About the Author
Prolific English mystery writer, best known for the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu and his opponents Denis Nayland Smith, Dr. Petrie, named after the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, and the beautiful Kâramanéh, the source of Petrie's daydrems, whose "eyes held a challenge wholly Oriental in its appeal." In spite of Rohmer's popularity, his family lived long times in poverty because of the bad deals he made with the publishers.
Sax Rohmer was born Arthur Henry Ward in Birmingham of Irish parents. His father, William Ward, was employed as an office clerk and eventually held the position of office manager. Rohmer's mother, Margaret Mary (Furey) Ward, was neurasthenic and increasingly dependent on alcohol. Young Sax Rohmer received no formal schooling until he was nine or ten years old, but his father probably taught his son to read. Rohmer adopted the name Sarsfield at the age of 18, impressed by his mother's alcoholic claims being descended from a famous 17th-century Irish general Patrick Sarsfield. He later explained that the pen name came from 'sax' which was Saxon for 'blade' and 'rohmer' which meant 'roamer'.
After finishing his schooling, Rohmer worked in odd jobs, but even as a child, he had dreamed to become a writer. He was briefly in a bank clerk in Threadneedle Street, then as a clerk in a gas company, an errand boy at a small local newspaper, and a reporter on the weekly Commercial Intelligence. At the age of 20 Rohmer started his writing career. "My earliest interests," he later told, "were centered in Ancient Egypt and I accumulated a large library on Egyptology and occult literature." In 1903 Rohmer's first short story, The Mysterious Mummy', appeared in Pearson's Weekly. He made a short trip to the Continent and upon his return started to make his way into the cheap printing literary business and theatrical word.
In 1909 he married Rose Elizabeth Knox, whose father had been a well-known comedian in his youth. When Rose Knox met Rohmer, she was performing in a juggling act with her brother Bill. For almost two years they kept the marriage a secret from Rose's family - she lived with her sister and Rohmer with his father. Rose was psychic and Rohmer himself seemed to attract metaphysical phenomena - according to a story, he consulted with his wife a ouija board as to how he could best make a living. The answer was 'C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N'.
Rohmer wrote comedy sketches for entertainers and continued to produce stories and serials to the nespaper and magazine markets. These early writings were later gathered in collections. Rohmer's first book, Pause! appeared in 1910, and his first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, three years later. It gained an immediate success. In the character of the seemingly deathless Dr. Fu Manchu, Rohmer expressed racist fears, which had produced the concept of the "Yellow Peril" - according to the racist prejudices Chinese were mandarin warlords and opium den keepers in Limehouse. However, the sociologist Virginia Berridge has estimated, that the ethnic Chinese population in London's East End, in the period of 1900 through to the Second World War, was counted only in hundreds. Majority of the population worked in such professions as cooking and laundering clothes. Most of the cocaine came from Germany, where it was sold nearly without restrictions. The irrational racist hatred also oozed from the novels of Edgar Wallace and John Buchan, who often had wicked Jews in his work. In 2001 a Saudi Arab and real-life character, Osama bin Laden, became know as the greatest terrorist mastermind of the time. He has also disappeared mysteriously. "Here, perhaps, lies one of the secrets of Fu Manchu's power to fascinate," Clive Bloom wrote in Cult Fiction (1996). "The Sinophobic message of Rohmer's books is underpinned by three theories: the notion of conspiracy which is based upon a corporate, international secret society acting out of Limehouse, the notion of a parallel supernatural plane of existence and the notion of eternal recurrence."
Originally Fu Manchu made his entrance in the story THE ZAYAT KISS in October 1912 issue of the British magazine The Story-Teller. Fu Manchu had green eyes, "an emanation of Hell", as Rohmer wrote. Sir Denis Nayland Smith is the opponent of the diabolically ingenious villain for more than a quarter of a century. He is a spymaster, Burmese Commissioner, and a controller of the British Secret Service and the CID. During the following years the stories were published in collections, but at the end of the third book The Si-Fan Mysteries (1917), Fu Manchu is dead, and another villain has taken his place. '"That is almost incredible," I said; terror can have no darker meaning than that which Dr. Fu-Manchu gave to it. Fu-Manchu is dead, so what have we to fear?" "We have to fear," replied Smith throwing himself into a corner of the settee, "the Si-Fan!"' In 1915 Rohmer invented detective character Gaston Max, who appeared first in The Yellow Claw. Another interesting series characters was the occult detective Morris Klaw, who solved his cases by using his own dreams and visions. Sumuru was a female master plotter, whom Rohmer abandoned after five published volumes. The detective Paul Harley was the hero of Fire-Tongue (1921) and Bat-Wing (1921). Chief Inspector Red Kerry solved crimes in Dope (1919) and other stories.
For periods during the 1920s and 1930s, Rohmer was one of the most widely read and most highly paid magazine writers in the English language. He also produced works for the stage, and created tunes to several of his songs by humming them and having them transcribed by a collaborator. Rohmer's interest in mysticism and occult made him to join the occult organization of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Its other members included Aleister Crowley and William Butler Yeats. Rohmer's supernatural stories include Brood of the Witch Queen (1918), in which an Egyptian mummy is revived to practice ancient sorcery in the modern world, and Grey Face (1924), in which a supposed reincarnation of Cagliostro causes much havoc. The Green Eyes of Bâst (1920) was an occult detective tale about the mysteries of the ancient Egypt.
Success brought Rohmer financial security - for a short time. He traveled with his wife in the Near East, Jamaica, and in Egypt, and built a country house called Little Gatton in the Surrey countryside. But the money went as fast as it come - Rohmer's business instincts were not good and he gambled much of his earnings at Monte Carlo. In 1955 Rohmer was said to have sold the film, television and radio rights in his books for more than four million dollars.
Fu Manchu series started again after years of silence in Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931). In The Island of Fu Manchu (1941) Sir Lioner Barton, the greatest Orientalist in Europe, says that Fu Manchu is "an enemy whose insects, bacteria, stranglers, strange poisons, could do more harm in a week than Hitler's army could do in a year." After the World War II the Rohmers moved to New York City. In order to qualify for permanent-resident status, they had to leave the country temporarily. From New York they moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, before finally settling in White Plains, New York. Among Rohmer's later works are Hangover House (1949), based on an unproduced play from the late 1930s, and the Sumuru series, five paperback novels published between 1950 and 1956. During the Korean War period, Rohmer declared that Dr. Fu Manchu was "still an enemy to be reckoned with and as menacing as ever, but he has changed with the times. Now he is against the Chinese Communists and, indeed, Communists everywhere, and a friend of the American people." Sax Rohmer died from a combination of pneumonia and stroke on June 1, 1959. Emperor Fu Manchu (1959) was Rohmer's last work of fiction.
The golden age of Fu Manchu stories - and also the peak of Sax Rohmer's career - was in the 1930s, although the Chinese super-criminal was revived again in 1957. Sequel Ten Years Beyond Baker Street (1984) was written by Cay Van Ash, in which the Evil Doctor fights Sherlock Holmes. It was followed by The Fires of Fu Manchu (1987). There are also radio adaptations, and a Marvel comic (The Hands of Shang-Chi), the tv series The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1955-56), starring Glenn Gordon as Fu Manchu and Lester Matthews as Nayland Smith. Rohmer's villain has inspired several movies, starring among others Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, and Peter Sellers (The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu in 1980). John Carradine and Sir Cedric Hardwicke played Fu Manchu and Nyland Smith in a television pilot directed by William Cameron Mezies. - Sinister Oriental Fu Manchu stereotypes were feared since turn of the century, appearing in wide numbers in popular fiction. Among the best know doppelgangers is Dr. No from Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Dr. No (1958).
In Finlad, the Library Office at the Ministry of Education viewed Rohmer's works with suspicion. From the 1910s the office published Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo (Critical Book Catalogue), a more or less official guide for librarians in their book selection. It constantly warned about buying cheap novels and other popular literature for public libraries. Sax Rohmer's work received in the 1920s mixed critics: The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1923): "Horror story, written quite skilfully." The Devil Doctor (1925): "Adventure stories about the strange Dr. Fu-Manchu has been translated into Finnish before. They are written fairly skillfully and have plenty of suspense and Oriental atmosphere. But first of all, they are horror stories and they are not generally recommendable." The review was written by Helle Cannelin, director of the Library Office 1921-49. Cannelin did not like Conan Doyle's detective novels, too. - Keltainen kynsi (The Yellow Claw, 1927), Tulikieli (Fire-Tongue, 1927): "The writer is not totally untalented, but it looks like he is putting on paper miserable adventure stories with a sneer. However, they have readers here and elsewhere - among young boys, who knows. - Worth only for 'a collection of insignificant books'." (Martti Tolvanen, Lic.Med.)
Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.