Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker was included in my Audible subscription, so in the cause of dipping into more of the Gothic literary classics, I gladly gave this one a listen. People tend to overlook Stoker's other works, which are overshadowed by the perennial favourite, Dracula. I do think it important to offer a little context for The Jewel of Seven Stars, which came about during the time when much of Europe was in the grips of Egyptomania during the twilight years of the British Empire. Many wonderful archaeological discoveries were being made in Egypt during this time, which deeply fascinated many, and most certainly also inspired imaginations and sparked myriad esoterically minded folks to flavour their approaches to mysticism. Which is a completely different topic for another time.

The Jewel of Seven Stars
is also very much a product of its time, deeply embedded in the culture of British Imperialism and Victorian sensibilities (hah). And yet, as I've observed in Dracula, there's a subtle current of feminism at work – this time expressed in the characters Margaret Trelawny and the fictional ancient Egyptian queen Tera.

Margaret is the precocious daughter of the Egyptologist Abel Trelawny, and she is no shrinking violet, even though the men around her try to pull the usual stunt of treating her like a delicate bloom. Queen Tera ruled thousands of years ago, and not only was she a woman ruling as pharaoh in a traditionally male-dominated society, but she was a powerful sorcerer who held sway over the material and unseen worlds. So feared was she, that when she was eventually interred, great pains were taken to ensure that no one went near her tomb.

Fast forward a thousand centuries or so, and Tera's eternal slumber is indeed disturbed when explorers carry off her mummy and grave goods, thereby unleashing a powerful curse (a theme often exploited in media related to ancient Egypt). We follow the story primarily from the first-person narrative of Malcom Ross, a barrister upon whom Margaret calls to help solve the mystery of the ailment that strikes her father. We also dip into the journal of an explorer who first describes the ominously named Valley of the Sorcerer, where Tera is entombed. 

What follows is part attempted-murder mystery, part-horror, as Malcolm, Margaret, and others, try to discover what forces threaten Abel. We are transported from the logical world Malcolm is accustomed to, to a milieu of unquiet spirits, malevolent mummies, and magic. In my research, I discovered that Stoker wrote two endings for this book, and I'm glad that this edition has the happier one (although the first ending he wrote is entirely delicious in its own way). I do feel that the second ending is not as powerful or cataclysmic as that in Dracula, but this is nonetheless an intriguing and engaging novel that will entertain lovers of Gothic literature. To close, Simon Vance is a wonderful narrator, and he did a lovely job with this edition. I'll certainly be hunting down more of the works he's read.

No comments:

Post a Comment