Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459
The Lair of the White Worm, Bram Stoker’s last novel, was published one year before his death and written while the author’s health was failing. Biographers have speculated that the poor quality of the writing is a result of the author’s physically deteriorating condition and the possibility that he may have been under the influence of drugs used to control pain.
The story concerns Adam Salton, who returns to England from Australia and stays with his Uncle Richard in the family freehold in the heart of old Mercia in central England. Richard Salton’s friend, Sir Nathaniel de Salis, a geologist, natural historian, and president of the Mercian Archaeological Society, explains to Adam that Mercia was an ancient Anglian kingdom built on Roman ruins and that elemental forces still hold sway in the area’s peaks and caverns. These powers are localized at Mercy Farm, built on the ruins of an early Christian nunnery, and at Diana’s Grove, a thicket of ancient oaks.
Mercy Farm is tenanted by Michael Watford and his two granddaughters, Lilia and her cousin Mimi. Diana’s Grove and its ancient house belong to a mysterious and beautiful widow, Lady Arabella March. Lady Arabella was left cold and distant after a childhood encounter with a snake. She is, in actuality, the human manifestation of an ancient and immense dragon whose intelligence evolved over the centuries as her physical form diminished. She wishes to secure her fortune by marrying the primary landholder of the area, Edgar Caswell, a villain whose family has owned Casta Regis in the center of Mercia since the time of George III.
The Caswells all have been physically strong and well preserved, and their character has remained unchanged in its selfishness, domineering manner, and recklessness. Rumors have circulated that the family made a pact with the devil, who gave them their compelling qualities.
Caswell sets his sights on Lilia and, using his mesmeric powers, destroys her. Reared abroad like Adam, Caswell brings with him his servant Oolanga, an African who practices voodoo and can smell death, and who makes advances toward Arabella. She is repulsed and destroys him. Her own plans to gain power by first marrying and then killing Caswell are thwarted by Adam. He blocks Arabella’s wormhole with sand and dynamites the Grove and its primordial house. The dragon Lady Arabella is killed, and Caswell is destroyed by his own increasing monomania. Obsessively concerned with a giant kite, Caswell flies it from the turret of the Caswell family estate. During a terrible storm, it attracts a bolt of lightning. The castle goes down in flames at the same moment that Diana’s Grove and its massive white worm are exploded into chunks of writhing slime.
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