The Lair of the White Worm

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The Lair of the White Worm
Lair of white worm 1st ed cover.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorBram Stoker
IllustratorPamela Colman Smith
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHorror novel
Set inDerbyshire, 1860
PublisherWilliam Rider and Son Ltd (London: W. Rider)[1]
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)
LC ClassPZ3.S8743 La PR6037.T617[1]
TextThe Lair of the White Worm at Wikisource

The Lair of the White Worm is a horror novel by the Irish writer Bram Stoker. It was first published by Rider and Son of London in 1911[1][2] – the year before Stoker's death – with colour illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith. The story is based on the legend of the Lambton Worm. It has also been issued as The Garden of Evil.

In 1925 a highly abridged and rewritten form was published by Foulsham.[3] It was shortened by more than 100 pages, the rewritten book having only 28 chapters instead of the original 40. The final eleven chapters were cut down to only five, leading some critics to complain that the ending was abrupt and inconsistent.[4]

The Lair of the White Worm was very loosely adapted by Ken Russell into a 1988 film of the same name.

The first episode of the German radio drama "Die schwarze Sonne", produced by the label LAUSCH, is loosely based on the events of The Lair of the White Worm.[5] The main characters of the radio drama are also based on the protagonists of the novel and feature in the rest of the episodes even though the plot turns away from Stoker's original story.

Plot summary[edit]

The plot focuses on Adam Salton, originally from Australia, who is contacted by his great-uncle, Richard Salton, in 1860 Derbyshire[6] for the purpose of establishing a relationship between these last two members of the family. His great-uncle wants to make Adam his heir. Although Adam has already made his own fortune in Australia he enthusiastically agrees to meet his uncle, and the two men become good friends. Adam travels to Richard Salton's house in Mercia, Lesser Hill, and quickly finds himself at the centre of mysterious and inexplicable occurrences, with Sir Nathaniel as guide.

The new heir to the Caswall estate (known as Castra Regis or the Royal Camp), Edgar Caswall, appears to be making some sort of a mesmeric assault on a local girl, Lilla Watford. Arabella March, of Diana's Grove, seems to be running a game of her own, perhaps angling to become Mrs. Caswall. Edgar Caswall is a slightly pathological eccentric who inherited Mesmer's chest which he keeps at the Castra Regis Tower. Caswall wants to recreate mesmerism, associated with Franz Mesmer, which was a precursor to hypnotism. He is obsessed with Lilla Watford, and attempts to break her using his mesmer. Fortunately, with the help of Lilla's cousin Mimi, he is thwarted time and again. Caswall orders a giant kite in the shape of a hawk built to scare away pigeons which have gone berserk and attacked his fields and destroyed his crops. For lack of anything better to do he obsessively watches the kite and begins to believe that it has a mind of its own and that he himself is a god.

Adam Salton discovers black snakes on the property and buys a mongoose to hunt them down. He then discovers a child who has been bitten on the neck. The child barely survives. He learns that another child was killed earlier while animals were also killed throughout the county. Caswall's servant, Oolanga, an African man obsessed with death and torture, prowls around the estates, glorying in the carnage left by the White Worm. Adam's mongoose attacks Arabella, who shoots it to death. Adam procures more mongoose and keeps them locked in his trunks when not using them to hunt. Arabella tears another mongoose apart with her hands. Caswall's servant takes a peculiar liking to Arabella, perhaps sensing something violent in her. Arabella scorns Oolanga's advances and is deeply insulted that he would dare approach her. In an attempt to win her over, Oolanga steals one of Adam's trunks (which he believes is filled with treasure, but is actually just another mongoose), and Adam follows Oolanga. Arabella lures Oolanga to a deep well in her house, then murders him in rage and disgust, by dragging him down into the deep pit tunnelled through a bed of white china clay. Adam witnesses the murder which he cannot prove, and Arabella writes him a letter the next day with the previous night's events twisted to claim her innocence. Adam and Sir Nathaniel begin to suspect Arabella guilty of the other crimes.

Adam and Sir Nathaniel de Salis, who is a friend of Richard Salton's, then plot to stop Arabella by whatever means necessary. They suspect that she wants to murder Mimi Watford, whom Adam later marries. Nathaniel is an Van Helsing-type character who wants to hunt down Arabella, who he believes, with increasing conviction, is the White Worm of legend.

The White Worm is a large snake-like creature that dwells deep beneath the earth under Arabella's house located in Diana's Grove. The White Worm has green glowing eyes and feeds on whatever it hunts down. Sir Nathaniel believes that the White Worm is descended from dragons, who traded their physical power for cunning. The White Worm ascends from the pit and seeks to attack Adam and Mimi Watford in the forest of Diana's Grove. Adam is able to foil Arabella's multiple attempts to murder Mimi.

Arabella offers to sell Diana's Grove, which Adam buys in hopes of destroying the White Worm. Adam plans to clog the pit with sand and carefully placed dynamite to kill the giant White Worm while it is underground. Caswall's last visit to Lilla ends in her death.

In the final chapters, Mimi Watford confronts Edgar Caswall who lures her to the roof of Castra Regis as a storm springs up, as he has finally succumbed to madness. He shows off his kite despite the thunderheads building in the sky. Arabella, who had been stalking Mimi, watches from nearby and steals some of the wire holding the kite, apparently unspooling it all the way back to her house. When Mimi discovers Caswall has locked her onto the roof she shoots off the lock with a gun Adam gave her for protection and flees for home. Adam convinces her to go back outside with him and they witness the following events: the massive thunderstorm breaks over Castra Regis, grounded by the kite, and demolishes the tower; then travels through the wire Arabella had run to Diana's Grove and igniting the dynamite, pulverizing the White Worm and the house with it.


Author Bram Stoker, photographed in 1912

Les Daniels noted that while The Lair of the White Worm had "potential", it was undermined by the "clumsy style" of the writing.[7] The horror critic R.S. Hadji placed The Lair of the White Worm at number twelve in his list of the worst horror novels ever written.[8] Historian of the horror genre H.P. Lovecraft, in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, stated that Stoker "utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile."[9]


  1. ^ a b c "The lair of the white worm" (1st ed). LC Online Catalog. Library of Congress ( Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  2. ^ Bibliography of Stoker's novels at Bram Stoker Online.[full citation needed]
  3. ^ McNally, Raymond T.; Florescu, Radu (1994). In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires (Revised ed.). Houghton Mifflin Co. p. 223. ISBN 9780395657836.
  4. ^ Dracula and The Lair of the White Worm, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., 1986, p. 8.
  5. ^ "Die Schwarze Sonne - Lausch". Lausch - Phantastische Hörspiele (in German). 2006.
  6. ^ Authors and writings of the East Midlands.[full citation needed]
  7. ^ Les Daniels, Living In Fear: a history of horror in the mass media, New York: Scribner, 1975, ISBN 0684143429, p. 63.
  8. ^ R.S. Hadji, "13 Worst Stinkers of the Weird", in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, July–August 1983, TZ Publications, Inc., pp. 86-87.
  9. ^ H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature. Reprinted in Stephen Jones & Dave Carson (eds.) The World's Greatest Horror Stories. New York : Barnes & Noble Books, 2004. ISBN 9780760754665 (p.45)

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