Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Fortieth Door by Mary Hastings Bradley

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1920

Genre: Adventure

Topics: Forbidden love, hidden identities, marriage customs, Egyptian folklore, harem life

Jack Ryder is an American archaeologist working in Egypt. He’s been persuaded by his friend Jinny to escort her to a costumed ball in Cairo. Jack is reluctant. He has no interest in balls or even women, to the point he nearly thinks girls=cooties. Jinny isn’t one to listen to excuses though, so he borrows his friend Andrew MacLean’s kilt and attends as a highlander. During the ball, he sulks around the outer fringes until his attention is caught by a mysterious girl in black veils. And she’s something else, all dark eyed loveliness and tiny enough to put in his pocket. He spins her around the dance floor a few times. Maybe girls aren’t so yucky after all.

Suddenly she dashes off but Jack is in pursuit. He follows the girl to the gates of a walled house, where he enfolds her in his arms. But wait, this is no costumed party goer! She’s Aimee, the daughter of a prosperous Muslim merchant. She’s not for you, Jack dear. Jack thinks otherwise and persuades her to see him again. Jack doesn’t know it yet but he’s about to get himself in way over his head.

I had my moments with The Fortieth Door. I wanted to see where this was all headed. I knew they’d get together, but how was this going to be accomplished? Very complicatedly. First of all, there are a lot of coincidences in this book. A LOT. I mean, come on. I wasn’t even surprised by anything after awhile. Some of it doesn’t make much sense either (that ending with the mummy? What?!) So prepare to leave your disbelief at the door.

The Fortieth Door was published in 1920 and was made into a silent film in 1924. I can see why, there is plenty of action. When there’s no action though, there’s little to say about the writing. Was Mary Hastings Bradley the Dan Brown of her time? Possibly. Bradley was a well traveled lady and had been to Egypt, which is obvious in her descriptions and some of the cultural references. She certainly chose the right time to write The Fortieth Door. In 1922, King Tut’s tomb was discovered and the Egyptian craze began.

The Fortieth Door has all the intolerance and racism you would expect for the time. All the good guys are white guys (Brits and Americans), and all the bad guys are Egyptian. Pretty much every character who wasn’t white was a baddie. It was ridiculous actually. Then there is Jack who was so irritating at times. He’s been in Egypt for 2 years, you’d think he’d have caught on to how things work. He gets angry with Aimee when she must do what her father tells her to do. Like she’s got much of a choice. Most of the time I liked Aimee. She does some brave stuff. She’s courageous and quick on her feet. It made it even more frustrating to me when Jack refers to her as a little girl or a child. Dude, did you not just see what she did there? She’s a tough cookie!

Jinny and Andrew were my favorite characters by far. Both see Jack as the reckless youth he is. They actually give Jack’s actions some perspective for the reader. Jack can be immature and thoughtless and it’s not just us who knows it. I liked how Andrew was trying to hide things from poor innocent Jinny (as he thought her), while she saw right through him and knew Jack was in deep do-do. The female characters remain strong, even though the men think they can’t handle all this danger. 

The Fortieth Door is fun despite its problems. It’s full of action and adventure. It’s dated, yes, but if you can keep your eyes from rolling out of your head, it’s enjoyable. I’d love to see that film, but it’s considered lost. Maybe someone can remake it since remakes are all the rage now, maybe Ron Howard could direct.

This review is of the LibriVox recording narrated by JM Smallheer. She puts some life in the text and does a good job with the accents. Her pronunciation is also excellent.