Tag: political correctness

Dark Stars Over Italy, Crowley Again, and Intellectual Diversity

This month I’m heading to Italy for a three-day book tour, promoting the Italian edition of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump in Rome, Milan, and Turin. As you might expect I’m excited about this. The book seems to be getting some attention in the Italian media – at least I’ve been interviewed by Andriano Ercolani for the cultural blog Minima et Moralia (readers of Theodore Adorno will no doubt recognize the title) and by Giulia Villoresi for the newspaper Repubblica. I’m including the interviews here in English for the benefit of my non-Italian readers.

Also, here are links to two recent video interviews. One is with John Tangney for his Intellectual Diversity Podcast. I talk about my experiences in academia and as a freelance intellectual – an endangered species by all accounts. The other is the latest installment of my ongoing series of interviews with Jeffrey Mishlove. This time we tackle Aleister Crowley, who is always good material for discussion.

All the best.

Here is the interview for Reppublica:

Questions:

1) Did you get a chance to get a feel for Beppe Grillo, the postmodern comedian who brought “the people” in charge in Italy? Did you know he’s ideologically chaotic, racist, megalomaniac, consecrated to business, a conspiracy theorist and a promoter of the occult power of internet?
2) Do you ever think about the coming of a new dictatorship? How and where do you imagine it?
3) Couldn’t it be possible that the Occidental Ego – so materialist, scientist and inner-life killer – is indeed the “root of all evil”, just as Guénon, Evola and Dugin thought?
4) Are there some facts, or events occurred after the release of your book that you wanted to comment in the book? I mean, facts or events that you consider meaningful for your arguments?
5) I apologize in advance if the following question sounds too direct. I don’t often get a chance to ask it to an American intellectual: do you have any doubts about the official line on September 11th?
Answers:
1. I’ve seen Beppe on news programs here in London. He seems to have had quite a career. If I’m not mistaken, in recent years he has distanced himself from the 5 star movement he founded a decade ago? At least that’s the impression I get from some articles I’ve read. He also seems to have hit quite a few bulls-eyes in his attacks on corruption in government and business. While that is needed it’s a shame that it’s being done in the context of a populist movement that finds itself on the right side of the political spectrum, something that, I’m sure you know, is going on in other places in the world. People like to be entertained – panem et circenses, no?. That’s why we have a Reality TV star as a US president. Putin, we known, entertained an entire nation with a non-stop “virtual reality” created by his spin doctors, characters like Vladislav Surkov, for at least a decade. But where is Beppe these days? Last I saw he had given up on politics. That isn’t unusual today. Demagoguery is more in fashion.
2, A coming new dictatorship? Do you mean in addition to the ones in Russia and Brazil? I have a correspondent in Brazil who is extremely worried about what is happening there. One of the people I refer to in the book, the German historian Oswald Spengler, said that in our age dictators – Caesars in fact! – will be on the rise. Was he right? America is going through a period of fracture and division unlike anything since the 1960s, when I grew up. I think the country is even more divided now. Chaos breeds strong men to arise and bring things to order. We used to think that nothing like a dictatorship or authoritarian government could arise in the US. I don’t think we are quite so sure today. The little I grasp of history suggests that anything is possible – in fact, isn’t that the message of people like Trump and Putin? When I was growing up, the USSR seemed solidly in place and nothing short of a nuclear conflict would have toppled it. Where is it today? I’m working on a book about Russia in fact, and in its millennium long history, the Soviet period is the shortest, a mere 70 years. Anything is possible. One Russian philosopher of the late 19th century, Vladimir Solovyov, wrote a book in 1900 about a coming Antichrist. He isn’t evil per se, but comes to rule the world by giving “the people” what they want, including endless entertainment. We don’t need to take the idea of an Antichrist literally to know that keeping everyone happy is a more efficient way of keeping them in line than any more aggressive means. This is why Huxley’s Brave New World is a more accurate warning of what’s happening today than Orwell’s 1984, which isn’t to say that Big Brother and other Orwellian ideas aren’t a concern. It’s funny, I keep thinking we are living in the world that all those books, like Huxley’s and Orwell’s, warned us about it. But Big Brother and its like are the hottest things on TV.
3, Yes, the western ego – the “me”, as I speak of it in the book – has certainly created quite a few problems. But the kinds of alternatives to it offered by Guenon, Evola, and people like Dugin are certainly no answer to it. All they offer is the polar opposite, the other side of the pendulum swing. I don’t think the answer to the problems generated by the rise of the individual “I” in the west can be met by negating that “I” in favor of some elite, organizing our lives for us – with the best intentions, of course – which is what Guenon and Evola suggest in different ways. Nor will the kind of ego-less communal society that Dugin envisions help. Which is preferable, the dictatorship of the “me” or the dictatorship of the “we”? I believe we have reached a stage in our development at which we have to find a way to bring together the two sides of our being, the rational intellect, and the intuitive inner self that has been sidelined since the rise of science in the 17th century. I am no enemy of science – I worked as a science writer for a prestigious university in California for a time. What I do reject is “scientism,” the faith – which is what it is – that ALL questions about life, reality, existence, etc. can be and MUST be answered via the scientific method. We’ve known since the 18th century that there are parts of human existence – the most important parts – that science simply is unable to accommodate. I mean things like meaning, beauty, truth, freedom, values, etc everything that makes live worth living. We also know that the picture of humankind offered by science only goes so far and that we have all had experiences that science simply won’t accept or tries to explain away. I mean paranormal and mystical experiences. These are a real part of our life, of that I am as sure as I am of the computer I am using to answer these question. But because the “official” accounts continue to reject these things, they have fallen into what we can call our “shadow,” to use a term that Jung made popular. Since Freud we know that what is repressed doesn’t disappear, it only turns up in awkward places. What is happening I think in contemporary life is that these “occult” kinds of things are reappearing in our “shadow,” and since the progressive political movements reject them – as they do all mystical and spiritual sorts of things (religion is the opium of the people, Marx said, and for better or worse, progressive politics tends to focus on material well being) they are being appropriated by the other side. Hence the Alt-Right and their use, apparently, of a kind of magic. I should also say that the West itself has a long tradition of thinkers, poets, writers, and artists who are aware of the problem of the ego and who have created a whole body of work surrounding this. We can start with William Blake and Goethe and go from there. In my own way I have addressed the problem in my own books.
4. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything that I missed, but I would say that since I wrote the book I have certainly seen the term “chaos” turning up in political contexts more and more. Here in the UK the whole Brexit debacle is a case in point. No one seems to know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they expect to get from it. In one of his books Nietzsche says something like “I do not know what to do. Modern man is everything that does not know what to do” – I’m paraphrasing but that’s the gist. He could have been writing about today. In fact, he was. One of things I argue in the book is that Nietzsche saw what is happening today, more than a century ago. He knew it was on its way “I write not for today, nor for tomorrow, but for the day after tomorrow” he says in one of his books. Its the effect of what I call “trickle down metaphysics.” Nietzsche was concerned about the coming nihilism in the 1880s. Sadly he went mad before he could do much about it. But since then people like Heidegger, then the deconstructionists have taken up the idea until today the idea that existence is meaningless – and ours in particular – is taught in universities and proclaimed by postmodernists galore. Well, I don’t think we can blame people like Trump for saying “Nothing is true? Everything is permitted? Okay, let’s go for it!” Trump most likely never heard of Nietzsche and certainly never read him, but he got the idea and ran with it. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that “there is no truth” and feel liberated from what you consider “oppressive” cultural and societal constraints by it, and then say “Well, no, you can’t use this to your advantage.” Why not? What do you have to oppose this? Without truth in the old sense the only thing that determines things is power. Which, sadly, is where we are today.
5. I can’t say that I ever seriously thought that 9/11 was the outcome of a conspiracy. I am not given to conspiracy theories, although, oddly enough, I met David Ray Griffin years ago when I was student and was thinking of studying the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead with him. He is the major 9/11 conspiracy theorist. When I discovered this, years after we met and also after 9/11, I was surprised. I didn’t read any of his books about it though.
And here is the interview for Minima et Moralia :
Questions:
1) How would you summarize the main topic of the book?
2) How would you describe briefly the international propaganda strategy of far-right populism?
3) How can we face the misappropriation of certain authors (i.e. Jung, William Blake) by the occult side of far-right?
4) Which has been the most disturbing discovery that emerged during your research?
5) How can the left wing cultural side fight back the frightening risin’ tide of neofascism?
6) How can we break the “evil spell” of alt-right propaganda?
7) What are your next projects?
Answers:
1. The book is about the “assault on reality” that I see taking place in early 21st century consciousness. This is happening in many quarters. The book begins with a look at one aspect of this, the resurgence of a kind of “occultism” or “magic” in contemporary US politics, but it is not limited to this; in a deeper, more inclusive way it has been taking place in Russia for decades. I begin by looking at claims made by the alt-right that they somehow “dreamed” or “willed” Trump into office. Such “magical” ideas could be easily ignored, were it not for the fact -a  real fact, not an alternative one – that similar developments have been taking place in other areas, in academia, popular culture, and philosophy, going back to Nietzsche’s warning more than a century ago about the advent of nihilism, the collapse of belief in hitherto unquestioned “realities.” Nietzsche saw that the pursuit of truth, by both religion and science, inevitably led to the recognition that “truth” in some clear, objective, self-evident character simply did not exist. What Nietzsche saw back in the 1880s has become de rigueur  for us, through postmodernism and deconstructionism, but also through the fascination with “reality TV” – which gave us the current American president – and the longstanding valid “occult” objection to western rationalism’s rejection of intuition and other “mystical” perspectives. I call this “trickle down metaphysics.” With Trump, a product of reality TV, we have our current “post -truth” and “alternative fact” world. Trump is also a devotee of “positive thinking,” a variant of the kind of “magical thinking” that the alt-right say they used to get him elected. As I point out in the book, ideas about “creating our own reality” have moved from self-help seminars and books to political strategies. The kind of “virtual reality” that has been in place in Russia since Putin’s arrival is an expression of this.
2. I would say it combines some valid criticisms of the “establishment” – which is generally on the left or at least the “progressive” side of the equation – with resentment at how this “elite” has ignored these concerns, with pandering to fears and anxieties over “identity.” When a civilization enters its “time of troubles” – as the historian Arnold Toynbee referred to fundamental crises in a society – the confusion and uncertainty this creates can be relieved by establishing or adopting a simple, easily grasped idea of one’s self or one’s group. This is the “tribal consciousness” that has seen a disconcerting rise in recent times. Unfortunately, many if not most people find a “self” through belonging to some group, and identifying with it’s beliefs, customs, rituals etc. A small minority anchor their self in some inner reality, an inner truth, which sustains them amidst the flux. These are the people we simple do not hear about or from, because in our dangerously polarized times, their quiet, reasonable voice is drowned out by the shouting and insults coming from either side. It’s not easy to find that center in oneself, but it is the only thing that can keep us from being overwhelmed by the surges of irrational anger and resentment coming from either side.
3.There hasn’t been a book worth reading that hasn’t been misunderstood and misappropriated by some group wanting to validate itself by adopting it as its Bible. The Bible in fact is a case in point: probably no other book has been used to legitimatize actions and beliefs that are the absolute opposite of what it says. Nietzsche, whose name is dropped pretty regularly by the alt-right, was picked up by the Nazis – his sister, a fan of Hitler, helped in this – but was quickly dropped when they realized that what he was really saying had nothing to do with their thuggish heroics; he called for all anti-Semites to be shot, something that must have set Goebbels’ alarm bells ringing. Jung was another, although, to be fair, Jung at first did think something might have come out of National Socialism, because he was critical of the hypertrophied rationality of modern man. He later admitted he was wrong, unlike Heidegger. We can’t stop these thinkers falling into the wrong hands, but we can do our best to understand what they are really saying, and so disarm those who want to use them for dubious purposes. But this isn’t something that only afflicts thinkers that far-right folk have picked up. A great deal of leftist thinking has been used to justify Stalin’s murderous regime, and Marx looked forward to seeing the bourgeoisie hanging from the lamp posts. Discrimination is key, as it is in so many things. But we need time, effort, and patience for this, and today’s hyper-reactive world, in which everyone has to apologize for what they say immediately after saying it, makes these commodities difficult to obtain.
4. Most disturbing is the extent that “creating his own reality” has worked out for Putin. If Trump is a one man reality TV show, Putin has had an entire network creating a “virtual reality” Russia for years, and his identification with Holy Russia or Moscow as the Third Rome, the upholder of “traditional values” against the decadent west, has worked very well for him. The Eurasia meme – Russia not as a backward cousin of Europe, but as a new civilization, rising up as the west goes under – has proved very valuable and in the case of Crimea and Ukraine, has changed the map. If this is “magical” thinking, it seems to work.
5. I think the left has a lot of work to do. Its imaginative charge, meaning its ability to motivate people, has, I think, faded quite a bit. It isn’t as “sexy” as the right, which, for good or bad, manages to dip into the mythological waters and profit by them. The left has always been anti-myth, anti-religion, keeping to sweet reason and rationality (“Religion is the opium of the people,” etc.). It also seems to have fractured into a variety of different interests groups which come together when there is a common enemy – Trump, far-right populism – but doesn’t seem to have a unifying belief or “cause” in the same way that the right seems to. I’m not a leftist myself, or a rightist. I am one of those unfortunate people who are compelled to think for themselves and refuse to be absorbed into one group or another. But I think that if there is any hope for a decent future, it will be because of precisely these kind of people. To be honest, I do wonder what a post-Trump, triumphant “progressive” future will be like. I am concerned about a doubling down of “political correctness” and a sentiment of “never again!”.
6. Again, awareness, discrimination, effort, thought, a refusal to react to provocation – and also spending less time on social media, which has become a swamp, brimming with all sorts of organisms which can easily infect us through symbols and slogans that reach below our conscious minds and directly affect our unconscious, releasing the anger there. It doesn’t matter if this is directed against the alt-right or whoever. It is the sheer affect that counts, the loss of our self, the plunge into dark, turbid waters. That only adds to the confusion.
7. I’m currently working on a book about the “return of Holy Russia,” a kind of follow-up to Dark Star Rising, although it can be read by itself.

Dark Star Rising Over a New Dawn

Goodreads is having a giveaway for Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, which will be released on May 29th.  Five copies are up for grabs so get your skates on. And the Dark Star audio book – my first – is also available.

In other news, the latest issue of New Dawn has my piece on Jordan Petersonmania. In it I ask the philosophical question “What is Jordan B. Peterson Really Saying?,” and come to what I think are some useful answers. They may even help us get past postmodernism sooner than we think.

Happy May Day. I’m giving a talk on Madame Blavatsky this week at Carlyle House – I think she would approve –  and remember that May 8th is White Lotus Day, when she pulled up stakes once again and headed into the Akasha…

The Yellow Peril of Dr. Fu Manchu

Being an unregenerate fan of pulp literature, I was asked to review some new releases of Sax Rohmer’s exhilarating Fu Manchu series. In the end the journal – an American academic effort – decided not to use my piece. Exactly why remains a mystery, but I suspect my take on the evil doctor wasn’t quite politically correct enough. You decide.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu

The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu

Sax Rohmer

London: Titan Books, 2012

9780857686039

9780857686046

$9.95

The Yellow Peril of Dr. Fu Manchu

            “Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government – which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

Thus did Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward – better known as Sax Rohmer – describe his most popular and successful creation. In the insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, Rohmer created a fictional character that became a modern archetype, a popular icon of the same stature as Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Tarzan, spawning dozens of books, films, radio and television shows, comic books, and not a few imitations. The evil Asiatic genius first appeared in 1912, his adventures serialized in The Story Teller; hence the episodic character of The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu, his hardback debut, published in 1914. But both Rohmer and the Doctor had their most successful years in the 1920s and ‘30s. It was then that Rohmer was persuaded to return to his diabolical creation, after trying to finish him off, as his older contemporary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had tried with Sherlock Holmes. Both Doyle and Rohmer were prolific writers and both believed their best work lay elsewhere. Their reading public disagreed, and were proved right, to both Doyle’s and Rohmer’s financial profit. Rohmer was for some years one of the highest paid writers in England, if not the world, with tens of millions of copies of his books in print, and in his last years is said to have sold the film, television, and radio rights to his malevolent Doctor for some several million dollars. Rohmer died in 1959 at seventy-six and over the years a bad business sense and a penchant forMonte Carlo sadly siphoned off quite a lot of his cash.

Fu Manchu has been played on the silver screen by Warner Oland, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Peter Sellers, and even Nicholas Cage. Karloff’s deliriously lurid  The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), with its racially edgy dialogue and de trop sadism (enjoyed by Myrna Loy as the Doctor’s evil daughter), remains a classic. Ian Fleming’s evil Chinese Dr. No – the first Bond baddie in the film series – is a sleek, rocket-age version of Rohmer’s arch-villain, and Iron Man’s evil Asian nemesis, the Mandarin, is Marvel Comics’ nod to Rohmer’s dastardly Chinamen. In fact, when you think of it, there have been quite a few diabolical villains from old Cathay intent on terrorizing the West, and if you trace back their lineage, most of them have their roots in Rohmer’s evil genius.

Yet, mention Sax Rohmer today, and you may just get a nod. Fu Manchu still rings a bell, but the moustache first comes to mind, an accoutrement added in the films, although Rohmer’s original was clean-shaven. But if anything, the only evil Rohmer’s creation troubles us with now is his creator’s so-called racism. Back in the days before political correctness, Rohmer admitted that when he first conceived the idea of Fu Manchu, the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901) was still in people’s minds and the threat of a “yellow peril” still seemed possible. “Conditions for launching a Chinese villain on the market were ideal,” he told his biographer Cay Van Ash, much as today, when more than one blockbuster thriller capitalizes on the fear of an imminent terrorist threat. By our standards, Rohmer’s Fu Manchu books – there are thirteen in all with a posthumous collection of short stories, and Titan Books heroically promises to release every one – reek of racial slurs, or at least of the intention to profit by vulgar stereotypes and misconceptions. Rohmer’s heroes, the steadfastly British Nayland Smith, a Burmese police commissioner with extraordinary legal powers, and the stories’ narrator, the reflective Dr. Petrie, named after the famed Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie (the pair were clearly modelled on Holmes and Watson), save the “white race” from extinction regularly. As Smith tells Petrie, there was an “awakening in the East,” and “millions only wait their leader” to initiate another invasion of the “yellow hordes.” That leader, of course, is Fu Manchu, who is the agent of the mysterious Si-Fan, a Chinese secret organization in control of Tong societies around the world, and whose aim is to undermine the West through drugs, white slavery, and a wave of assassinations. The plots of the first two books – The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu essentially carries on from the Doctor’s debut – center around the efforts of Smith and Petrie to foil Fu Manchu’s plan to eliminate all who would stand in his way, and their breathtaking and frequent escapes from their own doom at the hands of the Sinocentric “devil doctor.”

Yet I seriously doubt if Rohmer himself was racist, although we might accuse him of opportunism. “I made my name on Fu Manchu,” he said, “because I know nothing about the Chinese.” (His great love, in fact, was Egyptand the Middle East.) It’s doubtful if anything Rohmer wrote triggered any hate crimes and only the most fastidiously politically correct reader would find either of  these magnificently entertaining thrillers offensive. If you can bracket “realism,” police procedure, and CSI for a few hours, plunge into Rohmer’s pulse-thumping prose and fin-de-siècle atmosphere, filled with the opium dens and foggy Limehouse docks of a long lostLondon. You’ll be delighted, even if your guilty conscience cringes at the mention of “yellow devils” and the “fiendish Asiatic race.”

The idea of a “yellow peril,” a threat to the white race from a growing Asian geo-political power, seems to have arisen in the 1890s in German fears about Japanese expansion. But  the term earned pulp currency in 1898 in the weird fiction writer M. P. Shiel’s serial The Empress of the Earth, later published in novel form as The Yellow Danger. Others less talented picked up the idea, but it wasn’t limited to writers of pulpy trash. Jack London’s The Unparalleled Invasion (1910) uses it, and it also forms the backdrop to Andrei Bely’s hallucinatory modernist novel Petersburg (1913), where it is called the “Mongol Peril” – Russians were afraid of the East, too –  and it runs through the Polish avant-gardist Witkacy’s unclassifiable work Insatiability (1927), where it is presented as a Chinese takeover ofEurope. The central idea was thatAsia was breeding a new force, capable of overthrowing Western dominance, and that we should take steps to defeat it. Rohmer took this sensational theme and ran with it.

But fears of an Asian invader could not have secured Rohmer’s success alone. What carries both of these immensely enjoyable books is Rohmer’s ability to interweave his fantastic, bracingly unbelievable plots with the arcane knowledge he picked up over the years, an erudition that Fu Manchu of course puts to diabolical use. Rather than the crude bombs and vulgar bullets of other criminals, Fu Manchu employs Dacoits and Thugees (Indian bandits and assassins), drugs (mostly hashish and opium), pythons, spiders and other poisonous insects, poisonous mushrooms (occasionally an hallucinogenic one), germ warfare, and even a marmoset, in his fiendish designs.

Rohmer himself was self-taught and a keen student of the occult and esoteric; it is said that he belonged to the celebrated Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Aleister Crowley and W.B Yeats were members, but this may be apocryphal. Whether he did or not, he did some research into magic – his one work of non-fiction, The Romance of Sorcery (1915), is a product of it – and although it is sometimes only hinted at, an air of the supernatural breathes throughout all his work. It is this mixture of the arcane, the outré, and the exotic, with an adrenaline fuelled narrative, that gives the Fu Manchu books their unmistakable appeal. And if in Fu Manchu Rohmer encapsulated western fears of an Asian threat, in the character of the Arab slave girl Kâramanéh, forced to do the evil Doctor’s bidding, he embodied –literally – all of its exotic allure. Dr. Petrie falls in love with Kâramanéh,  with her “eyes like the velvet darkness of the East,” and his attentions are reciprocated. If we want to get semiotic about it, we could say that in Fu Manchu and Kâramanéh, Rohmer personalizes the West’s millennial fear of the mysterious East as well as its irresistible attraction, the seductive Other we at once pursue and repel, an addictive relationship going back at least to The Arabian Nights and Gérard de Nerval’s Journey to the Orient. I’m sure there’s an  academic thesis about this somewhere, but it would be thin fare next to Rohmer’s rollicking tales.

Rohmer himself had an unusual life and he only came to fiction after unsuccessful attempts at earning an honest living as a civil servant, clerk, and reporter. Rohmer was born in Birminghamin England’s West Midlandsin 1883 to Irish immigrant parents. His father was an underpaid and overworked office clerk and his mother a highly-strung woman who slowly sank into alcoholism. Rohmer spent a great deal of his childhood alone and unattended; one possible product of his feral youth was a somnambulism which had him on occasion throttling his father and trying to jump out a window. For a time he wrote songs and comedy sketches for London music hall comedians, and in 1911 he ghost wrote the autobiography of Little Tich, one of the most famous. Although he never made it to China, Rohmer did travel in Egyptand the Middle East. One of his most effective novels, Brood of the Witch Queen (1918), has a series of murders carried out via the dark magic of the fabled Book of Thoth. Rohmer also developed other central characters and based other series on them. There was Gaston Max, a Parisian detective, who debuted in The Yellow Claw (1915); Morris Klaw, the Dream Detective, a Jewish East End curio-seller who solves crimes via the Kabbalah; and Sumuru, a buxom super-villainess – Russ Meyer would have approved – who also made it to the big screen in The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967) an obtainable cult-classic, and the sequel That Girl From Rio (1969), as well as Sumuru (2003).

Although the Boxer Rebellion may have primed the public for Fu Manchu, Rohmer claimed that the Doctor had a real life prototype. While working for a Fleet Street tabloid in 1911, Rohmer was assigned to write an article about the Chinese underworld ofLondon’s Limehouse, today a desirable “historical” location, but back then a dockside warren of crime, decadence, and danger. He had heard stories about a mysterious “Mr. King,” who was purported to be the mastermind behind Limehouse’s evil economy of drugs, sex, and gambling. Access to Mr. King was understandably limited, and he never met him, but Rohmer did manage a sighting. When a “tall, dignified Chinese, wearing a fur-collared overcoat,” stepped out of the car, Rohmer knew that he had seen Fu Manchu, whose “face was the living embodiment of Satan.” He was never sure whether the man he saw was Mr. King or not, but by then that hardly mattered.

In the later books, Fu Manchu’s objectives change, and the emphasis on the threat to the white race recedes. By the end he is fighting Communism, and is, if not a friend, at least a tactical ally with the West. Popular taste in evil Asians had also changed. Earl Derr Biggers’ amiable Chinese detective Charlie Chan appeared in 1925, Mr. Moto, John Marquand’s Japanese secret agent, turned up in 1935, and Hugh Wiley’s Mr. Wong, the San Francisco sleuth, in 1938. These stories too have been accused of racism, but at least the moan of contention surrounds a good guy. Enjoy.