Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Arthur Sarsfield Ward (alias Sax Rohmer)

I don't think of myself as a book collector, although I probably am by any sane definition. Rather, I see myself as someone who acquires a lot of books. The author who takes up most space on my shelves is Arthur Sarsfield Ward, better known as Sax Rohmer. Back in the early Seventies a girlfriend gave me a paperback copy of THE MASK OF FU MANCHU which she found unreadable.I, on the other hand, loved it for a couple of  reasons. First was probably it evokes the Boris Karloff film which was based on it (a film I had not seen at the time), secondly I loved the no nonsense pulpy style. I wanted more. Over the next couple of years I read as much Rohmer as I could find. Luckily, at that time, they were easily available in nice English and American paperbacks. Fu Manchu, Sumuru, Gaston Max, the Si-Fan, Egyptian witch queens, sacred slippers - I encountered them all in the pages of Rohmer's pages. Inevitably my interest waned as I turned my attention to other writers and interests. In a moment of madness I sold all my Rohmer papersbacks to my bookseller friend, Alan Austin. Little did I know at the time but neither Rohmer or Alan Austin were finished with me or with my bookshelves.

Years later I received a phone call  from a friend asking me if I would like her late mother's collrction of Sax Rohmer books. Yes, of course I would happily give them a home. I was also intrigued as I was aware that most, if not all, these books were purchased from my friend, Alan. My Rohmer's were all paperbacks and I expected some of my own books would be returned to me. Nothing was further than the truth for when the box of books eventually arrived they were all hardbacks. I had been warned that some of the books were, due to circumstance, not in very good condition but that was an understatement. These books had been sadly neglected and mistreated. Physically many were so poor that there was little to do but dispose of them and these were joined by those badly stained with and smelling strongly of cat's urine. The rest, after a lengthy period of well ventilated quarantine, were acceptable. Despite my ability to talk myself into keeping any book I like, however poor the condition, in the hope that a better copy will present itself, I had to say goodbye to about a third of the Rohmers. What remained was fascinating.

I now own forty-six Sax Rohmer hardbacks, easily the most books by any one author on my shelves. These date from the teens of the Twentieth Century right up until the 1950's. They include editions published by the regular Rohmer publishers, Methuen, Cassell and Herbert Jenkins. While condition is not of the finest they are tight copies. Best of all are the first editions which include two copies of TALES OF EAST AND WEST and singles of QUEST FOR THE SACRED SLIPPER, THE BAT FLIES LOW, SHADOW OF FU MANCHU, THE GREEN EYE OF BAST etc and a couple of the later SUMURU books.  I really do not actively seek out Sax Rohmer any more but I would certainly pick up any I came across and I'm more than pleased that these books that made the journey from Essex to Devon and back again via a small chain of friends now live with me.

Illustrations are not from my collection.