W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM – The Magician. William Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1908. George H. Doran Co., US, hardcover, 1908. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft. Silent film: MGM, 1926 (with Alice Terry, Paul Wegener; director: Rex Ingram).


   The villain of Somerset Maugham’s 1908 novel The Magician was loosely — very loosely — based on Aleister Crowley, and the novel is as close as Maugham ever came to writing pulp, an all-out mellerdrama with sinister sorcerer, helpless heroine, ho-hum hero… there’s even a Van Helsing character written in to help move the plot along.

   Said plot involves the corpulently wicked Oliver Haddo being publicly (and justifiably) humiliated by the Good Guy and taking his vengeance by magically seducing his Innocent Fiancee to be used as a pawn in the Dark Arts. And so on.

   Parallels with Dracula (1897) are not far to seek. Interestingly, though the major get-the-plot-across passages seem a bit hurried and obvious, with purple vapours, lurid visions and such, the less relevant chapters, sketching out the emotional effects of all this on the characters, are really quite effective. Maugham may not have been a great author, but he was a damgood novelist and it shows here.

   I may have indicated that the horror novel parts of The Magician fall a bit flat, and they do mostly — up to the end. The climax of this book in Haddo’s hellish castle is as frightening as anything you’re apt to read in this genre, and it stays in the memory.


Editorial Comments:   Dan wrote this review in November 2005. I felt that it was appropriate to post it now, considering the way the comments following Walter Albert’s review of the 1931 film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde happened to flow.

   As they went along, they (the comments) seem to have morphed themselves into a discussion first of the filmed version of The Magician then onto Mr. Maugham’s contribution to literature in general.