessively stupid, and capable of thinking reasonably quickly when he needs to. It's all great swashbuckling fun, written much less leadenly and tediously than you'd expect and with more of a sense of humor. Stephens is no Baron Orczy, but he's still enjoyable reading.

Robert Neilson Stephens Bibliography
A good essay and bibliography on Stephens, and the place where I learned about him. It's from Violet Books, so of course it's going to be both entertaining and informative.

hite, Fanny. Fanny White was created by Harry Hazleton (creator of Charley Wag) and appeared in Fanny White and Her Friend Jack Rawlings: A Romance of a Young Lady Thief and a Boy Burglar (1860), originally published as a 21 part serial. Unfortunately, I've been unable to actually locate a reading copy of this and have only critics' summaries to go on. White is the eponymous lady thief and Rawlings, her informally adopted son, is the titular boy burglar. She is a music-hall dancer but he has no job, and they both use crime to supplement their earnings, as well as providing thrills and revenge on the hated upper classes. White, a "spanking, bouncing young wench -- beautiful enough, in all conscience, to excite the desires of the most cold blooded," is the target of many attempted seductions, but she insists on retaining her virtue until she can marry a good, honest, proper nobleman or merchant. Unfortunately, the aging cad, bounder, and roué Lord Crokerton drugs her and takes her to his secluded house in Fulham, where he plans to rape her. Fortunately, she recovers in time, and "dealt my Lord Crokerton such a terrific right-hander on the nose, that it spread him out flat upon the floor, where he lay, bleeding and gasping, a sight pitiful to behold." (She's "as strong as a young bull," you see, "voluptuous, graceful, pliant, and muscular.") I don't know what happens beyond that point, but I assume she falls in love and marries well, taking Jack with her.

hite Powder. The White Powder was created by Arthur Machen and appeared in “The Novel of the White Powder” (from Machen's The Three Imposters, 1895). Machen, of course, is one of the foremost writers of horror at the turn of the 20th century, and created The Great God Pan, among others. (Unfortunately some of his best work takes place after 1902 and so outside this site’s brief). “The Novel of the White Powder,” while not Machen’s best, is still darned good.

Miss Leicester is the only brother of Francis Leicester. Francis had a brilliant career at University and returns home to study law. He becomes a hermit in doing so, to the point of becoming haggard and worn. Concerned, Miss Leicester prevails upon Francis to submit to an examination by Dr. Haberden, the family doctor. Dr. Haberden sees Francis’ problem as only digestive and “a little mischief to the nervous system” and so prescribes for him a white powder, which Francis acquires at a local chemist. The powder does its job, and Francis becomes merry and outgoing. The powder, in fact, does its job too well, and Francis begins to change. The change begins early, with a most un-Francis-like statement: “ seems a pleasant evening. Look at the afterglow; why, it is as if a great city were burning in flames, and down there between the dark houses it is raining blood fast.” But as time goes by and he continues taking the white powder he becomes a “lover of pleasure and merry idler of western pavements.” And then the physical change begins, visible first only to Miss Leicester’s eyes and then as a black mark on the hand, a mark horrifying to Miss Leicester: some sense I cannot define, I knew that what I saw was no bruise at all; oh! If human flesh could burn with flame, and if flame could be black as pitch, such was that before me. Without thought or fashioning of words gray horror shaped within me at the sight, and in an inner cell it was known to be a brand.
Miss Leicester, frightened, goes to Dr. Haberden, who examines the white powder, discovers that it is not what he prescribed, and sends it away to be analyzed. Dr. Haberden then visits Francis in his room and then flees from the house:
“I have seen that man,” he began in a dry whisper. “I have been sitting in his presence for the last hour. My God! And I am alive and in my senses! I, who have dealt with death all my life, and have dabbled with the melting ruins of the earthly tabernacle. But not this, oh! Not this,” and he covered his face with his hands as if to shut out the sight of something before him.
After that Francis does not leave his room, and when his sister glimpses him through the window of his room she is horrified at the monstrous thing he is becoming. When Francis finally stops eating the food the servants leave out for him and stops responding to his sister’s calls, she gets Dr. Haberden to break down the door to his room. They find...actually, I’m not going to include it here, since that would spoil it for you. Let’s just say they find Something Nasty, which Dr. Haberden then kills. A week later Dr. Haberden leaves on a long sea journey, leaving Miss Leicester a letter from the chemist who analyzed the white powder. The chemist reveals that the powder is not the “uncommon salt” which Haberden prescribed for Francis, but rather the powder from which the wine of the Witches’ Sabbath is prepared, and that in the Middle Ages the powder was used in those Sabbaths so that “the worm which never dies...was made tangible and an external thing, and clothed with a garment of flesh.”

Machen, in “The Novel of the White Powder,” seems to have been afflicted with the Bulwer-Lytton syndrome, so that he interrupts an otherwise fine story of horror with a long explanation of exactly what is happening, accompanied by a lecture about the folly of strict materialism. (Bulwer-Lytton did the same thing in “The Haunted and the Haunters;” see the Mr. Richards entry for my take on that story). Unfortunately, lectures like that no longer hold a reader’s interest as well as they once did, and even good writers, which Machen was, can’t make such lectures better than tedious. It’s a shame, since the story is otherwise quite entertaining. I’ a big fan of Machen’s, of course, and rate his work quite highly. I like his style, with its conversational dialogue, its descriptions which imply more than they say (a key to good horror), and his well-turned phrases. And I like his ideas, which are of the cosmic horror/there are horrible things which human senses do not reveal variety. “The Novel of the White Powder” is good Machen, having all of these features. But Machen’s explanation, much too long, spoils the momentum of the story. Machen was, I think, going for an intellectual/moral horror (the idea of “the awful thing veiled in the mythos of the Tree in the Garden” being reincarnated in Francis’ flesh) to accompany the more visceral horror (Francis’ body changing so terribly), but the lecture preceding the revelation of the white powder’s true substance fritters away the latter and ill-prepares us for the former. “The Novel of the White Powder” is relatively early Machen, but I’m not well read enough in later Machen to know whether this was just a novice mistake on his part or whether this was a recurring tendency of his.

The white powder was known centuries ago, to a few. During the Witches’ Sabbath it was given, in liquid form as the Vinum Sabbati, to neophytes, who suddenly saw a companion, “a shape of glamour and unearthly allurement,” offering them “joys more exquisite, more piercing than the thrill of any dream,” until finally the marriage of the Sabbath was consummated, and “the house of life was riven asunder and the human trinity dissolved.”

My minor criticisms notwithstanding, “The Novel of the White Powder” is quite good and well worth your searching out.

hite Scalper. The White Scalper was created by “Gustav Aimard” and appeared in The Border Rifles (1861); The Border Rifles was later published in American in a trilogy in Beadle’s New York Dime Library in 1881, beginning with “The Border Rifles” (n149, 31 August 1881).  “Gustav (also “Gustave”) Aimard” was the pen name of Oliver Gloux (1818-1883), a French novelist who led an adventurous life in America, was a very popular writer in his lifetime, and published several works of frontier fiction. Gloux was one of the first French writers to pen a real Western.

The Border Rifles is set during the Texas War of Independence and is about the efforts of a gang of villainous Mexican murderers and desperados to fight the efforts of the Texans to win independence and join the United States. The Mexicans are aided by various natives, including Apache and Snake Pawnee. They are opposed by a group of heroic Texans who are led by Tranquil, a figure of some renown and fear among the natives. Tranquil’s arch-enemy is the White Scalper, a terrifying old man who is legendary on the frontier for his cruelty and ferocity; he is said to have a love of murder and torture. He’s somewhat more complicated than that, being a Western version of the Gothic Hero-Villain (see the Gothic Villains entry for more on this). He believes himself accursed and outcast from polite society, and prowls the desert and plains, terrorizing both white and red men. He can be quite cruel, and is willing to kill and torture, and even abducts Carmela (Tranquil’s lady love) because he is in love with her. But he has a kind of honor (he keeps his word, when it’s given), grandeur, and even a nobility to him. He’s a classic doomed Hero-Villain, really. He’s an old white man with a stern face and a long beard. He’s quite deadly with gun, knife and club.

The Border Rifles is a fairly standard dime novel, down to the typical paid-by-the-word dime novel dialogue. It is colorful, though, and satisfyingly filled with action. Gloux actually differentiates between native tribes, so that Tranquil and the White Scalper don’t deal with Indians, but with Apaches and Snake Pawnee–something relatively unusual for the dime novels. (When Gloux mentions native religions, however, he makes a hash of them). One pleasant surprise in The Border Rifles is Quoniam, Tranquil’s freeman companion. Perhaps uniquely among dime novel blacks, Quoniam neither speaks nor acts stereotypically. His dialogue is normal, his personality commendable, his actions are heroic, and it is even given to him, rather than Tranquil, to defeat the White Scalper in hand-to-hand combat.

hite Wolf. The White Wolf was created by Paul Féval and appeared in Le Loup Blanc (The White Wolf, 1843). Féval (1816-1875) was one of the greatest 19th century French writers of pulp and genre novels; he’s represented on this site by the Les Habits Noir, Selene, and Le Bossu entries. The White Wolf is a short novel set in the forest of Rennes, in Brittany, in the first half of the 18th century. In these years Brittany has been conquered by France but is restive under its rule, and the last remaining lord of Brittany, Nicolas Treml, Monsieur de Tremlays, is quite discontented. So much so that he leaves behind his infant grandson George (for Nicolas’ son and heir was killed) and rides to the castle of Villers-Cotterets and challenges Philip d’Orleans to a duel to decide the fait of Brittany. Treml is laughed at, disarmed, and sent to the Bastille. And as we all know, there is no “after” with the Bastille. Back in Brittany the cunning and sneaky Hervé de Vaunoy, who Nicolas appointed guardian of George and of the Tremlay’s castle and lands while Nicolas went to see Philip d’Orleans, secretly tries to drown George by pushing him into a lake. Hervé then takes control of the castle and lands and lives it up, marrying and having children and generally treating the Bretons poorly. But all is not lost, for the amiable albino fool Jean Blanc, a hoopmaker who lives in the forest of Rennes, caring for his ailing father (a former servant of Nicolas Treml) and acting as a loyal Breton, did not trust de Vaunoy and watched him with George, so that Blanc sees de Vaunoy try to drown George. Blanc rescues George but suffers from an epileptic fit (Blanc is an epileptic) and when he recovers George is gone. Soon after that de Vaunoy and his troops search Blanc’s hut for gold, allow Blanc’s father to die in agony in front of Blanc, and then torch the hut. Blanc, horrified, flees into the forest of Rennes. He meets a sweet local woman and they fall in love and have a child, but she dies eighteen months after meeting him, and so he raises his beautiful daughter by himself. He pretends to be “Pelo Roman,” a humble charcoal burner, but in fact he is The White Wolf, the leader of a band of anti-French Breton outlaws, all of whom wear masks made of wolf skin.  Whenever they are oppressed by de Vaunoy, they fight back, stealing money from him or destroying one of his homes or hurting him as he hurts them. Twenty years after disappearing, George returns to Rennes unaware of his background. There is the predictable turns of events which culminate in George being reinstated to his lands and title, Blanc avenging his father’s murder on de Vaunoy, and George marrying Blanc’s daughter Marie.

The White Wolf is brief–only 102 pages in my 1855 Dick & Fitzgerald edition–quick moving, and rather efficiently told. Féval provides a welcome amount of historical contextualization and does a decent job of describing the landscape of Brittany as it was in 1719. Féval strikes a good balance between action, characterization, and the kind of narratorial commentary which can make the likes of Victor Hugo such a chore to read. But Féval’s style is dated (hard to avoid, admittedly, with a 160-year-old novel) and a bit stodgy, and The White Wolf lacks a certain vigor and life. (I came to The White Wolf from Under Two Flags–see the Cigarette entry for more on that glorious mess–so my perspective is undoubtedly warped).

The White Wolf is Jean Blanc. While Nicolas Treml is alive Blanc is thought of as little more than an idiot, because of his epileptic fits and because he takes care to let others believe he is an idiot. Those of Treml’s men who dislike him call him “the White Rabbit” because of his albinism and his behavior. But he’s got an innately superior intelligence which comes to the fore after his wife dies. He organizes the local foresters into the White Wolves and carries out a twenty-year-long guerrilla campaign against de Vaunoy. He’s very strong, a good swordsman, an excellent shot, and superhumanly agile, being able to swing through the trees of Rennes as well as any monkey. While all of the White Wolves wear masks of wolf’s skin, Blanc wears a white wolf’s head as a hood and mask.

ieland, Theodore. Theodore Wieland was created by Charles Brockden Brown and appeared in Wieland; or, The Transformation (1798). Brown (1771-1810) was an American novelist, one of the first professional writers in America; he is primarily known for Wieland. Theodore Wieland was a strange, somber man whose father was guilt-wracked over having passed up the opportunity to go on a religious mission. Theodore grew up with a great deal of religious devotion, and when he began to hear voices, telling him of things which no human could know, Theodore listened to them and obeyed them. At first they were safe voices, warning him of dangers ahead and telling him of the death of a woman in Europe. But soon enough the voices began telling him to do other things, like murder his wife and child as a sacrifice to God. Theodore was a religious man, and so he followed the commands of the voices, feeling honored that he was chosen. No prison could hold him, and he was talked out of killing his sister only at the last moment, when it was revealed that some of the voices had been tricks played on him by a ventriloquist. Not all of the voices were the ventriloquist’s, however, and Wieland leaves ambiguous whether the first voices, and the voices calling for blood, were real or only in Wieland’s mind.

Wieland; or, The Transformation
The e-text.

ild, Jonathan. Jonathan Wild, like Dick Turpin (see his entry in the Highwayman section), was a real person--see this essay for lots of lovely biographical information on him. He wasn't, as you can see from the essay, a particularly savory character. In fact, his fate seems richly deserved. His place in English popular fiction is therefore something of a mystery; why make a hero out of a bad man? But that's popular culture for you; it's not just Americans who like to romanticize criminals. Anyhow. In popular fiction Wild became an ambiguous figure, sometimes being shown as the top "thief-taker" in all of England and a man all criminals lived in fear of, and sometimes being shown as the crook and ruler of the London underworld the real Wild no doubt aspired to be. He appeared in places as various as the Wideawake Library, the Lives of the Highwaymen, and DeWitt's Jonathan Wild Series.

ild Boys of London. The Wild Boys of London were introduced in The Wild Boys of London (1866), by an unknown author; their adventures were later taken up in a number of copycat titles like The Wild Boys of London, or The Children of Night, The Wild Boys of Paris, or The Secrets of the People, and The Boys of London and New York, all published by Edwin J. Brett's Newsagents Publishing Company. The Wild Boys were "street arabs" (see Froggy's entry for a definition of "street arabs") who were "precocious young pariahs," in the words of one critic. They lived in the sewers of London, plotting their mischief "round a fire in their haunt." They were not evil, or even bad, really, but they were scofflaws, looking out for themselves (the life of street arabs being a desperate, cold, and hard one) and then others--sometimes in that order. They were shown doing whatever necessary to survive. This often included fighting predatory men so as to preserve their hiding places, food, and what little money they'd saved. Other times they bought and sold stolen goods, and salvaged corpses (by dragging them from the river or the sewers) and sold them to doctors. Their mischief and hijinks were usually high-spirited and not truly malicious, although they did embody the popular prejudices of the time; they would swing on an Asian immigrant's pigtails or hang a Jewish merchant upside down on a rope and mock him or show a bumbling policeman (a "peelie") to be a complete fool, but they would never kill the subjects of their derision. More often, though, the nameless author of the Wild Boys (whose work was eventually suppressed by the police) showed the Wild Boys combating thugs, ruffians, "thieves, murderers, kidnappers, child-stealers and grave-robbers."

The Wild Boys were led by Dick Lane, who was not the product of the street but of a formerly good couple in Lambeth who were led astray when Arthur's father, an honest bricklayer, obeys his union's call for a strike, and is thus ruined. Lane's best friend is Arthur Grattan, who was raised by a poor but honest schoolteacher but is actually the son of the excessively wealthy Lord Wintermerle; Arthur was stolen from his father's house as an infant at the instigation of Arthur's grown, cousin who stood to inherit the Wintermerle fortune if Arthur were conveniently absent. Arthur and Dick lead the Wild Boys, setting a better moral standard for them and helping them triumph over the "Night Avengers of the Iron League," a group of rich young snots who enjoy beating up their poor counterparts. (They met their match in the Wild Boys, of course) Eventually Dick is reunited with his father and Arthur with the Wintermerle fortune, and Arthur, using his money, rescues all of the Wild Boys.

There is no evidence linking the Wild Boys to the Baker Street Irregulars, although it is not unreasonable to suppose that the two might be the same.

ildrake, Tom. Tom Wildrake was created by George Emmett, of Crusoe Jack and Charity Joe fame, and appeared in Tom Wildrake's Schooldays, a 20-part serial published in 1871, and Young Tom Wildrake's adventures in Europe, Asia, Africa and America, a 17-part serial published in 1885. Wildrake was one of the more popular of the Victorian schoolboy adventurer characters; while he never achieved the vast popularity of a Jack Harkaway, he was on the level of a Tom Floremall and was more popular than most of the characters in Victorian boys' fiction. That said, there's really little to distinguish Wildrake from Floremall or Harkaway or someone like Dick Stornaway. Wildrake is a moral and upright British youth who serves as a good example to all around him, helping the younger and more maligned schoolboys and standing up to bullying upperclassmen. Wildrake goes in search of his father and finds him (a common theme, as you've no doubt noticed), and then tours around the world with his father in their ship The Peerless. Pirates, smugglers, Thuggees (another popular theme in Victorian boys' fiction, for obvious reasons--see this article for more), and Indian (Eastern and Native American) Mutineers and criminals are fought, women-in-peril are rescued, foreigners mocked, and the usual goings-on are gone on. Honestly, Wildrake is unremarkable; read the Harkaway stories for a better version of this sort of character.

ild Will (I). Wild Will was created by "Detective Brownlow and Sergeant Tuevoleur of the French Police” and appeared in The Dance of Death; or, The Hangman’s Plot, a 23-part penny  dreadful published in 1866. "Detective Brownlow and Sergeant Tuevoleur of the French Police” are pseudonyms; the real author of The Dance of Death is unknown. The Dance of Death is a gloriously over-the-top dreadful, exactly the sort which caused so many critics and upper class Victorians to turn against the dreadful.

The Dance of Death is a sprawling dreadful with a large cast of characters. It begins in the countryside north of London. Dick Spaldings, an honest farmer, discovers that Jenny Hayward, the younger wife who he loves so dearly, is cheating on him with Will Spanton, the unfairly handsome young village schoolmaster. A sleazy local man tips off Spaldings, and he witnesses Will and Jenny having sex, in a scene which was shockingly frank for the time:

Her warm lips beseeching a husband’s forgiveness, the exhausted creature sank upon the ground, and lost a woman’s restraint. Will slaked the lust which he had felt for so many months....
Spaldings is devastated by this, and undergoes a change of personality. He goes bad, becoming perpetually angry (so much so that he disowns his son Harry) and plotting the murder of Jenny and Will. Before Spaldings can carry out his plan, however, Jenny and Will run away to London together. Harry has also moved to London, and the plot shifts to follow him. Harry takes to thievery, calling himself “Velvet” (as in “smooth as”), and he falls in with a gang of thieves, “the Black Brethren of the Crystal Dagger, or, The Knights of Satan.” The Black Brethren, whose ceremonies are quite Masonic (no doubt the author was taking a jab at the Masons), include “Kokoriko the Hunchback,” “Cannibal Jack,” the rather charming French thief Johnny Crapaud a.k.a. “Monsieur Armand,” the Fagin-like “Bob O’Link,” the racist stereotype “Black Kettle,” and “Wild Will, the Swell Thief.” Harry becomes Wild Will’s assistant in thievery. After a long series of crimes and chases Wild Will is hanged, thanks to the efforts of Detective Brownlow and Sergeant Tuevoleur, (yes, the authors appear as characters, briefly but significantly for the plot’s purposes), but at the end of the series Harry’s final fate and the resolution of the Spaldings-Jenny-Will triangle are unrevealed.

The Dance of Death isn’t exactly a good story. Whoever wrote it had some skill, and so it is readable, but its vocabulary and style are dated, as might be expected. And the author’s focus on excess, though well-intentioned (see below), leaves the work head-clobberingly didactic at some points and grisly at others, although there’s a certain humor to be taken from the sheer over-the-top indulgence.

Part of the author’s intention was to stir social activism. Part of The Dance of Death moralizes against the hopeless situation of the poor, and the author invokes the name of John Stuart Mill to support the case of social reformers. While this might have been a fig leaf to justify the gorier parts of the story, the passages in which the author describes how badly off the poor are read as if they were honestly meant. The use of reformers’ rhetoric seems to be heartfelt, and the author even drops the name of Dumas to support his case.

The passages with the Black Brethren are full of Thieves’ Cant and songs, following the trend set by Harrison Ainsworth in Rookwood (see the Dick Turpin entry). The author may have been trying to create a sense of realism with the cant, or to add to the feeling of romance caused by Ainsworth. But the more gruesome aspects of the novel mitigate against that. It’s quite possible that the author was simply interested in telling an over-the-top story and used the names of Mills and Dumas to try to justify the grue. After all, some justification would have been needed for the following: the aforementioned sex scene, illustrations of topless women, child snatching, bloody handprints left on walls, women strangling men, disembodied heads flourished gleefully, the poking and teasing of a corpse, fratricide committed for inheritance, gang attacks on the policemen, the use of Satan’s name during the induction ceremony into the Black Brethren, and “Mother Martin,” an aging bawd who helps kidnap virginal girls and sell them to adult men for money. Mother Martin, who was a member of the Brethren, is hanged by the thieves, and her hanging and death throes take up the better part of two pages.

“Wild Will, the Swell Thief” is an interesting precursor to the gentleman thief character done so well by Guy Boothby, in his Simon Carne stories, by E.W. Hornung in his Raffles stories, and by Maurice LeBlanc in his Arsène Lupin stories. Wild Will is a “Swell,” or a stylishly dressed gentleman of good social position. He was a bank clerk who was seduced by a “dark-eyed the name of Rosa Waters,” and so stole £1000 and went to the Continent with her. After the money was gone she left him, and so he returned to London. But with his reputation in tatters, wanted for questioning the police, and with no employment prospects, Will turned to crime. He’s bright and a handsome young man, and so found crime not particularly difficult. He does find the usual thief pursuits of gambling and drinking a bore, and finds “ungrammatical” people distasteful, and so, despite being friends with Bob O’Link and the rest of the Black Brethren, Will usually works alone–or, when he finds a likely lad, like Harry Spaldings (remember him?), with an assistant. He’s a boulevardier who lives in high style, affects an aristocratic air, “drives a trap in gay style,” and uses the language of fops (“demmed,” “slap-up”). He also smokes, drinks, and when vexed uses bad language, which is to be expected of a thief, right? He’s a habitué of the West End, and his preferred method of crime is to check into a high class hotel using his identities of “Lord Fitzboodle” and “Captain de Vere” and to rob the other guests of the hotel. When pressed, he changes into a cook’s uniform and escapes from the hotel that way. His downfall comes when he encounters “Rosa Waters” again, this time as Lady Shepherd. He tries to disfigure her in a crowded restaurant and is arrested for it, which leads to his execution.

ild Will (II). The redoubtable Wild Will was introduced in Wild Will, or The pirates of the Thames, an 1865 12-part serial that was written by "Percival Wolfe," the pseudonym of Charles H. Ross, a penny dreadful author about whom I know nothing. Wild Will is one of the more entertaining dreadfuls, in large part because the author didn't let the societal expectation of a happy or culturally-approved ending get in the way of telling a fun story. Yes, Wild Will is fun, I admit it. It's about Wild Will and his gang of rovers; they are street arabs who have a lair somewhere in East London and who prey on the shipping that comes into and which leaves London. Their favored tactic is to swim out to the ship before it has docked (if it's incoming) or after it has left its mooring (if it's outgoing), seize the pilot, and steer it into the middle of the Thames and to let it drift while Wild Will and the Rovers loot the ship, taking the most valuable and portable goods (including the crew's personal valuables). They then jump overboard, swim to shore, and scatter through the alleys and sewers, reassembling in their hideout, an abandoned and burned out inn.

Will has an infallible nose for ships, always knowing which ones are entering London laden  with goods and which ones to avoid; no cause is given for his knowledge, it's just assumed that he's always right. He's a street arab, just like the rest of the gang, and is roughly their age. The only real difference between them is that he's got a take-charge personality and a great amount of determination. Like them, he is impudent, disrespectful of authority, made hard (but not bad or without compassion) by a desperate life, and eager to make a good life for himself by whatever means he can, which in this case is by piracy.

Will and the Rovers are not bad, however, and they seem to split their time between stealing from ships (both foreign and domestic--they do not scruple at stealing from the English) and helping out those in need; they variously save British noblewomen from The Fate Worse Than Death at the hands of opium-smoking Chinamen, return a lost child to his upper-class parents (saving the child from a Russian murderer), and capture a pair of grave-robbers and cadaver thieves. And there are, of course, fights with foreign sailors and desperate pursuits and hairsbreadth escapes from the "peelies" (policemen) and private detectives.

I can't say there's much depth in Wild Will, but it is fun, with the pirates' exploits being described breathlessly but not without a sense of wry humor.

illie. Willie was created by Mrs. Oliphant and appeared in “The Open Door” (Stories of the Seen and the Unseen, 1881). Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897) was one of the most formidable of the Victorian writers; she wrote widely, on a number of subjects, was well-respected in her time, and is seen now as one of the best writers of the supernatural of the century. “The Open Door” was my first exposure to Mrs. Oliphant, and I fully concur with the consensus opinion of her. The story’s outstanding and made me want to search out more of her stories.

Colonel Mortimer is a former India hand who moves to Brentwood, a small rural village near Edinburgh. He settles his family there, and they begin to enjoy the change from India–especially the Colonel’s son Roland, a sensitive and intelligent lad of frail health. The Colonel is in London on business when he gets several frantic messages that something is wrong with Roland. The Colonel rushes home to discover that Roland is weak and confined to bed. But on speaking with Roland the Colonel finds that what ails him is not a sickness, but a secret: Roland has been hearing an awful voice from a doorway standing in ruins near to the house. The voice cries out, “Oh, mother, let me in! Oh, mother, let me in!” Roland has made himself sick worrying about the voice, for he is sure that it is a ghost, and in pain, and he wants to help it and can’t. Roland is equally sure that his father can do something about it, and now that his father has arrived believes that all will be well. The Colonel is doubtful, both about the ghost and his ability to do something about it, but agrees to try to do something. The Colonel then quizzes the local coachmen and his wife, who both confess that, yes, the area is haunted, and no, they won’t accompany him in an in-person investigation. The Colonel then hears a sigh, while passing by the ruins, and fetches his man Bagley to investigate the matter up close. They hear a frightening and heart wrenching series of moans and cries, culminating with the “Oh, mother, let me in!” which Roland had spoken of. The Colonel is no longer frightened by the cries, but is instead affected by them, sure that some creature is in pain and that it must be helped. The Colonel sees Roland’s doctor, Simson, who scoffs at the very thought of ghosts but is finally persuaded to accompany the Colonel to the doorway and the ruins the following night. They hear it all again, with the doctor gracelessly admitting that there might be more in the world than lies in his philosophy. Finally the Colonel consults the local minister, a pleasant and open-minded fellow who agrees to go with the Colonel. As soon as the minister hears the cry he recognizes the voice and begins responding with a kind of exorcism:

Willie, lad! Why come ye here frighting them that know you not? Why came ye not to me? this right to come here? Your mother’s gone with your name on her lips. Do you think she would ever close her door on her own lad? Do ye think the Lord will close the door, ye faint-hearted creature? No!–I forbid ye!...go home, ye wandering spirit! Go home!
A vague something leaps through the doorway and then disappears, and from that point forward the doorway and the ruins are no longer haunted, and Roland recovers.

“The Open Door” is excellent. Oliphant’s style is not quite refined, but she does a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere in which the appearance of the ghost, Willie, is convincing but also arouses the reader’s sympathy. Oliphant’s characterization is efficient, but her descriptions of the scenery around the doorway, the sounds made by Willie, and of the Colonel’s physical reactions on hearing the sounds and on trying investigate the cause of the sounds are superb. The scenes in the darkness, when the Colonel hears the sounds but can see nothing, are at times chilling. Oliphant makes a good use of the Scottish environment and the use of Gaelic, but most of the story is told in a straightforward and easily understood fashion.

Interestingly, Willie is not a malevolent ghost, but a sad one. There’s a level of sympathy and even compassion in “The Open Door” which is often missing from Victorian ghost stories. When the ghost appears Roland is not afraid of it, but rather afraid for it, and sad for it, and wants his father to help the ghost. When the Colonel hears Willies’ cries he reacts in the same way–“this spirit in pain...was a poor fellow-creature in misery, to be succoured and helped out of his trouble”–and goes to great lengths to help Willie, so that the minister’s exorcism is not done as an attack on the ghost but rather as a way to help the ghost meet its final reward. This change in the ghost’s nature and the reaction of the characters to the ghost is surprising to me, and quite welcome.

Finally, the character of Doctor Simson is that of a skeptic, and a particularly blind one. Most likely Mrs. Oliphant, who wrote “The Open Door” soon after the death of her son, wrote the story as a rebuttal to and slam on materialists and skeptics.

Willie is a sympathetic character, a profligate and wastrel who fell into bad company. “The young man had come home thus a day or two after his mother died...and distracted with the news, had thrown himself down at the door and called upon her to let him in.” Even after his death he continued to call for her.

olgemuth, Basil. Basil Wolgemuth was created by “Mrs. Craik” and appeared in “The Rosicrucian” (Avillion and Other Tales, 1853). Dinah Mariah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) was the creator of Mrs. Thwaite, and I cover her there.

“The Rosicrucian” is a cautionary tale about Rosicrucianism and the heartless pursuit of knowledge. Basil Wolgemuth is a dreamy young student who has two conflicting desires. The first is to be with his family, his gentle loving mother and his devoted, caring sister Margareta, and especially with the great love of his life Isilda. Isilda and Basil have loved each other since childhood, but it is only very recently, during “The Rosicrucian” itself, that they admit their love for each other and plight their troths together, to become man and wife. Basil’s second desire is to plumb the depths of nature’s secrets. Toward this end he has become a Rosicrucian and studies under Michael Meyer himself. Meyer has given Basil his book of knowledge, and Basil has studied it closely, but so far he has not seen any of the nature spirits which God created. Part of the problem, as Michael points out and which Basil admits to himself, is that a true Rosicrucian must cast aside all his emotional ties and deaden himself to human, earthly pleasures, and this is something Michael is finding quite difficult to do, especially with the lovely, sweet, and innocent Isilda near him. But one night the Salamandrine, the spirit of Fire, appears in Basil’s fireplace and speaks with him, and the two begin carrying on long conversations. Time passes; Basil’s mother dies, and Basil grows distant from Isilda and Margareta as the Salamandrine shows him more of nature’s secrets and he wanders through the mountains, seeing the Sylphs of the air and the beautiful watery Undines. Basil even is harsh to Isilda, realizing that he must leave her behind if he is to truly master the secrets of the Rosey Cross. Isilda continues to love him, however; she has idolized him from childhood and believes he can do no wrong. Then, one night, Basil sees Isilda’s house on fire, and he dashes into her burning home to rescue her. But as he holds her the spirits of the air grow faint and vanish, and Basil blames Isilda for driving them from her, and when she shrieks, “No power in heaven or earth shall tear us asunder–thou art mine, Basil–let me lie for thee–die for thee!” he responds by stabbing her. From that point forward none of the spirits appear to him, and the Salamandrine, now invisible, tells him that only the pure of heart and intent can commune with the invisible, and that sin has now polluted him. He dies two days later, and Margareta takes to a convent.

“The Rosicrucian” is part of that minor genre of anti-Rosicrucian stories. They might seem amusing to us now, but in the 19th century the Rosicrucians and their philosophy (or, rather, what their philosophy was perceived as being) were mysterious and somewhat sinister. They were often cast as having some kind of superior knowledge but also as being unwholesome and dangerous to be around, so that writers as various as Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, in Axel, Balzac, in The Centenarian, and Bulwer-Lytton, in A Strange Story (see the Margrave entry), wrote cautionary tales about them. Michael Meyer, in “The Rosicrucian,” is not sinister; he’s almost avuncular, and he sees Rosicrucianism as a good vehicle for helping mankind, healing the sick, and becoming closer to God. But his ethos, Rosicrucianism, with its demands for a severing of emotional ties with humanity, is sinister, and Craik shows this.

The story isn’t bad, although it’s not nearly as good as “The Last House on C---- Street” (from which Mrs. Thwaite comes). The characters are somewhat melodramatic and stereotypical, and the story is clearly didactic. But Craik has a nice touch with the imagery, and the recurring motif of fire is well handled.

Basil’s a bit of a schmuck. He means well, but his stupid “dreamy student” act–well, it’s not an act, he really is a dreamy student, but it’s just as annoying when it’s real as when it’s a pose, isn’t it?–gets him into trouble and leads to tears and death. Unlike his master, Basil wants the secrets of nature for their own sake, rather than to help others, and he is willing to sacrifice the love his sister and betrothed bear for him just to get that knowledge. He deserves what he gets, but poor Isilda does not.

ooden-Leg. Wooden-Leg was created by James Grant and appeared in “The Phantom Regiment” (The Phantom Regiment, 1856). Grant (1822-1887) was a British novelist born in Scotland. He wrote a number of historical romances and books on Scottish history and became an advocate for Scottish rights. “The Phantom Regiment” is his best known ghost story.

“The Phantom Regiment” is the story of one year in the life of Ewen Mac Ewen, a Scots soldier of the 19th century. After many years’ service in the British Army he returns home to Moray, a much graver and more religious man. He builds himself a cottage and discovers that his new neighbor is his childhood sweetheart, Meinie, recently widowed. So they marry again and live happily for fifteen years. But then Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly is published and a wave of tourists cause the road past Ewen’s house, which leads to the plain of Culloden, to be popular, so much so that a toll-bar is placed on the road and Ewen becomes the gate-keeper. This additional income allows Ewen to build a second floor on his house and even make one of the rooms available to let. The first winter no one rents the room, and so by the following April Ewen is feeling desperate for tenants. Then, on the night of one of the most dreadful storms in memory, a tenant appears and demands the room. He’s a profane man, one-eyed and with a wooden leg, who seems to drink nothing but whiskey flavored with gun-powder and who has a deliberately abrasive manner. And, as is quickly revealed, he was one of the soldiers of the “German Butcher,” the Great Duke of Cumberland, “whose merciless massacre of the wounded clansmen and their defenceless families will never be forgotten in Scotland while oral tradition and written record exist.” This revelation infuriates Ewen, who as a good Scotsman has nothing but hatred for such a man, but Ewen remembers that the man, who he privately dubs “Wooden-Leg,” is his guest, and further that such behavior would not become a good Christian. So Ewen accepts the man’s money and grants him the room for the year. Ewen quickly regrets his decision, for Wooden-Leg is a loud guest who sets Ewen’s and Meinie’s teeth on edge: irreverent and anti-religious, profane and a drunkard, given to comments which offend Ewen’s Jacobite ways–and “unco” in ways which trouble Ewen. Sometimes raised voices are heard from Wooden-Leg’s room, and sometimes Wooden-Leg can be heard quarreling, though with who Ewen doesn’t know. Wooden-Leg’s career as a soldier seems peculiarly long, for he seems to have fought in various armies and in various battles for at least eighty years, if not more. And then Wooden-Leg begins telling the story of how he was killed. He’d fallen among the Cherokee and been adopted by them, but after six months he grew bored with his marriage to a good Cherokee woman, so he betrayed them and led the British against their village. But the Cherokee’s Sachem scalped him and then killed him. Ewen simply thinks that Wooden-Leg is mad and longs for the year to end. Finally the last night arrives, and with it a huge storm, one to match the storm which brought Wooden-Leg to the house. Wooden-Leg talks about his friends coming to get him and Ewen hears the sound of troops marching outside. He goes out to open the gate and sees a long line of soldiers, dressed in uniforms of the time of King George II. What is terrifying about them is the way the storm does not seem to affect them and the ghastly expression on their faces. Leading them is a plump commander with a face distorted with mental agony and remorse. Wooden-Leg marches with them into the darkness, and they vanish. Though some do not believe Ewen’s story, even though he and his wife and children swore affidavits about the event, many others do, and the story goes that on the anniversary of the Duke of Cumberland’s slaughter of the clansmen, he and his murdering soldiers march to the graves of the victims in yearly penance.

Grant’s speciality was Scottish history, and he puts it to good use in “The Phantom Regiment.” Even though Grant is obviously riding his particular hobbyhorse–he was, as I mentioned, an advocate for Scottish rights–he does well in combining a period of Scottish history with a particular kind of ghost story, which might be called the “Phantom Regiment” story. (Another version of this appears in “The Roll Call of the Reef;” see the John Christian entry). Grant also has a good touch and recreating the bygone time and place through the use of vernacular (though not, thank heaven, the use of the Scottish dialect which ruined Rob Roy). Grant also has some nice descriptions of scenery. I didn’t find the supernatural elements as successful. Wooden-Leg was meant to be both unco (uncanny, weird, unnatural) and abrasive, and mostly succeeded only at the latter. But on the whole “The Phantom Regiment” was enjoyable.

Wooden-Leg is a bastard, and enjoys being so. In life he was a murderer of helpless men, a violator of woman, a bad soldier who enjoyed the killing, and someone who would think nothing of leaving a pregnant wife for the wild animals to devour. He’s a small but strong man with a rat-like face and a basilisk-like eye. He deserves his fate.

oodwoman. The Woodwoman was created by Ludwig Tieck and appeared in "Der Runenberg," which first appeared in Taschenbuch für Kunst und Laune (1804). Tieck (1773-1853) was one of the foremost German Romantic writers; although best known for his play Der Gestiefelte Kater, which makes use of Puss-in-Boots to satirise literary trends, he also produced a number of Gothics, including "Der Runenberg," Phatasus (1816), and Abdallah, oder das furchtbare Opfer (Abdallah, or the Horrible Sacrifice, 1795).

"Der Runenberg" is about Christian, a young hunter, who is wandering around the haunted slopes of Der Runenberg when he discovers a ruined castle. In the castle is a mineshaft, which Christian enters. In the shaft he encounters a nude woman, who gives him a magic tablet of stones. Christian takes it and returns to the lowlands, where he marries the fair Elizabeth and prospers. Years later, however, the Woodwoman comes for him, leaving him a sum of gold which ultimately ruins him as well as infects him with her song, and Christian leaves his wife and family behind to rejoin the Woodwoman. Christian's assumed to be dead and his family is ruined. Years later Christian returns, a ruined man, and briefly meets Elizabeth again before returning to the Woodwoman for a final time.

right, Jack. Jack Wright, the second most important science fiction dime novel hero after Frank Reade, Jr., was introduced in The Boys' Star Library #216, July 18, 1891, in "Jack Wright, the Boy Inventor; or, Hunting for a Sunken Treasure;" he went on to appear in 121 stories in Boys' Star Library, Boys of New York, and Happy Days.  Like Reade, Jr., Wright was created by Luis Senarens. Senarens claimed to have written all of the Jack Wright stories, but there is some doubt as to the truthfulness of this claim; Frederick van Rensselaer Dey, a dime novelist responsible for, among other things, a large number of the Nick Carter stories, has been credited as having written at least a few of Wright's appearances.

Jack Wright is, in many ways, a duplicate of Frank Reade, Jr., and so I'm not going to spend as much space analyzing him or his adventures; they are alike in most ways, including the recapitulation of Senarens' bigotry. The main difference between the two is that Wright's adventurers were wilder and more imaginative, with Wright creating more exotic inventions and crafts, finding lost cities and races, and fighting more bizarre enemies; in his second adventure he accompanies Admiral Decatur on his expedition against the Barbary pirates. (That that expedition occurred decades before Wright's creation was not addressed, and time travel was not used in the story; Senarens just commingled time and space for the sake of the story). Wright's adventures weren't as popular with the readers, however, and his stories stirred a backlash against Senarens and against the dime novel Edisonades; critics saw them as "drawn from the dark pits of madness" and were concerned about "the destructive influence of such subject matter upon the minds of a younger generation." Senarens was eventually forced into a hiatus from writing because of the strong criticism of his Jack Wright stories.

Wright lives in a seacoast town about an hour's train ride north of New York City; later adventures reveal it to be named "Wrightstown." He starts out as a bright, plucky 17-year-old who is a whiz at inventing things; his talents come from his father, an inventor who recently died. He's described as being

a magnificently-built young man, clad in neat clothing, and having a face that showed great kindness and courage. He was not handsome–on the contrary, he was rather an ordinary dark-eyed fellow, with rather intelligent, thin features, but it was very evident that what he lacked in beauty he compensated for in courage.
He begins with the construction of his Sea Spider, assisted and accompanied by his two faithful comic relief companions, Tim Topstay, an elderly one-legged sailor and former messmate of Jack's father who is given to lying about his nautical exploits, and Fritz Schneider, a stout young Dutchman/German. As the adventures roll by, Jack builds ever-more exotic crafts (sometimes wrecking them in the course of a story, as Frank Reade, Jr. is prone to do) and gains (and occasionally loses) great wealth, as well as fighting the requisite bad guys. Like Reade Jr., he ends up killing a lot of people, especially non-WASPs; the portrayals of Mexicans, Jews, Asians, African-Americans, Africans, and various other native groups, including the Australian aborigines, are if anything more vile than in the Frank Reade, Jr. stories, with some stories being literally unbelievably offensive; it's hard today to imagine how anyone could have had such a venomous stew of biases as Luis Senarens. (In one or two stories the portrayal of various Native American peoples, such as the Apache, is not entirely negative, an authorial move on Senarens' part that is shocking in its innovation) Wright, like Reade Jr., goes after the James Boys, and in one adventure Wright and Reade Jr. actually race each other around the world to win a bet for $10,000. (Wright wins) Wright, like Frank Reade and Frank Reade, Jr., eventually grows older and has a son just like him.

The following is a quick summary of his adventures and his inventions:

Jack Wright fought against "Indians" in the Western prairies, armed only with his "prairie yacht." He fought against the James Boys (using his "electric stage," naturally). He took on pirates with his invisible "phantom boat." In Siberia he fought against tribal bandits with his "electric air rocket," which also later took him into space. In his "ocean plunger" submarine he went up against piratical whale hunters. He took on "demons" (evil murderers dressed up as supernatural foes) in his "flying torpedo," which also took him to the Sahara to fight slavers. Among the "cannibals of the deep" he used his "electric submarine ranger;" against similar nautical fiends he used his "electric sea-fighter." His "electric balloon boat" took him above the clouds, and he crossed the ocean on his "electric sea horse." He ranged across the Australian outback in his "electric roadster." His "air-ship on wheels" was of great use versus the pirates and descendants of Vikings at Cape Farewell, off the south coast of Greenland. His invisible "phantom frigate" went across the seas. He used a flying, flame-breathing "electric dragon." He used a one-man flying "electric bat" against remote hillbillies in the Sierras, all to find a ton-and-a-half of gold. Wright fought against headhunters along the west coast of Africa in his "electric pirate-chaser" ship. His "wheel of the wind," an electrically generated and controlled whirlwind, helped him take many jewels away from the "volcano dwellers" of various Pacific islands.  He has a submarine (an "electric battery diver") with a two-months' supply of air. His powerfully-armed "submarine destroyer" (guided torpedoes, electricity guns, powerful rifles and machine guns) put paid to Japanese pirates using ships and submarines, and also took on inhuman creatures from the "sea of gold" (a stretch of the South Pacific) with it. He used his "imp of the ocean" (another armed ship/sub) to defeat a bunch of men preying on shipwrecked sailors (and using ships to sink those that avoided being shipwrecked) near "Whirlpool Reef." His "electric ripper," much like Speed Racer's car, was armed with buzz saws and plows, to make its way through the jungle. His "electric sledge boat" took him across the Arctic and into Alaska. He fought against villainous fortune hunters in the Red Sea while looking for lost Egyptian gold. His "underwater wrecking raft" helped take gold from a sunken galleon. His "electric tricycle boat" took on a hidden group of lost Aztecs in the jungles of Mexico and Hashishin stranglers in the Crimson desert, deep in the wastes of the Sahara. He searched for, and found, the lost treasure of Captain Kidd in his electric bicycle boat. In his "deep-sea diving-bell" submarine he fought against the pirates of Africa's Gold Coast. He has an invisible "electric `sea ghost.'" He has a giant helicopter-like "magnetic hurricane" which he takes to Asia. In his "electric torpedo ram" he finds Atlantis and its inimical inhabitants. On his "electric horse" he rides from New England to Patagonia. He discovers a lost race in South America in his "winged gunboat." He cruised the Bering sea in his "whalebacked privateer."  In his "iron-clad air-motor" he went searching for a lost explorer in the jungles of Africa. His feedless electric locomotive (quite similar to Frank Reade's, actually) helped him find the lost mine of Death Valley. He has an "electric demon of the plains"--a wildly-shaped beast-looking engine with arms and tusks that he uses against and among the cowboys of the West. He's got electric devil-fish, monarchs of the ocean, marine rovers, whales; he's got a dandy of the deep; an "ocean sleuth-hound"; his dog-like "electric deers (sic)" hunt down bandits in the Black Hills; his "under-water iron-clad" fights pirates and bandits along the Arabian Coast. He worked for the Revenue Service with his electric canoe. He went around the world in 20 days in his high-speed "ocean racer." He had a "submarine torpedo-tug." His "electric side-wheel boat" went against the pirates of the Coral Isles.

Some examples of Wright's inventions, in slightly more detail:

His "electric turtle," an undersea vessel he calls "The Turtle," is around a hundred feet long, is streamline, and has four flipper legs which it uses to propel itself forward. It's got pneumatic cannon and jaws (in its "head") which Jack uses to bite off the propellers and rudders of enemy ships. Jack takes The Turtle with him against the Barbary pirates. ("Jack Wright and his Electric Turtle; or, Chasing the Pirates of the Spanish Main," Boys' Star Library #220, 15 August 1891)

Wright took The Hurricane into action against various Mexicans, slaughtering hundreds of them and narrowly avoiding being burned at the stake. (A lost golden city hidden in the Sierra Madres is at stake) The Hurricane is a super-car; it is self-propelled, powered by an enormous electric magnet which produces electricity, which powers the locomotive-like Hurricane. (The Hurricane appeared in other stories, a prominent exception to the rule that each story had to feature a new invention) The Hurricane is armor-plated and has "pneumatic cannon," but has its quirks; when the story calls for it the Hurricane will not stop or start. ("Jack Wright and his Magnetic Motor; or, the Golden City of the Sierras," Boys' Star Library #234, December 1891)

Wright creates a new train-like land-craft, the Tempest, just before he is called to Australia to find a hidden city containing a golden idol "with a diamond three inches across in its forehead."  The Tempest is a "landrover" (a Senarens term for an all-purpose land vehicle) with a razor-sharp cow-catcher, scythe-bladed wheels, and electricity-based weapons (including live wires that Jack uses to kill "the worst bushranger in the land"), in addition to the usual armor and cannon. ("Jack Wright and his Prairie Engine; or, Among the Bushmen of Australia," Boys' Star Library #246, 27 February 1892)

Wright takes a world tour, killing Russians and a bear, in his Eagle, a dirigible which has "an enormous aluminum cylinder from which air has been extracted" and a cabin with living quarters, engines and weapons; it is electrically propelled and magnetised. ("Jack Wright and his Electric Balloon Ship; or, 30,000 Leagues Above the Earth," Boys' Star Library #317, September 1893)

The Jack Wright stories are historically important, as important examples of early science fantasy and of the Edisonade dime novels, but as mentioned the bigotries of the stories, and the shameless glorification in the slaughter of non-WASPs, are extreme. The stories are worth reading, and decrying.

ung-Ti. Wung-Ti was created by Hume Nisbet and appeared in 'Bail Up!' A Romance of Bushrangers and Blacks (1890). Nisbet (1849-1923) was a Scots Australian artist, traveler and author. He wrote a number of different works, including some very good horror stories and the notable pirate yarn Kings of the Sea, which will eventually be included on this site. 'Bail Up!' is a fairly ordinary bushranger (Australian bandit) story. It's about Raike Morris, a good, decent young man done wrong by a cruel, lying small town official who and forced into a life of crime. Raike carries out a series of thefts and becomes known as "Captain Deadwood," but through it all he longs for a calmer life. He meets and falls in love with Judith Higgins, the niece of the man who ruined him, and the two fall in love. They go on the run together, and after separation, imprisonment, attacks by the natives, and a very dangerous sea journey, they live happily ever after on a Pacific Island.

'Bail Up!', as I say, is a fairly ordinary bushranger story. Nisbet uses his obvious familiarity with Australia to decent effect, with effective descriptions of the landscape and settlers and Australian slang, although the over-use of pidgin, both English/Chinese and English/native, quickly grows tiresome and embarrassing. There is the predictable racism, benign toward the Chinese of the novel, esp. Wung-Ti (more on whom in a bit), not so benign toward the "black" natives. The characterisation is utilitarian but one-dimensional and the action scenes quite average. Interestingly, the novel is quite friendly toward the Freemasons; Raike Morris is one, as is Wung-Ti, and the novel depicts the Masons as having lodges everywhere and being quite able to help their members when necessary, regardless of the difficulty they find themselves in. And there's the moment when Raike, dreaming, astrally projects himself, so that he spies on the other characters.

The reason I'm including 'Bail Up!' here is Wung-Ti. The redoubtable Jessica Amanda Salmonson (of the wonderful antiquarian bookstore Violet Books) calls 'Bail Up!' "a precursor to the Fu Manchu novels." With respect--a great deal of respect--to JAS (who is a professional in the field of 19th century letters, where I'm just an educated amateur), this is only so in the broadest sense. Wung-Ti isn't the main character in 'Bail Up!', although he is the closest thing Raike Morris has to a male friend in the novel, but he is not the villain of the piece, and is, if anything, a rogue and sidekick rather than the novel's bad guy. In the sense that Wung-Ti, as a Chinese male, is presented as formidable and capable of murder, theft, and other acts of villainy, then yes, Wung-Ti is a precursor to Fu Manchu. But Wung-Ti lacks the military aspect of Kiang-Ho, the crime boss attribute of Quong Lung, the military aspect of Dr. Yen How, and the sorcerous/alchemical abilities of Yue-Laou, the four main prototypes of Fu Manchu. Wung-Ti is just a formidable rogue. He's also known as "Shan Futsye," but Wung-Ti seems to be his real name. He's Raike's brother-in-crime, and very good at it. He saves Raike's life at least twice, and it's quite clear that, as far as crime and physical activities, Wung-Ti is Raike's superior. Raike is more moral than Wung-Ti, and a better Christian, but Wung-Ti is kind to those he likes and very loyal to Raike and Judith. Wung-Ti is a Freemason, quite cunning, extremely strong, blandly lethal, calmly amoral, has great energy and endurance, and often uses opium but refuses to drink spirits.

ipehuz. The Xipéhuz were created by “J.-H. Rosny (aîné)” and appeared in “Les Xipéhuz” (The Shapes, L’Immolation, 1887). “J.-H. Rosny (aîné)” was the pen-name of Joseph-Henri-Honoré  Böex (1866-1940), a French author. For many years after his death Böex was virtually forgotten, due in part to his prolificity (which never gains respect from the Academie–see how they treated poor Balzac) and in part to the majority of his work being written in disrespected genres like science fiction and prehistoric romances. But in recent years critics and academics have begun paying him more attention and giving him the credit he deserves. Böex, you see, produced (alongside some dire “realistic” novels) some quite remarkable science fiction and is considered one of the most influential figures, with Jules Verne, in the development of science fiction in France. “Les Xipéhuz” is one of his most famous, and best, stories.

“Les Xipéhuz” is set circa 5000 B.C.E. in the Middle East. A nomad tribe, the Pjehu, discover a group of “translucent bluish cones, point uppermost, each nearly half the bulk of a man...each one had a dazzling star near its base,” clustered around a spring. When the Pjehu draw close to the cones, or “the Shapes” as the narrator calls them, the Shapes attack them, killing many (all warriors, no women, children, or sick or aged). But the Shapes do not pursue the Pjehu beyond a certain distance and ignore them if they are left alone. The Pjehu, shaken, consult a group of local priests, who decide that the Shapes are gods and that they must be sacrificed to. But the Shapes kill those priests who approach them. After experimentation with slaves the distance beyond which the Shapes will not pursue is determined, and so the priests set that boundary with stakes and decree that the Shapes are to be left alone. But other tribes do not hear about the priests’ decree or ignore it, and those who cross the boundary are massacred. Then the Shapes begin expanding their territory, killing hundreds of warriors. All the tribes of Mesopotamia begin fearing for the existence of Man, and some turn to dark cults. Finally the wise man consult Bakhun, who had abandoned a nomadic life for a pastoral one and had flourished, and who believed odd, unusual things (like the sun, moon, and stars not being gods but “luminous masses,” and that “men should really believe only in those things tested by measurement”). Bakhun tells them that he will dedicate his life to studying the Shapes. He does so, and draws a number of significant conclusions, primary of which is that they are living beings rather than spirits or gods. Bakhun also, after years of study, deduces what their weakness is–the star at their base–and so tells the priests and elders and chiefs what he sees. Many tens of thousand of the warriors of “the plain of Mehur-Asar” flock to the cause, and a war is launched on the Xipéhuz. After a few setbacks and great loss of life, the Xipéhuz are destroyed and humanity’s future assured. Bakhun, however, mourns the fact that the survival of Man required the death of the Xipéhuz, that “the splendor of Life be tarnished by the Shadow of Murder!”

“Les Xipéhuz” is a remarkable achievement on several levels, made even more so when you consider that it was Böex’s first story. “Les Xipéhuz” is one of the first stories of the 19th century to present truly alien, non-anthropomorphized beings. Most aliens seen in 19th century science fiction were some variant of Earth creature and often (though by no means always) humanoid–a quick skim through this site will show you ample examples. But the Xipéhuz are not only alien in shape (geometric, silicon/crystalline forms rather than carbon-based forms modeled on animals or insects) but alien in mind set. Their temperaments and personalities are familiar, or seem to be, to Bakhun, but their motives and background are quite alien, not just to Bakhun but also to the modern reader. Modern science writers often find it difficult to create truly alien aliens. That a 21-year-old did it in his first story, before science fiction had coalesced into a distinct genre and at a time when the vast majority of fictional “aliens” were lightly-disguised humans or monsters, is exceptional.

“Les Xipéhuz” is also notable for the way in which it merges the prehistoric genre with science fiction. Such a combination is not extraordinary today, but in 1887 it was practically unheard of. There simply was not a lot of genre mixing, certainly not in the postmodern way we’ve come to expect today. Stories generally stuck to one genre–not always, certainly–horror and ghost story authors made use of a number of genres to tell their stories–but for the most part. There were very, very few detective stories which weren’t set in the present day and made use of anything speculative or fantastic, and science fiction stories rarely ventured outside the accepted boundaries for science fiction. (They didn’t have the phrase “science fiction” then, of course, but everyone knew what science fiction was even if they hadn’t articulated to themselves what it was). In 1887 there were science fiction stories (to give you some perspective, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886, A Voice From Another World (see the Aleriel entry) was published in 1882, and Across the Zodiac (see the Apergy entry) was published in 1880), and there had been a few prehistorical stories, but there weren’t any stories combining the two. In fact “Les Xipéhuz” is an anticipation of Vamireh, Roman Des Temps Primitifs (1892), by Böex and his brother Séraphin-Justin-François, who published jointly as “J.-H. Rosny.” Vamireh was not the first prehistoric novel, but it was the Böexs’ first of five, with the fifth, La Guerre du Feu (1911), gaining them fame. Böex is known as “the Father of the Prehistoric Novel” for his influence and output in that subgenre, and “Les Xipéhuz” is his first in that field. Again, though, it’s a combination of the prehistoric story along with science fiction.

Finally, “Les Xipéhuz” is notable for the fluid way in which Böex switches styles. The middle passage, written in modern (19th century) scientific terminology, is hard science, but uses the explanatory approach of Golden Age (1940s/1950s) science fiction authors. The final section, in Bakhun’s voice, is reminiscent of modern heroic fantasy fiction, with made-up fantasy names (“Dzums, Sahrs, Khaldes”) and fantasy terminology and phrasing (“Anakhre, the third son of my wife Tepai, was a mighty maker of weapons”). It might seem like a confused mishmash, but in the context of the story, with interstitial explanations for the differing styles, the switches work, and work well.

Additionally, “Les Xipéhuz” reads well as a story. I can’t speak to Böex’s style in the original French, but the Damon Knight translation shows a very clean and straightforward style with the occasional vivid image. There’s a certain over-earnestness to some of the expressions, but on the whole it reads smoothly and effectively, without any of the padding, posturing, or pontificating that American and British sf authors were prone to and without the obsession with verisimilitude which Verne tended towards.

The Xipéhuz are silicon-based, geometric-shaped alien beings, most in cone shape, nearly all cylindrical, but some tall and thin and others short and squat, some in cone shape and some rectangular slabs. Their shapes and colors can change, but they generally remain cylindrical and bluish green. They communicate by flashing lines in various shapes across their sides. They can kill by focusing rays from the “stars” at their base. They have individual personalities and are at least somewhat comprehensible by humans, but their purpose for coming to Earth, besides an apparent drive for expansion, is unknown, as is their culture and much else about them. They are truly alien, and only slightly comprehensible.

A. Abällino to Axel
B. Hajji Baba to Amelia Butterworth
C. Cahina to Inspector John Cutting
D. The Damned Thing to Dyson
E. Robert Easterley to Pedro Arbuez d'Espila
F. Fantomas to the Fulgurator
G. "G" to Dr. Ginochio Gyves
H. Les Habits Noir to the Hypnotist
I-J. Ichor to Rob Joslyn
K. Kai Lung to Kreuzgang.
L. Lady Detectives to Arsène Lupin
M. Madame Koluchy to Dora Myrl
N. Nameless Child to Alice Nutter
O. Jack O'Halloran to Ozmar the Mystic
P. Pan to Psammead
Q. Dr. Jack Quartz to Quong Lung
R. A.J. Raffles to Lord Ruthven
S. Mr. Sabin to Count Szémioth
T-U. Adrian Temple to Undine
V. Vaila to Vril
W. Hilda Wade to Wung-Ti
X-Y. Xipéhuz to Yuki-onna
Z. Zaleski to Zoe

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