Monday, 4 July 2016
A Modern Wizard by Rodrigues Ottolengui (1894)
Rodrigues Ottolengui (1861-1937) was a somewhat famous pioneer in the art of inflicting suffering on others and still getting paid for it, specifically being a dentist. Apart from spending his time perfecting the root cannal and shinning x-rays inside of people's mouths, and an occupation with entomology, Ottolengui wrote a few work of criminal fiction, which appeared in book form between 1892 and 1896. He published no more fiction afterwards, beyond a story in a magazine here and there, and as Anthony Boucher said he "gave up the sleuth for the tooth".
A Modern Wizard is his third book and it seems to be his most interesting work. It has a main character who likes to hypnotise people and be brutish and commanding without considering other people's feelings, always getting what he wants. The first third of the book deals with Dr. Medjora on trial for the murder of his wife, and Ottolengui grinds the plot to a halt to showcase the proceedings in numbing detail, with nearly the entire cross-examination of all witnesses and the complete closing speech of the defense and Attorney, repeating the same points over and over again.
The second part, years later after Dr. Medjora was acquited, deals with the Doctor adopting Leon, a farm boy who, it turns out, is his son with his first wife. The novel seems to be building up Leon confronting the Doctor, who tries to hypnotise him and make him assimilate information at rapid rate for his own purpose, and also forces him and a girl in the neighbourhood to fall in love through hypnotism, all while talking about how he is a direct descendant of the God Aesculapius, who was a North American native wise-man venerated as a god before the world flood, leading Leon to the pyramid built by Aesculapius which is below Medjora's house. All this seems to build up some kind of conflict but then the novel just sort of ends with Medjora intentionally driving himself insane to prevent a detective from dragging his name through court after the suspicious and largely unexplained coincidental death of his second wife. Leon, despite how much time is devoted to him, really ends up doing nothing and it seems like Ottolengui suddenly ended the novel for reasons beyond his control.
Rather disappointing considering the potential of the Lost-race element on display here, it's a shame it ends up so marginal.