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Literature / The Beetle

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The Beetle (or The Beetle: A Mystery) is an 1897 mystery horror novel written by the British author Richard Marsh. The book is notable for initially outselling Dracula, which was published in the same year, before slipping into relative obscurity.

In late Victorian England, a mysterious and threatening entity known only as "The Beetle" seeks revenge on the prominent politician Paul Lessingham.

The book is divided between four narrators:

  • Robert Holt - A homeless man who is hypnotised and forced into service by "The Beetle".

  • Sydney Atherton - An inventor interested in developing chemical weapons. He is a childhood friend of Marjorie Lindon and becomes romantically interested in her during the course of the novel.

  • Marjorie Lindon - The daughter of a prominent politician and the fiancée of Paul Lessingham, much to Sydney's dismay. She becomes the target of "The Beetle" because of her connection to Paul.

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  • Augustus Champnell - A detective brought in to investigate "The Beetle" by Paul Lessingham.

The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ancient Egypt: The cult of Isis and The Beetle originate in Egypt.
  • Anti-Climax: In the finale, the protagonists chase down The Arab by train as he escapes with a hypnotised Marjorie Lindon. Only, as they approach the station where The Arab is due to arrive, they discover he is already dead. The train he was travelling on crashed and derailed. The cult of Isis also mysteriously blew up with no explanation.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The Beetle often takes the form of a man, called The Arab, however many characters comment on their effeminate features and manner. It transforms into a woman in front of Sydney, but it is still left ambiguous whether The Beetle is male, female or genderless.
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  • Arc Words: "Beware The Beetle!"
  • Backstory: The reason for The Beetle taking revenge on Paul? When he was a young man, Paul travelled to Egypt and discovered a mysterious woman singing in a tavern. She entranced him with her songs, and he soon found himself being held against his will by her and the cult of Isis. He was hypnotised and forced to watch the cult sacrifice women for several months before breaking free of the woman's influence. In desperation and anger, he managed to choke her to death and escape. The Beetle/The Arab now seeks revenge for her death.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The real form of The Beetle giant beetle.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Arab and the cult of Isis are probably all dead, Marjorie was saved and married Paul and Sydney married Dora. However, Robert is dead and it takes Marjorie many years to recover from her mental trauma.
  • Brainwashed: The Arab can paralyse and hypnotise anyone they wish. They force Robert to become their slave and later hypnotises Marjorie.
  • Broken Bird: Marjorie after her traumatic experience with The Arab. She eventually gets better.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Although Sydney spent most of the book wanting to be with Marjorie, she continues to marry Paul at the end. So Sydney is not left on his own, he marries Dora Grayling. Even Percy Woodville, a hopeless romantic with a crush on Marjorie, ends up marrying one of her bridesmaids.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The notorious Beetle has many elements of a creature from a Cosmic Horror story, being an indescribable shapeshifter that drives men to madness and is worshipped by a cult of fanatics.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: The Arab meets with Sydney, hoping he will help him take revenge on Paul. Not being fooled by The Arab's attempt at hypnotism, Sydney uses his electrical equipment and chemical knowledge to scare him off...which surprisingly works! From then on, The Arab believes that Sydney is a powerful magician and humbly asks to be his servant.
  • Human Sacrifice: The cult of Isis like to sacrifice young women, preferably white women, by burning them alive and consuming the ashes.
  • Never Found the Body: All that is left of The Arab/The Beetle after their train is derailed are scraps of fabric and patches of blood.
  • No Name Given: The antagonist is only referred to by other characters as "The Arab" because of their appearance. They do use the name Mohamed el Kheir for business, but it is most likely a false name.
    • "The Woman of Songs" is another member of the cult of Isis. They share many characteristics with The Arab, so it is possible they are one and the same.
  • Old, Dark House: The Arab lives in a derelict building that was never finished. The inside is always described as being in shadow, so as The Arab can stay in his natural form of The Beetle.
  • Orientalism: The book presents Egypt as very sensual, mystical and dangerous to white travellers. The villain is also consistently referred to by their ethnicity as "The Arab", not by their given name.
  • Shapeshifting: The Beetle takes the form of The Arab when conducting his business. It is implied all members of the cult of Isis have an ability to shapeshift.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: The Beetle usually takes the form of a man. In this form he is usually referred to as "The Arab".
  • The Dreaded: Even hearing the name "The Beetle" or seeing an image of one causes the normally stoic Paul Lessingham to collapse in fear.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In his chapters, Sydney expresses how he has always loved Marjorie and is upset when she turns him down. His portrayal of her from then on makes her seem uncaring and a little manipulative, almost teasing him for his affection for her.
    • When it comes to Marjorie's version of events however, she makes it clear that Sydney is a womaniser who is falling for a different woman every week. She values him as a friend, but is frustrated at how over-protective and immature he can be.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Several people are described as having gone mad by either seeing the form of The Beetle, or perhaps another form that is never described in the book. The blood left by The Arab is described as being potentially from a reptile, not a human or insect.

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