27 September 2009

That's Entertainment!

The Woman Who Couldn't Die
Arthur Stringer
Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929

That's her standing near the bow of the longboat. She is Thera, the daughter of the Jarl of Hordoland, a woman of beauty amongst 'herring-slitted wenches with little more charm than a she-cod on a smoking rack.' Not that you can tell from the cover; she's barely perceptible, despite her great height. No, the dust jacket does not do Thera justice, though it does credit her creator, Arthur Stringer, with the most remarkable ability:
A modern Scheherazade could insure the safety of her life by reading to her cruel spouse this amazing story of the Farther North. It would not only hold him spellbound by its bold and unparalleled adventures but also make him cherish forever the woman who had the wisdom to select such excellent entertainment.
Bold-faced silliness befitting a book that is nothing but an entertainment. We begin with twenty pages of italics relating the story of this Viking princess, how she crossed the Atlantic, became lost in the Canadian Arctic and ended up entombed in a giant block of ice. Regular type signals a shift from omniscient narrator to David Law, a jaded journalist on the hunt for stories in late 19th-century Montreal. Mysterious documents are uncovered, a parchment map is produced and the novel shifts once again. Together with a mad scientist and a dimwitted muscleman, Law sets out for the Arctic to find a hidden land of riches and thaw out the lovely Thera, known in 'Eskimo mythology' as 'the Eternal Maiden of Gold' and 'the Golden Woman who Never Died'.

As a young pup, I once counted the number of times Richard Butler spits out the word 'stupid' on the first Psychedelic Furs album. I was tempted to do the same with Stringer's use of 'gold', but growing awareness of mortality prevents further examination. Let's just say it's a lot. Thera's hair, for example, is 'living and liquid gold, gold luminous as a cat's eye by night, gold indiscernibly vivid yet soft, with radiance all its own, like that of a rose-leaf behind which a candle burns.'

This is fiction crafted for readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs, a writer I left behind long ago with other elementary school interests. I will say, however, that The Woman Who Couldn't Die is just as good as the Burroughs I remember. And while my eyes began to glaze over with all this talk of lost worlds, hidden peoples, strange religions and gold, gold, gold, I found the forty or so pages that take place in fin de siècle Montreal to be fascinating. Here Stringer draws upon his past as a journalist for the Herald, not only criticizing the paper, but taking swipes at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the city's establishment.

Write what you know.

Access: Library and Archives Canada doesn't have a copy, but the Toronto Public Library does. It can also be found in a dozen of our university libraries. Those wishing to purchase will find that The Woman Who Couldn't Die isn't terribly scarce, but difficult to find in anything approaching a Good dust jacket. Expect to pay a little over two grams in gold.

Though the book received only one printing, The Woman Who Couldn't Die was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries. The issue appeared on newsstands in October 1950, the month following Stringer's death.

For your entertainment:

Oh, my misspent youth.

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1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! I wonder if this was the first use of the frozen-in-ice time-travel idea.