I thought earlier that I would continue reading The Lair of the White Worm, despite everything, just to finish the story, but have now reached the point where interest wears thin and I no longer have any reason to continue. Life is too short. But at least, after going through half of it, I can say I know enough to criticise it.
The racism, for 1 thing, is shocking. The word “negro” appears 17 times throughout the book, “nigger” 23 times, and the word “savage” is used 7 times to refer to the character of Oolanga. Oolanga is described as unsoftened savage, low, base, malignant, evil, hateful, barbaric, etc. He with his African origins is used as a device, a character who is human but not fully human—a subhuman, a savage, someone from “the swamp and the forest”, and a kind of devil.
In my previous blog post, I already quoted some revolting passages from Bram Stoker’s book. Now, look at these sentences from the scene where Oolanga expresses his love to Lady Arabella:
“The circumstances were too grotesque, the contrast too violent, for subdued mirth. The man a debased specimen of one of the most primitive races of the earth, and of an ugliness which was simply devilish; the woman of high degree, beautiful, accomplished.” (Ch.13)Imagine that.
I tried to get past all that, but it’s difficult. Would the racism be accepted as a product of its time (1911) if The Lair of the White Worm were otherwise a well-written book? For a moment, I wasn’t so sure, as I looked at great classic works with some deplorable views on women and/or non-white people. But in terms of racism, it’s worse than any novel I’ve ever read, and as disgusting as the white supremacy propaganda and rhetoric I used to read on my Ethnicity and Immigration in America course.
Moreover, in this case luckily there’s no dilemma, because The Lair of the White Worm easily belongs in the bin. It is such a bad book.
The plot is muddled and incoherent, the characterisation is confused and weak, there are too many ideas, mostly crackpot ideas, and Bram Stoker makes a big mistake in switching from Adam Salton’s to the villains’ points of view—Edgar Caswall and Lady Arabella and even Oolanga. Even if they are not narrators, he still comes close to them and switches to their perspective, and shows that he can’t handle the task. The characterisation falls apart. Before anyone protests, of course I’m not expecting any psychological depth, Bram Stoker is not Tolstoy, nor does he try to be, but part of why Dracula works so well is because Dracula is barely there—the distance, mystery, and legend, coupled with everyone’s fear, cause more dread. In The Lair of the White Worm, he fails miserably when focusing on the perspective of the villains.
Overall, the book is a big filthy confusing mess. Some books require readers to go along with them and figure out what the author was trying to do, to judge them accordingly. The Lair of the White Worm doesn’t deserve that.
Waste of time and effort.
By the way, if you want to know the plot, this is a hilarious (negative) review: