The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished: A Romance: Relating the Wonderful Adventures of a
Female Knight, in Which Is Described Her Attack on Rudamore Castle, to Release a Lovely Maid,
Detained There by a Sorcerer, and Glorious Victory Over the Guardian Demons of the Gate: With Her
Achievements in the Temple of Illusion, in Which She Resists the Allurements of the Spirits, Releases
Her Beloved Knight From the Dungeon of Torture, and Causes the Fatal End of the Sorcerer
Publisher: W. Mason
Publication Year: 1810
Book Dimensions: 10.9cm x18.2cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ6 F4636, 1810
This fantastical 1810 chapbook follows two knights through trial and tribulation as they attempt to rescue their loved ones from the grips of a lustful sorcerer, battling spirits and demons all the while dispelling enchanting illusions.
The Fiery Castle does not have a cover, but rather a nondescript worn page, tinted yellow with scattered mysterious brown stains, separates the reader from the book’s title. A flip into the string-bound chapbook reveals, unsurprisingly, more brown stains. What is a surprise, though, is the intricately drawn illustration that was hidden beneath the nondescript outer page: with fine lines filled in with bright pink, yellow, orange, and blue accenting the image, the illustration depicts a dame, accompanied by a knight posed for combat against two black demons guarding a gate engulfed in flames. Underneath, a simple caption reads: “See p. 7.” Clearly, this action-packed scene occurs only five pages in—as the story begins on page two.
Across from this fascinating illustration is an even more intriguing, albeit long, title: The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished: A Romance: Relating the Wonderful Adventures of a Female Knight, in Which Is Described Her Attack on Rudamore Castle, to Release a Lovely Maid, Detained There by a Sorcerer, and Glorious Victory Over the Guardian Demons of the Gate: With Her Achievements in the Temple of Illusion, in Which She Resists the Allurements of the Spirits, Releases Her Beloved Knight From the Dungeon of Torture, and Causes the Fatal End of the Sorcerer—its truncated title being, The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished. With varying fonts, text sizes, forms of capitalization, and embellishments throughout, it is entirely likely that the publisher was actively trying to capture and retain readers’ attention with this long title. There is no author listed on the title page or anywhere in the chapbook.
The book itself, only twenty-eight pages in length, was printed and published in London by a W. Mason and sold for sixpence. Past the opening illustration, there is no decor in the rest of the book aside from a single decorative border on the first page of the story, and a small ink and quill depiction on the thirty-second page, informing the reader that the novel is “Finis.” Flipping through the pages, the chapbook has all the characteristics of a standard paperback: set margins, pagination, and an easy-to-read font. There is but one outlier within this uniformly printed text on page 22. A small, lowercase t in “the” seems to have fallen a step below its fellow letters, resembling a subscript of sorts. Small printing quirks like this are perplexing, but give the text a sense of craftsmanship.
The Fiery Castle measures roughly 0.3 cm thick, standing at 18.2 cm tall and 10.9 cm wide. The brittle yet cotton-like pages are held together by a single strand of string, with the page reading “finis” almost finished itself, as it hangs on for dear life. This book, littered with small folds, rips, blemishes, and tinged with what can only be described as old age, shows all the signs of having led a thrilling and entertaining life as a shilling shocker.
The Fiery Castle, or, A Sorcerer Vanquished is one of many gothic novels in the Sadleir-Black Collection. This edition was published in 1810, though there appears to be at least one earlier version which is listed as the second edition on WorldCat. This previous edition was published in 1802 by A. Young located at 168, High Holborn, Bloomsbury. Although this version is indicated as the second edition, there is no specific information on whether it is distinctly separate from the first edition. One clear distinction that can be asserted is that although the earlier edition was simply entitled: The Fiery Castle, or, The Sorcerer Vanquished: An original romance, the 1810 edition in the Sadleir-Black Collection has much more detail incorporated into the title. Both chapbooks were sold for sixpence, or half a shilling, although they were printed eight years apart.
While the novel’s original author is unknown, The Fiery Castle (1810) was distributed by an experienced publisher by the name of W. Mason. Mason’s primary operations were based at No. 21 Clerkenwell Green where he “published at least fifteen gothic pamphlets” and he habitually “summarised the entire novel on the title page” (Potter 94). This serves to explain the variance in the titles between the 1802 and 1810 versions.
At the time of publication, the demand for gothic pamphlets was diminishing. and in its place, a “growing marketplace for children’s toy books” emerged (Potter 98). W. Mason, however, published The Fiery Castle presumably because gothic publications remained well-received by readers to some extent. His decision to publish the novel may be attributed to its plot, as it illustrates a hybrid between the gothic and fairytale genres. Due to evolving public sentiment, The Fiery Castle was written in a way that swapped out the “standard gothic villain,” incorporating instead a sorcerer that is defeated by a heroine; this demonstrates how “the gothic was absorbed into the growing market for children’s stories” (Potter 98). Subsequently, the chapbook’s unconventional plot may have been another motivating factor for W. Mason’s printing of The Fiery Castle.
Many of the chapbook’s physical details, such as its decorative borders, margin size, font, and font size appear standard across W. Mason’s publications. Another chapbook published by Mason, entitled The Spirit of the Spirit, which has been scanned in its entirety and uploaded digitally to HathiTrust, resembles The Fiery Castle almost identically. Both texts’ layouts include a single illustration on the page next to the title, with each title page utilizing the same fonts and borders atop of the first page of the story.
W. Mason’s 1810 printing of The Fiery Castle appears to be the last and latest edition of the novel, with no further editions published. The novel does not have any modern editions available for purchase, nor are there any digital copies online. As a result, there have been no modifications to the story since there are no new editions, nor has the text been adapted to different mediums like film.
The Fiery Castle has very limited recognition in academic scholarship, with Franz Potter’s mention being the only noteworthy mention of the novel. This may be attributed to what Potter describes in Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers as the slow yet steady shift away from gothic literature at the time that the book was distributed. Consequently, there is limited additional information to be discovered regarding The Fiery Castle’s origins.
Narrative Point of View
The Fiery Castle is narrated in third-person omniscient perspective, as the narrator provides the context for each individual character, their thoughts, as well as details on the events that are unfolding. Seamlessly switching from one scene to the next, the narrator concisely illustrates both the emotions and actions that encompass each character. The narration discloses details for a wide array of characters, ranging from the most prominent of knights to the most minute of spirits. While the narrator does not make any outright personal interjections regarding the crimes that unfold in the plot, there is a notable use of adjectives within the narration that appear to appraise the characters’ choices.
The fairy appeared, and, waving her invisible wand, extinguished the torch. The altar shook to its base, and Hymen and his attendant Cupids fled in dismay; the spirit found his power subdued, and his arts fettered. All presence of mind fled, in proportion as his fears arose, of meeting with the torments with which Rudamore was prepared to afflict him, for failing in his enterprise. The female knight saw, in a mirror which the fairy held to her view, the reflection of her girdle, which displayed again, in luminous letters, its sentence of “Be virtuous and conquer!” (26)
The narration clearly dissects each aspect of the scene, including each character or group of characters—the fairy, Hymen and the Cupids, the spirit, the female knight—within it and their subsequent actions. This creates a plot that is transparent, as the catalyst of the chain of events. In this case, the narrator is correlating the chaos that ensues to the initial arrival of the fairy and her “waving her invisible wand,” which in turn, impedes the efforts of Rudamore’s minions. Furthermore, the narrator recounts the emotions of the characters, thus providing context for their specific behaviors. By thoughtfully combining emotion and action in narration, the characters’ own portrayals are made more robust. This is illustrated in small points throughout the narration, such as the discussion of the spirit’s motivations for misleading the female knight. The spirit’s drive to deception is evidently grounded in his fear of “meeting with the torments with which Rudamore was prepared to afflict him,” which the narrator makes known by providing context. This thorough narration allows the reader to gain further insight into key elements of the plot, while also providing explanation for specific character choices.
The Fiery Castle opens with the protagonist, known only as the female knight, seeing a young man in an enchanted mirror whom she falls in love with at first sight. Her father is a powerful sorcerer and her mother, a fairy. Receiving their permission, bestowed a set of weapons and armour engraved with the message: “Be Virtuous and Conquer,” and endowed with courage, she sets out on her journey (3). In the midst of her travels, she comes across a heartbroken knight in the forest. He informs her that his beloved Dellaret has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, Rudamore. The female knight offers her services, thus the two set out on a journey to Rudamore’s castle.
Upon their arrival, the two knights are faced with two demons that are guarding the gate. Raising their swords, the gate is engulfed in flames to prevent their passage, and the heartbroken knight once again feels despondent. The female knight’s mother comes to their aid, declaring that “with this touch of my wand, your armour becomes adamant, and your arms are changed to gold” (6). As a result, the knights successfully defeat the demons and traverse through the flames. Hearing the commotion, Rudamore opens the gate to investigate, the two knights storm past him, and Rudamore flees further into the castle.
While the knights make their way through the castle, Rudamore summons spirits and orders them to distract the two trespassers. He intends to capture the two knights by conjuring his “Temple of Love and Illusion,” which will entrap their senses and distract them from fulfilling their quest (8). This illusion appeals to all five senses and the spirits take on tantalizing human forms meant to distract them.
The knights find their way down to the dungeons of the castle, observing and speaking to other imprisoned knights that are also grieving the loss of their mistresses to Rudamore’s rapine. After venturing through these cells, the knights arrive in a chamber filled with pillaged weapons and the robes of the women whom Rudamore has conquered on display. As this exploration unfolds, the knights are unknowingly walking towards the illusion and are greeted by the impressive, yet hallucinatory Temple of Love. Each is guided by enchanting servants to their own elevated throne of marble while a procession of servants deliver glasses of wine to them. Just as they are about to drink the liquid, the fairy interferes with the procession, causing the servant to spill the goblet and preventing her daughter from consuming this laced liquor. As the liquor spills onto the ground, a hemlock grows in its place. Realizing the foul properties of the wine, the two knights attempt to escape the temple. To prevent this from happening, two spirits assume the facades of each knights’ respective lovers, tempting the knights back into the grips of the illusion.
As the knight believes he is reunited with Dellaret, he worries that her being in the temple means she has sacrificed her virginity to Rudamore. Reassuring the knight of her chastity, the imposter delves into an elaborate tale explaining that she withstood both illusion and torture, attributing this mental fortitude to “my incessant thoughts of you, and the unshaken resolution to be ever faithful to my part of the mutual vows we have made to each other” (16). Hearing this, the knight laments that he does not have the skills necessary to rescue her from the clutches of Rudamore. Pretending that heaven has suddenly bestowed her with this idea, the imposter suggests that the pair can effectually escape so long as they marry each other “at the altar of Hymen,” because Rudamore is only tempted to keep maidens captive and their marriage would allow the knight and Dellaret to ensure she would no longer fulfill his desire for chastity (21). In reality, the spirit is carrying out Rudamore’s plans to trick the knight into marrying the imposter, as Rudamore brings the true Dellaret to witness the knight’s subsequent infidelity all in the hopes of swaying her resolve.
Rudamore forces Dellaret to watch her beloved knight marry a woman, who from her perspective resembles an old hag, and insists that he has been endeavoring this entire time to enlighten her about the knight’s true character as well as the superficiality of his proclaimed love for her. Justifying the torture he has been subjecting her to, Rudamore claims this was all done out of love. After this, he offers to make Dellaret his wife and empress, while Dellaret, both heart-broken and cornered, asks for a day to consider his offer.
In the meantime, the knight and the imposter consummate their illusory marriage while the female knight is also on the verge of marrying her own imposter at the altar of Hymen. Yet again, her mother interferes. Extinguishing the torch at the altar, the spirit loses his powers and flees, allowing the fairy to explain to her daughter that she was almost seduced by a wind spirit. Shocked by the revelation, the female knight rests at a canopy. While the female knight is sleeping, Rudamore has been consulting his book of destiny which informs him that his inevitable demise is approaching. Desperate for self-preservation, Rudamore also reads in the book that the female knight’s true love had embarked on a similar quest in search of her, and that he nears the castle. Planning to use this knight as a bargaining chip for his life, Rudamore kidnaps the man and imprisons him in the dungeon. This wrongdoing is manifested in the female knight’s dream, and as a result, she awakens and rushes to rescue him.
Dellaret, wandering around contemplating her uncertain fate and exhausted from the day’s events, collapses by chance into her knight’s arms while he is asleep. When the two wake up, the knight is immensely confused by Dellaret’s irate reaction at her current circumstances. Still believing the two are happily united, Dellaret unleashes the truth exclaiming to him, “As you have deserted me, for such an ugly and disgustful wretch, I will abandon you” (29). She flees to Rudamore, demanding that he imprison the knight in exchange for the right to take her virginity. This request is immediately granted, the knight is captured and subjected to torture by Rudamore’s spirit, while the sorcerer forces himself upon Dellaret.
The female knight discovers Rudamore just as he is taking advantage of Dellaret. As she is about to land a fatal blow on the evil sorcerer, Dellaret pleads to the female knight that she end her life first. Rudamore interrupts their discourse to plead for mercy, offering to show the female knight where her lover and her companion are being held captive. The three go to the dungeons and are brought face to face with the two captured knights. The female knight attempts to slay Rudamore for his crimes, however the fairy disrupts her daughter’s attempt. The fairy informs her daughter that this is not adequate justice unless Rudamore first confesses his devious schemes. Furthermore, it is made known that the two men cannot be released from their bindings without Rudamore’s spells. The sorcerer feigns repentance and releases the men while confessing his role in the manipulation of the knight and Dellaret. Realizing Rudamore’s evil interference, Dellaret and her knight immediately restore their love and faith in each other. As the couples are reunited, Rudamore takes this as an opening to flee to his chambers. To ensure Rudamore properly receives justice, the fairy leads her daughter to him. The female knight slays Rudamore and the companions proceed to live peacefully in the castle, which the fairy has restored to a glorious property.
Ashe, Thomas. The Spirit of the Spirit. London. W. Mason, 1812. HathiTrust Digital Library. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/dul1.ark:/13960/t9b57fb70
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers: 1797–1830. University of Wales Press, 2021.
The Fiery Castle, or, A Sorcerer Vanquished. London. W. Mason, 1810.
Researcher: Cynthia Hardy