Many years ago, about twenty-five years ago now, I first read Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars. Bram Stoker, you know? The same Bram Stoker who wrote the original novel Dracula, about the now-famous vampire(s) and their hunters. The book I’m writing about today also has to do with the subject of the undead, though of a different kind: this book has in it as main interest a female mummy. Other sub-topics include astral projection, reincarnation, and animal sympathies (or aversions), among others.
Now, when I think back on the book as I recalled it from memory, one main image dominated my thoughts; that was of the heroine, Miss Margaret Trelawny, being experimented on by her father and other interested male friends (that sounds lewd, but I don’t mean for it to, or just downright gory and repellent, which I don’t mean for it to either). I recall an image of her asleep on a bed in a sort of dungeon, with one hand crossed upon her chest; her hand had seven fingers on it, including the thumb. That was the main governing image I retained of the book, and in order to disenchant the reader from this image, I’m going to issue a spoiler alert, and tell some of the actual book’s secrets.
First of all, the book begins in a somewhat Victorian way, with a just-begun courtship of Miss Trelawny by a somewhat older lawyer, Mr. Malcolm Ross. He gets drawn into her life because something mysterious is happening in her life, and she calls for his help. It turns out that her father, who is somewhat stern and forbidding and not well known to her, has been mysteriously attacked in a room in which there was no other living person, only a host of Egyptian artefacts and remnants of a tomb, all of which he had previously transported to his house in England from Eastern sites. In the course of the investigation, her father, who is unconscious from the first attack, gets attacked several more times, with a near miss or two as well. There is no visible person or thing to be seen attacking, and this is in spite of a faithful watch kept in the sickroom by Miss Trelawny, Mr. Ross, and several friends and associates including two different policemen, two nurses, a research acquaintance and friend of Mr. Trelawny’s, and a doctor or two. Which is to say, the contemporary forces of reason and intelligence at the time the book was set in.
The main part of the book takes place between the beginning of the courtship and the time when Mr. Trelawny awakens from his trance, and is comprised of all the guesses and questions (and partial answers) the other characters come up with, especially regarding the female mummy, who has seven fingers on one hand, and whose mummified cat has seven toes, just as Margaret’s pet cat Silvio also does (who for mysterious reasons all his own keeps attacking the mummy cat). In fact, the number seven is extremely prominent in the story, turning up everywhere.
Here’s the problem: Margaret only has five fingers on each hand, not the seven I remembered, and it’s not Margaret who, near the end of the story, is experimented on by being placed in a sarcophagus and going through the magical resurrection ceremony that Mr. Trelawny had discovered in his research of the female mummy: it’s the mummy herself! All the mysterious suggestions that Margaret and the female mummy are related in spite of space and time are suggestions left tantalizing and unresolved. And the book has, I will spoil this part too, a happy ending.
While this book is not a masterpiece, not nearly as thrilling and chilling as Dracula, for example, it is a “good read,” and I would certainly recommend it for a few nights of minor suspense. There are in the book a couple of author’s plot mistakes (places where he contradicts something he previously said). And, you may find the sentimentality of the love story silly, or annoying. Never mind; this is a book with sheer entertainment value, and not much actual Egyptology of a genuine kind. This is a couple of cuts above such books as King Solomon’s Mines and She by H. Rider Haggard, with a frothy charm all its own; or, perhaps given the constant mention of the odor of embalmed beings with all their enchantments and inducements to trance, I should say this book has a smoky charm all its own. In any case, I’m very glad I read it a second time, and got both the visual image and the plot straight, at least. Isn’t memory a funny thing? That one image could leap out at you, and so dominate the surrounding landscape of the rest of the novel as to change one’s memory of the actual plot. This book has no sense of humor, but it doesn’t need one: it has mystery, and a mild form of creepiness. Why not give it a shot?Shadowoperator