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Rohmer, Sax

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym of UK stage lyricist, journalist and author Arthur Henry Ward (1883-1959), who began calling himself Arthur Sarsfield Ward after his mother's death in 1901; he signed some early stories as A Sarsfield Ward, including his first work of genre interest, "The Mysterious Mummy" in Pearson's Weekly for the Christmas Issue, 24 November 1903. He also published various early work in Cassell's Magazine, Chambers Journal, Collier's Weekly, The Premier Magazine and numerous other early general fiction magazines and Boys' Papers, beginning to write as by Sax Rohmer in 1908. He was in active service during World War One; and lived in the US from 1947. He started publishing work of genre interest with "The Mysterious Mummy" in Pearson's Weekly for the Christmas Issue, 24 November 1903, also publishing various early work in Cassell's Magazine, Chambers Journal, Collier's Weekly, The Premier Magazine and numerous other early general fiction magazines and Boys' Papers. Rohmer capitalized on contemporary anxiety about the Chinese, generated by the Boxer Rebellion and the fictions of M P Shiel and others, to produce many sensational Imperial Gothic tales about the Yellow Peril. Most famous is his series about Dr Fu Manchu, a malign genius, Mad Scientist and aspirational Secret Master whose secret Chinese organization is bent on world domination – the "yellow peril incarnate in one man", as his arch-foe Nayland Smith describes him – though by the 1950s he was fighting to save the planet from Communism. It is a transition not untypical of Antihero series protagonists who begin as Villains but in due course become mysterious, ambivalent benefactors of mankind; his partially successful search for Immortality explains his longevity. Rohmer's creation underlaid many twentieth-century super-villains, the best known perhaps being Dr No in Ian Fleming's James Bond sequence, Dr Yen-Lo in Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate (1959) (see The Manchurian Candidate) and Ming the Merciless in Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon. Versions of the villain also appear in work by Roland Daniels, Anthony Rud and Nigel Vane; and in some later hero/villain quasi-sf thrillers written by Lester Dent; he also appears, in Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Family mythos, as a scion of the Doc Savage clan. Two direct imitations were the short-lived magazines The Mysterious Wu Fang and Dr Yen Sin. Fu Manchu's perennial adversary, Nayland Smith, indomitable though not quick-witted, has served for his part as a significant figure in the evolution of the Pulp Hero.

The Fu Manchu sequence begins in London – where many of the earlier tales beginning with "The Zayat Kiss" (October 1912 The Story Teller) are set, some of them comically overwritten – with The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu (stories October 1912-July 1913 The Story Teller under the heading "Fu-Manchu"; fixup 1913; vt The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu 1913), continuing with The Return of Dr Fu-Manchu (stories 21 November 1914-4 December 1915 Collier's Weekly as "Fu-Manchu & Co."; fixup 1916; vt The Devil Doctor 1916), The Si-Fan Mysteries (stories 8 April 1916-2 June 1917 Collier's Weekly; fixup 1917; vt The Hand of Fu-Manchu 1917), Daughter of Fu Manchu (8 March-24 May 1930 Collier's Weekly as "Fu Manchu's Daughter"; 1931), The Mask of Fu Manchu (7 May-23 July 1932 Collier's Weekly; 1932) – filmed as The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) – Fu Manchu's Bride (6 May-8 July 1933 Collier's Weekly; 1933; vt The Bride of Fu Manchu 1933), The Trail of Fu Manchu (28 April-14 July 1934 Collier's Weekly; 1934), President Fu Manchu (29 February-16 May 1936 Collier's Weekly as "The Invisible President"; 1936), The Drums of Fu Manchu (1938), The Island of Fu Manchu (16 November-1 February 1941 Liberty; 1941), The Shadow of Fu Manchu (8 May-12 June 1948 Collier's Weekly; 1948), Re-Enter Fu Manchu (1957; vt Re-Enter Dr Fu Manchu 1957) and Emperor Fu Manchu (1959). The Wrath of Fu Manchu and Other Stories (coll 1973) assembles various tales; for omnis see Checklist. Although these and other novels by Rohmer are primarily occult thrillers, they contain many sf elements. Two Dr Fu Manchu Sequels by Other Hands were written by Rohmer's co-biographer Cay Van Ash (whom see), and still more by his devoted critic William Patrick Maynard (whom see).

Apart from this main series, Rohmer wrote several others. The Sumuru series is about an oriental villainess, essentially a female version of Dr Fu Manchu: Nude in Mink (1950; vt Sins of Sumuru 1950), Sumuru (1951; vt Slaves of Sumuru 1952), Virgin in Flames (1952; vt The Fire Goddess 1952), Return of Sumuru (1954; vt Sand and Satin 1955) and Sinister Madonna (1956). The Sumuru character appears in the films The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967) directed by Lindsay Shonteff, Rio 70 (1969, released 1972; vt Future Woman; vt The Girl from Rio) and the overtly sf Sumuru (2003) directed by Darrell Roodt. The Gaston Max series comprises The Yellow Claw (1915), The Golden Scorpion (1919), The Day the World Ended (1930) – set in and around a fortress guarded by Death Rays to protect a Secret Master who plans to kill off all humanity except for surgically altered inhabitants of his new Utopia – and Seven Sins (1943). The Paul Harley series consists of Bat-Wing (1921), Fire-Tongue (1921) and some short stories, mostly assembled in Salute to Bazarada and Other Stories (coll 1939).

Some of Rohmer's singletons are of interest, including The Emperor of America (1929), in which a criminal gang, armed with various Inventions, attempts to gain control of the entire country from its Underground base beneath Manhattan (see New York). He also wrote several stage plays, beginning with "Round in 50" (staged in 1922), based on Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), and including an adaptation from C J Cutcliffe Hyne's Captain Kettle series. Several of his novels have been made into films (see The Face of Fu Manchu) and the Dr Fu Manchu sequence was adapted by him into a popular Radio series. A short-lived Television adaptation was The Adventures of Dr Fu Manchu (1956).

The Pseudonym Sax Rohmer combines Anglo-Saxon words for blade and wanderer, suggesting "free lance" as in freelance writer, the author's long-term occupation. Rohmer's only book under another name was a supernatural/theological novel, Wulfheim (1950) as by Michael Furey. His clarity and exuberance, however garish, and his vivid relevance to the modes within which he worked, have generated critical interest from a range of viewpoints. Contributors to Phil Baker and Antony Clayton's Lord of Strange Deaths: The Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer (anth dated 2013 but 2015) with entries in this encyclopedia include Christopher Fowler, Roger Luckhurst, Alan Moore and Kim Newman. [JE/JC]

see also: Canada; Gothic SF; Pulp; Weapons.

Arthur Henry Ward

born Birmingham, England: 15 February 1883

died London: 1 June 1959



Dr Fu Manchu

Various early titles give Fu-Manchu, but never after 1929; a series of reprints from Titan Books, not listed here as vts, inexplicably restores the hyphen.

Gaston Max

Paul Harley

  • Bat-Wing (London: Cassell, 1921) [Paul Harley: hb/]
  • Fire-Tongue (London: Cassell, 1921) [Paul Harley: hb/]


  • Nude in Mink (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1950) [Sumuru: pb/]
    • Sins of Sumuru (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1950) [vt of the above: Sumuru: hb/]
  • Sumuru (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1951) [Sumuru: pb/]
    • Slaves of Sumuru (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1952) [rev vt of the above: ending changed: the hero remains steadfast in the UK, but not in the US edition: Sumuru: hb/]
  • The Fire Goddess (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1952) [Sumuru: pb/]
    • Virgin in Flames (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1952) [vt of the above: Sumuru: hb/]
  • Return of Sumuru (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1954) [Sumuru: pb/James Meese]
    • Sand and Satin (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1955) [vt of the above: Sumuru: hb/Fox]
  • Sinister Madonna (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1956) [Sumuru: hb/]
    • The Sumuru Omnibus (Eugenia, Ontario: The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2011) [omni of the above five: all under the UK titles: in the publisher's Lost Treasures from the Pulps series: Sumuru: hb/Bill Anderson]

individual titles


about the author


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