The Circus of Dr. Lao cover

Centipede Press

The Circus of Dr. Lao Charles G. Finney

Limited Edition SOLD OUT

One of the greatest fantasy novels ever written, The Circus of Dr Lao is here presented in an oversize 6½ × 10 inches format, this edition features plenty of extras: an illuminating introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz, providing insights into the novels, bonus stories and essays, and aspects of Charles G. Finney’s life; 11 bonus stories (see below for an image of the contents page), new artwork by David Ho appearing as a series of cards; new color works by Matthew Jaffe, reprints of the entire Lao-related artwork by Boris Artzybasheff; reprints of the very-hard-to-find illustrations by Gordon Noel Fish, printed only one time, in 1948; a gallery of old paperback and hardcover covers of old editions of the book; printed endpapers, ribbon marker, and color sections printed on Mohawk Superfine paper. The entire book is bound in full Dutch cloth, blind stamped on the front, and wrapped in a stunning dustjacket by David Ho. 

This volume features most of the best of Finney’s fantastic fiction. For those who know The Circus of Dr Lao only through its screen adaptation in 1964 as The Seven Faces of Dr Lao (scripted, it is worth pointing out, by Charles Beaumont, to whom Ray Bradbury was a mentor) the novel will come as a revelation. It is the ur-text for all carnival, sideshow, and freakshow fantasies written in its wake. The circus rolls magically into the sleepy desert town of Abalone — by truck? by rail? no one can be sure — and many of the townspeople are disappointed to discover that it consists of only three cars. But those cars are crammed with a fabulous retinue of performers and a menagerie of creatures so vast that it seems only magic can explain their existence. 

Some of the townspeople respond with disappointment: they were expecting the kind of circus they knew from their childhoods and their indifference to Dr Lao’s carnival only shows their inability to reacquaint themselves with the childish sense of wonder they once knew. Some are befuddled: they can’t determine whether one of the cages holds a bear or a Russian (one of the story’s running jokes) and when they can’t reconcile themselves to the sea serpent, the gorgon, and other mythical creatures that Dr Lao boards in place of the usual circus animals they dismiss them as fakes, or freaks. Some are profoundly affected by their encounter with the circus, notably reserved schoolteacher Agnes Birdsong, whose dalliance with the circus’s satyr taps into the erotic subcurrent that courses through several of the attractions and awakens her own repressed sexuality.

“I don’t do tricks” the sideshow seer Apollonius tells an audience member. “I do magic. I create; I transpose; I color; I transubstantiate; I break up; I recombine” — much like Finney himself. And indeed, the Dr Lao’s circus is not one that beguiles with illusions. Rather, it’s a funhouse mirror held up to its audience to show that its sideshow attractions are no more freakish than the people who gape at them, and perhaps even that everyone has the capacity for the marvelous. It is up to the audience — and the reader — to decide what they come away with from the entertainment. As Ray Bradbury wrote:

“The Circus of Dr Lao’s cargo of mythological beasts approaches, as did Hawthorne, Melville, and countless others, the enigma of good and evil, the real and the romantic, shakes the reader severely, threatens some of his most cherished conceptions, and departs having offered no cure-all solutions. The reader, like the inhabitants of the small desert town, is left with a strewn jigsaw which he must fit together in his own time, according to his own temper, believing or disbelieving the entire menageries, depending on his real or romantic needs.” 

The edition is limited to 250 signed and numbered copies.

Edition Specifications

  • Limited to 250 copies, each signed by Stefan Dziemianowicz, David Ho, and Matthew Jaffe and sold out at the publisher
  • New introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz.
  • Full color images are printed on Mohawk Superfine.
  • Over a dozen original illustrations.
  • Ribbon marker, head and tail bands.
  • Gallery of old Circus of Dr Lao covers.

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