Miss Cuddlywumps reviews Bram Stoker’s classic tale The Jewel of Seven Stars
Bram Stoker (1847–1912) did a lot more than write the horror classic Dracula. His other works included a novel called The Jewel of Seven Stars, an atmospheric tale of mummies, mystery, and attempted resurrection—oh, and it has a living cat and a cat mummy too.
We read an abridged version which opens with the narrator, Mr. Ross, arriving at the home of a Mr. Trelawny and his daughter. Miss Trelawny (the daughter), after hearing sounds of slow, heavy breathing and something being dragged in the night, has discovered blood in her father’s bed and her father lying in a sort of stupor on the floor in his room. One arm is stretched out toward his safe, and his wrist is torn and bloody. On the wrist he wears a gold bangle, which just happens to be the key that opens the safe. The safe remains locked and, oddly, his unconscious condition cannot be accounted for by his wounds. The doctor and police can make nothing of it, and neither can we.
Mr. Trelawny is an interesting sort of man—and by “interesting” I mean “a little weird.” In his room are various ancient Egyptian objects: including three sarcophagi, a strange emerald-green thing resembling a coffin, a woman’s mummified hand with seven fingers, and a mummified cat. (Who could sleep in such a place?) The cat mummy is of particular interest, especially to Miss Trelawney’s gray Persian cat named Silvio.
Silvio is also interesting. He attacks the cat mummy whenever he can, for reasons unknown; he never bothers the other mummies in the house, and there are several. Mr. Ross examines one of the cat’s paws and notes that it is “like a little boxing glove full of claws”—razor-sharp claws. And he has seven toes. And the pattern of claws on his seven toes perfectly matches the pattern of bloody wounds on Mr. Trelawny’s wrist.
The lovely gray Persian with long silky fur becomes suspect #1. But how could he have gotten in the room, and why would he attack Mr. Trelawny, and what is his problem with that one mummy?
The plot thickens
Enter an Egyptologist named Corbeck, who has helped Mr. Trelawny acquire several Egyptian artifacts. Corbeck reveals the tale of a forgotten Egyptian queen who was proficient in black magic and had a large cat as a familiar. She had seven fingers on one hand, and her cat had seven toes. When her tomb was discovered, her body had been mummified, but not in the usual way: her organs had not been removed and that seven-fingered hand had not been wrapped. Even more odd, the hand appeared “fresh.” Under it was a large ruby. The discoverer of the tomb took the ruby. Unbeknownst to him, one of the Egyptians with him took the strange unwrapped hand.
Back in the sarcophagus-filled bedroom, Mr. Trelawny suddenly wakes up, none the worse for wear and eager to know exactly what has happened. It seems that what has happened is that this long-forgotten queen has the power of resurrection and is now attempting to resurrect herself. The party assembled in the house decide to help her (perhaps not the path I would have taken) and work to figure out how to do that. They unwrap the mummy cat (again, not the path I would have taken), which does indeed have seven toes, and its mouth and claws are stained red with blood—proof that this is the cat that attacked Mr. Trelawny.
They next unwrap the mummy of the queen and prepare to light the lamps that will facilitate her resurrection. (Must I say it? Not that path I would have taken). What follows is a mysterious, fog-filled event that ends with…
Well, the ending depends on which version of the novel you read. The original version, first published in 1903, has a bleak, dark ending that we found unsatisfying (also, She of Little Talent is pretty sure it gave her nightmares). The abridged version, published in 1912, has a happier ending that we found saccharine and really rather annoying. Neither ending does justice to the body of Stoker’s tale.
Despite problems with the ending (and the fact that we wish it had been told from Silvio the cat’s point of view), we found The Jewel of Seven Stars to be a thoroughly engrossing read. Stoker’s language drew us in so that we felt we were there watching the mummy being unwrapped. Some readers may find the writing old-fashioned and dated, but if you have read and enjoyed Dracula, you will enjoy The Jewel of Seven Stars.
With only a few reservations, I give The Jewel of Seven Stars