Finney (1936) The Circus of Dr. Lao – Weird Fantasy 1st/3rd


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Finney, Charles G. The Circus of Dr. Lao. (New York: The Viking Press, 1936) Illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff. First Edition, Third Printing (Confirmed in ISFDB).

Octavo. 154 pages, 7 b/w illustrations. Hardback. Bound in red cloth-covered boards with black and white  lables pasted to front cover and spine. No dj included. Illustrated end-papers.

Condition: VG, wear to extremities. Hinges tight, otherwise very good. No dust jacket.

The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935) is a novel written by the American newspaperman and writer Charles G. Finney. It won one of the inaugural National Book Awards: the Most Original Book of 1935.

Although the first edition was illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff, many later editions omit the illustrations.

The novel is set in the fictional town of Abalone, Arizona, whose inhabitants epitomize ordinary Americans as they are simultaneously backhandedly celebrated and lovingly pilloried for their emergent reactions to the wonders of magic and of everyday life. 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.

The tale ends with the town becoming the site of a ritual to a pagan god whimsically given the name Yottle, possibly an allusion to the Mesoamerican god Yaotl, whose name means “the enemy”. The ritual ends when the god himself slays a virgin, her unrequited lover, and his own priest. The circus over, the townsfolk scatter to the winds. Apparently few of them profit from the surreal experiences.

The book’s appendix is a “catalogue” of all the people, places, items, and mythological beings mentioned in the novel, summing up the characters pithily and sardonically, revealing the various fates of the townsfolk, and listing a number of plot holes and unanswered questions not addressed in the book. – Wikipedia


Boris Artzybasheff (Russian: Борис Арцыбашев, 25 May 1899, Kharkov, Russian Empire — 16 July 1965) was an American illustrator of Russian origin active in the United States, notable for his strongly worked and often surreal designs.

His earliest work appeared in 1922 as illustrations for Verotchka’s Tales and The Undertaker’s Garland. A number of other book illustrations followed during the 1920s. Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s Gay-Neck, with his illustrations, was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1928. His book Seven Simeons was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1938. Over the course of his career, he illustrated some 50 books, several of which he wrote, most notably As I See.- Wikipedia