The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
Mirrik or a Woman From Mars. A Tale of Occult Adventure (1892)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Mirrikh or a Woman From Mars. A Tale of Occult Adventure was written by Francis W. Doughty. Doughty (1850-1917) was probably the best-known American writer of dime novels, and next to Frederic van Rensselaer Dey the best dime novel writer. Although Doughty’s work suffered from being written on a deadline, it is generally far more intelligent and imaginative than the work of other dime novel writers. Doughty was also an important numismatist.
Mirrikh is about a Martian who comes to Earth for reasons which are not made clear. The story begins in Cambodia around 1870s, where George Wylde, a traveling American, attempts to protect a masked man from being torn apart by a mob. The mob corners the pair, only to see the masked man vanish. Wylde gets a glimpse of the man's face before he disappears; it is yellow above the mouth and black below it. The disappointed mob leaves and Wylde is able to continue on to Angkor Wat with his friend. At Angkor Wat Wylde and his friends encounter the strange man again, who again vanishes. That night the Americans are lost in the jungle and are being chased by a tiger when they are rescued by the stranger. When pressed by one of Wylde's friends, an alcoholic Reverend, the stranger identifies himself: he is named “Mirrikh,” and he is from Mars.
The Americans do not believe him. Mirrikh explains that it is only his spirit inhabiting the body, and that he can return to Mars at will. Like all Martians Mirrikh has a number of exceptional abilities, among them mind control, levitation, shape alteration, phasing, and control over others' bodies. However, he insists that these are not supernatural abilities, but simply scientifically-based ones. He invites the Americans to visit Mars, and one of them, Maurice, accepts. Wylde, Maurice, Reverend Philopt, and Walla Enjow, a white woman from a Tibetan lost race (see: The Lost Race Story), sneak into Tibet in disguise and meet Mirrikh on a desolate mountainside. He meets them while possessing a corpse’s body, explaining to them that this is the easiest way for him to travel around the Earth. He brings them to a lamasery, where they see a group of misshapen, disfigured corpses being preserved. Mirrikh explains that the corpses are hosts for interplanetary travelers, and that the bodies take on the appearance of the alien spirits inhabiting them, which is why Mirrikh's host bodies turn black and yellow. Maurice breathes the gas that will put him into suspended animation and seems to fall dead. A dam in the area breaks, forcing the remaining party members to flee from the temple to Lhasa. Mirrikh helps them in the adventures that confront them there. Maurice meanwhile visits Mars and discovers that, on both Earth and Mars, there is one ideal mate for each person, and that Maurice’s ideal mate is Merzilla, a Martian. Maurice had been attracted to Walla Enjow but quickly sees that Merzilla is his true love. She accompanies him back to Earth, but she is forced to occupy his body to do so, and this renders Maurice almost comatose. But Walla falls off a bridge and dies, enabling Merzilla to inhabit her body. Maurice and Merzilla live happily ever after.
Mirrikh was apparently Doughty’s attempt to write a science fiction novel for adults. He had spent much of the 1870s as a writer for the dime novels in his spare time before turning to it full time in 1882 or 1883, writing hundreds of stories in the following years. By 1891, when Mirrikh was published, he was likely eager to turn to a more profitable and less work-intensive genre. The previous few years had seen a variety of fantastika novels being published, and in all likelihood Doughty thought that the could achieve some success writing fantastika at novel-length. In this he was disappointed, Mirrikh not attracting many reviews and not selling particularly well, and it would be another twenty years before Doughty began to transition out of writing dime novels.
Mirrikh is a novel in the interplanetary communication genre. The 1880s and 1890s were decades of intense interest in the planets of the solar system, especially Mars, and a recurring plot in the science fiction of the time was the arrival on Earth of the native of another planet in the solar system (see: A Voice From Another World, The Professor’s Last Experiment). While novels on this theme had been written in earlier decades (see The Triumphs of Woman), the increased interest in the planets in the 1880s and 1890s led to a large number of these novels being written in those decades. A central cause of this heightened interest was the Schiaparelli map of Mars. In 1877 Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), a well-respected astronomer and director of the Milan Observatory, examined Mars through his telescope. The surface of Mars cannot usually be seen with any clarity, but Schiaparelli was looking at Mars when the distance between Mars and the Earth was at its minimum. Schiaparelli saw straight lines crisscrossing Mars’ surface, and used the word “canali” to describe them. “Canali,” in Italian, means naturally-occurring grooves or channels. Schiaparelli was not the first to see these grooves or to describe them as “canali.” Father Pietro Secchi (1818-1878), one of the earliest astrophysicists, had examined Mars and mapped it in 1876, using the word “canali” to describe the grooves. Schiaparelli drew on Secchi’s observations and expanded them, creating a new map of Mars. The English-speaking public misinterpreted the word “canali” to mean “canals” and took this to mean that the grooves were artificially constructed and were evidence of the existence of Martians.
The resulting interest in Mars and the other planets of the solar system led to the writing of a number of novels, many of which used the theme of an alien visiting earth. The most prominent of these novels in the 1880s was Marie Corelli’s A Romance of Two Worlds (1886), one likely inspiration for Mirrikh. The craze began in earnest in 1895, when the American astronomer Percival Lowell argued, in four essays published in The Atlantic Monthly, for the existence of atmosphere, water, canals, oases, and intelligent life on Mars. The 1890s saw not only novels about alien visitation, sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile (see: Between Two Planets, The War of the Worlds), but also several mediums who claimed to have been in psychic contact with Mars. Other influences on Mirrikh which were common elements in the science fiction of the time include its Theosophical occultism, especially in the novel’s ascended-masters-in-Tibet, and Walla Enjow’s Haggardian Lost Race.
Unfortunately, despite some interesting ideas Mirrikh is not compelling (or particularly enjoyable) reading. There is little description of Mars, and too much of Doughty’s dime novel past, especially the one-sentence paragraphs, makes its way into the novel.
The Mars of Mirrikh is a kind of utopia, visited through mental/spiritual projection—a common kind of space travel for stories of this time period:
…space travel, by means of mental projection, is an outgrowth of American Spiritualism, with its emphasis on the duality of mind and body. In contrast to the modern behavioristic notion of the identity of the physical and psychological, the spiritualists felt that the physical world was only a "veil" over an invisible but tangible spirit world.1
This kind of interstellar utopia, found by spirit-travel, was not unusual in the years following the Civil War:
The hope of the pre-Civil War spiritualists of achieving the social millennium under spirit direction had faded by the decade of the 1870s . Nevertheless, Spiritualism offered consolation and religious promise to the widows and orphans of Civil War dead…many of the utopian spirit-travel journeys found Paradise, or near-perfect social conditions, on another planet. In general, the spirit voyage utopias antedate the Bellamy future anticipation type utopia.2
Print: Francis Worcester Doughty, Mirrikh: or A Woman from Mars: A Tale of Occult Adventure. New York: Arno Press, 1976.
1 Frederick Earl Pratter, “The Uses of Utopia: An Analysis of American Speculative Fiction, 1880-1960” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1973), 178-179.
2 Pratter, “The Uses of Utopia,” 188-189.