Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Mumbo Jumbo

Go To

Mumbo Jumbo is a 1972 satirical novel by Ishmael Reed.

1920s America has been beset by a mysterious virus known as "Jes Grew", causing anyone who catches it to become obsessed with jazz, dancing, and voodoo. On one hand "The Wallflower Order," an international conspiracy dedicated to monotheism and control, is working to wipe out the virus and re-establish Eurocentrism.

This book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Alternate History: The whole book is one, describing the cultural events of the Jazz Age as a struggle between secret societies.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Order of the Wallflower, the last survivor of a variety of Knight's Orders dedicated to defending Western Culture.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Reed’s view of history
  • Bittersweet Ending: With the destruction of Jes Grew’s text there’s no sign it will ever return, but Von Vinkle and the others are brought to justice at Haiti
  • Cool Old Guy: Papa LaBas. His exact age is not clear, but he's definitely up there.
  • Foreign Queasine: Von Vinkle dines on weeds collected from the grave of a dead infant
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Averted. Reed's portrayal of hoodoo and Louisiana folk magic is extremely accurate, and real-life voodoo figures Black Herman and Papa LaBas feature prominently in the story
  • La Résistance: The Mu’tafikah, who "rescue" artworks in museums and ship them back to their nations of origin.
  • Magical Realism: Actual historical events events co-exist with voodoo and psychic phenomena. Moreover, occultism is an efficacious and respected field of study in-universe.
  • Mystical Plague: The mysterious Jes Grew, a metaphysical disease considered by its opponents to be of devilish origin.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Being an allegorical novel, several of the characters are based on real people. Often with little to no subterfuge.
    • Abdul Sufi is based on the Black Islamic militant preacher Sufi Abdul Hamid.
    • The character Black Herman is based on the real life magician and root doctor, Benjamin "Black Herman" Rucker.
  • Occult Detective: Papa LaBas, who is either the only one of his kind in-universe or simply the best.
  • The Roaring '20s: The story takes place during the Jazz Age, and discusses the implications of the growing popularity of Black culture and music during that time period.
  • Scrapbook Story: Partially. Sizeable chunks of the text are journal entries and monologues, as well as phony news stories.
  • Shout-Out: Jes Grew is an allusion to Topsy, a slave character from Uncle Tom's Cabin – like her Jes Grew just grew, appearing out of nowhere
  • Token White: Thor, the one white member of the Mu'tafikah.