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The Lord Of Terror
Marcel Allain, A.R. Allinson, ed., transl.
Ramble House, 285 pages

The Lord Of Terror
Marcel Allain
Born in Paris, Sept. 15, 1885, Marcel Allain died Aug. 25, 1969 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Marcel Allain (1885-1969) and Pierre Souvestre (1874-1914) are best remembered as the creators of Fantômas. The son of a Parisian bourgeois family, Allain studied law before becoming a journalist, then the assistant of Souvestre, who was already a well-known figure in literary circles. In 1909, the two men published their first novel, Le Rour. Souvestre and Allain created Fantômas in Feb. 1911, being contracted by publisher Fayard to write a novel a month for two years. Souvestre died on Feb. 16, 1914 from pneumonia and the series ended at 32 installments. In 1926, Allain married Henriette Kistler, Souvestre's girl-friend, and in 1939, he moved to Andrésy. In total, Allain wrote more than 400 novels in his prolific career, including 11 new adventures of Fantômas, as well as other, less known series: Fatala, Tigris, Férocias, Miss Téria, etc.

Publisher's website
Sample chapter
Original French cover
Sites devoted to Fantômas: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

French readers have always had a fascination for clever master criminals and the urban criminal underbelly: from the memoirs (1828-29) of Vidocq, criminal turned chief of the French Sûreté; Paul Féval's 8-volume Les Habits Noirs (1863-75); Ponson du Terrail's Rocambole series (1859-1888); Eugène Sue's Les Mystères de Paris; Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (1862); and more recently Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin (1905-1941). The arch-villain Fantômas whose early adventures appeared in monthly pulp editions (roman feuilleton), much in the way serial characters like The Shadow or Doc Savage did later, was immensely popular in France. Unlike his contemporary Arsène Lupin, a gentleman-thief reminiscent of E.W. Hornung's Raffles, Fantômas is much more akin to Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu, evil, ruthless, amoral, conscienceless, and brilliant. Similarly to Fu Manchu, Fantômas is chased and sometimes foiled by a police man (Inspector Juve) and his assistant, a reporter (Jérôme Fandor).

Marcel Allain's The Lord of Terror [French original, 1925 as Fantômas est-il réssuscité] was the 33rd of 43 immensely popular Fantômas books, and the first written by Allain alone, close to ten years after the first series was interrupted by his collaborator Pierre Souvestre's untimely death. Thought to have sunk with Fantômas on the S.S. Gigantic (i.e. the H.M.S. Titanic), Juve and Fandor suddenly find themselves alive and well in c. 1925 Marseilles. When diplomat Léon de Vautreuil serves as courier for millions in diamonds, strange things begin to happen around Paris, his sister, known to be on a ship to South America, mysteriously returns home unable to speak, and the family's clearly dead dog has come back to life. This is all part of the arch-villain's elaborate plan to steal the said diamonds. As with most pulp fiction, the story is full of kidnappings, hair's breadth escapes, plots and counterplots, freely leavened and tied together with highly unlikely coincidences.

As someone who has done a number of literary and technical French-English (and vice-versa) translations in my time, I had some trouble getting into the diction of Allinson's translation, which tended to awkwardly maintain the original French's structure and idioms. It also drew its criminal terminology from early 20th century British English, which wasn't always familiar. While I hadn't a copy of the original French edition, I did go back and read one of the original Souvestre-Allain novels (Le Fiacre de Nuit i.e. The Night Hansom) in French. The plotting, while still dependant on wild coincidences, was tighter and more comprehensible, and the atmosphere of the criminal ghetto much better portrayed. The earlier novel was much more graphically violent (e.g., a woman is beaten to death) and portrayed Fantômas as a sadistic villain (e.g., a department store's perfume spritzers filled with acid), who stops at nothing to attain his ends. In The Lord of Terror Allain (or his translator/editor) keep telling us Fantômas is the devil incarnate, but there is precious little evidence of this. I have a sneaking suspicion that the translation was cut to some extent. Besides this, the reason why the main characters have suddenly reappeared after 10+ years of being presumed dead is never adequately explained. Now perhaps by this, volume 33 in the series, Allain didn't think it necessary to remind his well seasoned readers of the villain's iniquities, and that they would overlook inconsistencies as long as it brought back their favourite characters. However, on the Souvestre-Allain collaborations, Allain had a somewhat secondary, somewhat secretarial role, compared to the elder, well respected Souvestre — perhaps Allain, however prolific, just wasn't the writer Souvestre was.

Copyright © 2006 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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