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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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Eccentric Townsfolk: The fine folk of Abalone, Arizona.
  • Elective Broken Language: Dr. Lao casually switches back and forth between Asian Speekee Engrish/You No Take Candle and perfect English.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Repulsive Ringmaster: Dr. Lao falls into the "morally ambiguous" category, as he's not overly worried about some of the more interesting and permanent changes (like petrification) that happen to his customers.
  • 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.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A literary version finishes off the book.

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