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Literature / The Circus of Doctor Lao

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The Circus of Doctor Lao is a novella written by newspaperman Charles G. Finney. Published in 1935, it tells the story of a rather unusual circus coming to the town of Abalone, Arizona.

It was loosely adapted into a film, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, in 1964, with Tony Randall starring as the eponymous doctor.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: A sympathetic example; Mrs. Cassin is an older woman whose husband simply left her. Since she lost her looks and charm a long time ago, she has no luck in attracting men.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The men in the town are extremely eager to check out the "peep show".
    • Larry Kamper and friends only seemed to want to see the werewolf transform due to expecting her to be a naked young woman, she wasn't.
  • Blind Seer: Apollonius of Tyana
  • Brutal Honesty: Apollonius again. He answers questions about the future with absolute, painful accuracy, rather than the wishful fortunes given by charlatans. It falls on deaf ears regardless.
  • Circus of Fear: Several of the exhibits of the circus make it a dangerous place.
  • Circus of Magic: A circus owned by a Chinese man named Dr. Lao pulls into town one day, carrying legendary creatures from all areas of mythology and legend, among them a sea serpent, Apollonius of Tyana (who tells dark, yet always truthful, fortunes), a medusa, and a satyr. Through interactions with the circus, the locals attain various enigmatic peak experiences appropriate to each one's particular personality.
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  • Crappy Carnival: Many think Dr. Lao's circus is one of these, especially with that crazy ad in the newspaper, and the less-than-impressive parade through town.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Interestingly enough, the sea serpent admits to this when questioned about captivity.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Sea Serpent takes a chance to attack Dr Lao during the brawl as despite being apart of the circus he's only be waiting for a chance to escape.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: The fine folk of Abalone, Arizona.
  • Elective Broken Language: Lao talks like You No Take Candle occasionally, mostly to deflect unwanted questions.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: A satyr is one of the Circus exhibits, and a faun appears in one of the peepshow scenarios "interacting" with some nymphs.
  • The Film of the Book: 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, made in 1964.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: The peep show includes scenes of nymphs fooling around with each other.
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  • Horny Devils: Mumbo Jumbo emerges and looks over his nubile servants and carries off the nordic woman for something that probably qualifies for him for this trope. The index raises the question of where she was given she wasn't seen in the big top despite Mumbo Jumbo, his priest and servants were.
  • Human Sacrifice: Demanded by the god Yottle after someone in the congregation runs their mouth.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Apollonius. He's an extremely powerful magician, but works for Lao in his weird little circus. (Why he bothers doing this is one of the unanswered questions listed in the appendix.)
  • Hypocritical Humor: Apollonius claims to be more powerful than Jesus, but then pulls out a crucifix to banish Satan Mekratrig.
  • Interspecies Romance: The satyr is said to be the child of a goatherd and his goat.
    • Miss Agnes Birdsong is seemingly seduced by the satyr, but interrupted by Dr. Lao before anything can happen.
    • Dr Lao mentions the Chimera often tries to get with the Sphinx.
    • The appendix contains a humorous mention of a "pony stallion show".
  • Lampshade Hanging: The appendix includes a section listing several plot-questions the main story never bothers to answer.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Some of whom are introduced and disposed of in a single sentence.
  • Medusa: One of the exhibits.
  • Mythical Motifs: Many of the characters are mythical creatures.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: A lot of people in town seem to have "R".
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Like you had to ask.
  • Novella: An eight-page introduction, 100 pages of story and then 19 pages of Catalog that includes a lot of additional information.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: Dr. Lao's Chimera is male despite the index poking fun that mythology generally agrees it/they were female.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Another of the exhibits in the circus. Dr. Lao's mermaid does not speak, is entirely naked, and her human half is described as beautiful.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: One troper would tell you there was a bear at the circus. Another would tell you there was a man there. Some tropers might say there was a Russian there. Either way there was something big and hairy at the circus and it was weird!
  • Random Events Plot: A weird circus comes to a small Arizona town, various townfolk aimlessly interact with the various exhibits, there's a final big show in the main tent, everybody goes home. Or wherever.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Try seven thousand.
  • Running Gag: People arguing about the man/bear/Russian.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Some members of the circus are creatures thought to be found only in myth.
  • Satan: Or specifically Satan Mekratrig appears (or some form of him) in the big top performance.
  • Satire: A genuine example, satirizing human nature in general. It is not gentle about this, especially by early 20th century standards.
  • Sea Monster: One of the circus's exhibits is a large sea serpent, capable of speech.
  • Sex God: The Satyr and (seemingly) Mumbo Jumbo.
  • Taken for Granite: Despite warnings, Kate Lindquist looks at the Gorgon head-on. And several more people casually get the same treatment during the monster-brawl at the end.
  • Talking Animal: The sea serpent.
  • Those Two Guys: Two college guys Paul Conrad Gordon and Slick Bromiezchski spend the entire book always together.
  • Unfazed Everyman: A running element of the novel; the townspeople either don't realize or refuse to realize the wonders of the circus.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A brawl between the exhibits breaks out that leads to ten people being petrified in the big top....all because the sphinx was clumsy and bumped into the unicorn.

Alternative Title(s): The 7 Faces Of Dr Lao


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