The Jewel of Seven Stars
Fiction; Horror / Suspense
None of Bram Stoker’s written works ever received the same attention and acclaim as his famous Dracula (one of my all-time favorite horror novels), including this 1903 tale of Egyptian mummies, mysticism and mystery, which is a shame because it’s a really fun and decent example of the Victorian ‘sensation’ mystery that was so popular during this era, a la Wilkie Collins and the like. In fact, this book is so similar in style and structure to Collins’ The Moonstone it’s as if Stoker was channeling Collins, whose novels he was known to have admired. With Jewel, Stoker no doubt hoped to cash in on the immense popularity and obsession with all things Egyptian, still raging years after Napoleon’s notorious expedition there.
I really like the narrator in this story. One of the most appealing aspects of that genre to me is the tendency to tell it in the first-person narrative, a trend that has returned to the book world with a vengeance in recent years, I’ve noticed. I do love it when it’s done right, and for some reason I especially favor the male point of view when reading from a first-person perspective.
Young barrister Malcolm Ross is summoned in the middle of the night by Margaret Trelawney, a woman he’d only recently met at a party but had become immediately intrigued by. When Malcolm arrives at the Trelawney estate he finds that Margaret’s father has been stricken by a mysterious coma-like illness and lies in his rooms among the treasure trove of Egyptian artifacts he has collected over the years. He has left very stern but mystifying instructions about what may have happened to him and what Margaret needs to do (and more importantly, what she must NOT do) until, and if, he awakens. Margaret is in despair with worry and has no one she feels she can turn to except Malcolm. When another attack and then a theft takes place the next evening, the doctor and police detective who have also by necessity been called in are inclined to think Margaret herself is the culprit, which Malcolm feels in his heart cannot be true.
Another man soon appears and tells a long, fantastic story about he and Mr. Trelawney in their younger days, which they spent traveling in Egypt and combing tombs, especially that of Queen Tera of the Theban dynasty. This remarkable queen had been a visionary of her day and a powerful sorceress as well, and her knowledge was so feared that upon her death her name was erased from Egyptian history and her tomb in the Valley of the Sorcerers hidden away (this is all fictional as far as I know). But Queen Tera had the magic to allow her to live beyond the grave, and a crucial element of that magic was a great ruby jewel that contained seven stars within, correlating precisely to the constellation under which she was born – the jewel that Mr. Trelawney now has, along with at least part of the knowledge key to unlocking its magic.
Needless to say, Miss T reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally doesn’t appreciate the tomb raiders’ sticky fingers all up in her magic bling.
Trelawney isn’t out to rob the great queen, though. Actually, he wants to help her by deciphering the messages and items she left behind to achieve what she wanted most – immortality.
While there’s a good bit of Egyptian lore and mysticism here, there’s also a very healthy dose of philosophy, science, and religion in the discourses between the characters, and I can only imagine how sensational those exchanges must have been to a reading public in that particular era. Stoker’s knowledge of all manner of things mystical and quasi-scientific is pretty impressive, I must say.
Of course I won’t give away the ending, but one of the most interesting trivia bits about this book is that when it was first released in 1903, it was at the reluctance of the publishers because the ending was thought to be too depressing and the chapter on religion a little too controversial for the general reader. They agreed to publish it only because Stoker was fairly well-known by then for Dracula. However, upon seeking re-release of it a few years later, Stoker was told he had to change the ending, as well as remove the one offending chapter completely, or it was a no-go. He agreed, and that watered-down version was the only one available for almost 100 years. I read the original version first, then the revamped ending via the Gutenberg Project online. Both endings are disappointing, frankly! The original ends bleakly and in a hurried, unexplained fashion, and the revamp, while doing a bit more in the ‘finishing out’, left me thinking “well, what was the point?”
Still a fun read, though, and I liked it. Not on par with Dracula by a long shot, but enjoyable.