The American Psychological Association knows what men like! To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen the precepts of traditional masculinity articulated so concisely anywhere else. Seriously, dig this litany of masculine virtues from their recently released “guidelines to help clinicians improve the health of boys and men”:
Anti-femininity, Achievement, Eschewal of the Appearance of Weakness, and Adventure, Risk, and Violence
Inspiring! Truly it is a shortlist of awesome, capturing everything I aspire to, everything I admire. And not incidentally, everything I look for in a tale of thrills and wonder.
Just going through the opening chapter of A. Merritt’s Seven Footprints to Satan, you can see nearly every one of these notes hit in rapid succession.
For achievement, we are introduced to a protagonist that has just made a fortune selling some Yunnan jades to a wealthy philanthropist. This guy is like Indiana Jones– but minus the archaeological rival taking away his find in the opening scenes. An epic achievement by any standard!
Our hero is no bungler– except in matters of high finance. The brokers have burned through all of his assets! And note how he handles his misfortune:
“Bit jerky, aren’t you, Jim?” he asked. “What’s the matter? Been on a bender?”
“Nothing like it, Lars,” I answered. “Too much city, I guess. Too much continual noise and motion. And too many people,” I added with a real candor he could not suspect.
“God!” he exclaimed. “It all looks good to me. I’m eating it up— after those two years. But I suppose in a month or two I’ll be feeling the same way about it. I hear you’re going away again soon. Where this time? Back to China?”
I shook my head. I did not feel like telling Lars that my destination was entirely controlled by whatever might turn up before I had spent the sixty-five dollars in my wallet and the seven quarters and two dimes in my pocket.
“Not in trouble, are you, Jim?” he looked at me more keenly. “If you are, I’d be glad to—help you.”
I shook my head. Everybody knew that old Rockbilt had been unusually generous about those infernal jades. I had my pride, and staggered though I was by that amazingly rapid melting-away of a golden deposit I had confidently expected to grow into a barrier against care for the rest of my life, make me, as a matter of fact, independent of all chance, I did not feel like telling even Lars of my folly. Besides, I was not yet that hopeless of all things, a beachcomber in New York. Something would turn up.
“Eschewal of the appearance of weakness”? Check!
And for the trifecta of “adventure, violence, and risk”, try this on for size:
There had been that mock arrest in Paris, designed to get me quickly out of the way for a few hours, as the ransacked condition of my room and baggage showed when I returned. A return undoubtedly much earlier than the thieves had planned, due to my discovery of the ruse and my surprise sally which left me with an uncomfortable knife slash under an arm but, I afterwards reflected pleasantly, had undoubtedly left one of my guards with a broken neck and another with a head that would not do much thinking for another month or so. Then there had been the second attempt when the auto in which I was rushing to the steamer had been held up between Paris and the Havre. That might have been successful had not the plaques been tucked among the baggage of an acquaintance who was going to the boat by the regular train, thinking, by the way, that he was carrying for me some moderately rare old dishes that I did not want to trust to the possible shocks of fast automobile travel, to which the mythical engagement on the day of sailing had condemned me.
Notice that by clearly establishing this character’s bona fides in the realm of traditional masculine virtues, A. Merritt automatically secures his likability as a person and a character. You actually care about his predicaments… and want to see him wield his creativity, cunning, and strength in overcoming them.
Authors bred in the ethos of cultural suicide that has given rise to the American Psychological Association’s recent bizarre pronouncements typically lack the imagination to craft such a sequence. For instance, books like The Man in High Castle (1962) and Beserker’s Planet (1975) highlight the push to repudiate heroic characters and replace them with attempts at giving cowards and dweebs their moment in the spotlight, which supposedly right the literary wrongs of the supposedly less sophisticated pulp era.
But I see we have overlooked one more virtue here: anti-femininity. And I have to admit, this one does not explicitly appear in the pages of this tale because it is indeed a sort of a special case.
What is it exactly?
“Anti-femininity” means the male characters do nothing to demonstrate that their creators have submitted to the relentless propaganda directing them portray men indulging in feminine traits and virtues a la the 1972 Free to be You and Me campaign.
Such a thing was unheard of in 1927 when A. Merritt was writing this novel. As such, there is no such Satanic force for him to bow the knee to in that respect. Which means his story is about whatever that independently wealthy author wanted it to be about– and not what it could have been meant to do to you by people that hate you.
One more reason not to read anything after 1940!