The Dark Gods

Review by Douglas A. Anderson. Originally published in Wormwood, reprinted in Late Reviews (2018), Anderson’s collection of reviews of forgotten books. Available in paperback and for the Kindle at Amazon. Anderson has a blog devoted to Tolkien and Fantasy.

Mills, Lady Dorothy. The Dark Gods (London: Duckworth, 1925). Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole (1889-1959), the daughter of Robert Horace Walpole (1854-1931), the 5th and final Earl of Orford, and his first wife, Louise Melissa Corbin (1863-1909), an American from New York, had a solitary childhood and was educated in Paris. As a child she traveled frequently, often to spend time with her mother’s family in the United States. On 22 June 1916 she married her cousin Arthur Frederic Hobart Mills (1887-1955), who wrote quite a few novels and short stories (according to E.F. Bleiler’s The Checklist of Science-Fiction and Supernatural Fiction, his 1923 volume The Primrose Path, has supernatural content).

After her marriage she styled herself as Lady Dorothy Mills. The marriage ended in divorce in 1933 after her husband’s adultery; there were no children. Early in her marriage she lived in Palestine, but for health reasons she soon moved to the warmer climate of Algiers, and on into the Sahara. She travelled extensively, and was reputed to be the first Englishwoman to visit Timbuktu. She made various expeditions (all apparently by herself, without her husband) through Liberia, Portuguese Guinea, and other parts of the Middle East and the Sahara. She published nine novels between 1916 and 1928 (sharing two publishers, Duckworth and Hutchinson, with her husband). In addition to her novels, she published several books of travel writing and a memoir, A Different Drummer: Chapters in Autobiography (1930). She was a keen photographer and illustrated her own travel books. An automobile accident in 1929 caused some serious injuries, and left her with a scarred face, but it did not stop her final trip to Venezuela in early 1931. This expedition became the subject of her final book, The Country of the Orinoco (1931). Later that year her father died, thereby giving her complete and open access to a trust fund left to her by her American grandfather. She retired to Brighton, where she lived for nearly three decades but published nothing further.

The Dark Gods was the sixth of her novels. Andrew Legrand, the son of a French father and English mother, has lived in West Africa for five years. In the previous year, on leave in Winchester, he had met and impetuously married Anne, who now has come to live with him in the hard life of Africa. Anne is quickly fascinated by the native Africans, and becomes a pawn used by the M’Bongwe wizard and his witch-harlot Andova, who takes Anne to into her confidence and brings her to meetings of the secret women’s societies even as she works black magic on her. Anne finds a sympathetic friend in another trader, Pierre Chanel, who like her has come to feel more sympathy for the natives than for his own race. An uprising against the whites looms in the background, and Anne’s husband Andrew, though devoted to his wife, finds a friend in the knowledgeable and self-willed traveler June Aleson. Mills manages the crescendo of the personal and public crises very skillfully, and though some of the attitudes encountered in this novel are dated and may cause a present-day reader to squirm, the author’s love of Africa and its people remains evident.

Two of Mills’s other novels contain elements of fantasy. In The Arms of the Sun (1924), a lost race (descended from the Chaldeans) in an underground city in Africa plans to use science to conquer the world, and in Phoenix (1926), a sixty year-old woman is rejuvenated to her youth with tragic consequences.