Mandrake the Magician and the Flame Pearls

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Mandrake the Magician and the Flame Pearls (1946) by Lee Falk and Phil Davis ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

It is a Better Little Book, published by Whitman. It is my second in my Better Little Book/Big Little Book series. This book is just plain jam-packed with adventure. It’s cover to cover action, and I could barely keep up with it! It is 346 pages, but really only half that, because only half of those are text. This put into context, strap in; this is going to be a wild ride!

Mandrake the Magician, Colonel Barton, and his daughter June are on Colonel Barton’s yacht, the Argos, in the South Seas. Colonel Barton is admiring his jewel, a flame pearl, and he declares that he will find the others. So begins the adventure that they set forth upon to seek out the flame pearls. A canoe full of natives floats up to the yacht. The chief is wearing a flame pearl! The chief declares that he will give Colonel Barton information on where to find more flame pearls if he would give him his daughter, June. To sweeten the deal, he says he will throw three cows into the mix. Of course, Colonel Barton refuses, and the natives leave. June decides to take a swim, and she is kidnapped by the natives and taken ashore to become one of the chief’s wives. The chief is not a dishonest man, though, because he floated the promised three cows toward the yacht.

Apparently, Mandrake is not just any magician. He actually has magical hypnotic powers. He ‘gestures hypnotically’ at the chief, (which he will do multiple times throughout the story) and turns the three cows (that they had come to return to him) into ‘snarling tigers’ and made the ground around the chief shake. Coconuts exploded all around him. This is enough for the chief to give up June, saying that no wife is worth so much trouble. He agrees to tell them where he found his flame pearl. They must go to Amoz Island, which took the natives three months to go to in their canoes. Mandrake says that if it took them three months in canoes, it would only take a few days on the yacht, so off they go.

On the way, a huge swordfish attacks the boat, and Mandrake’s assistant, the huge and burly Lothar (the first they mention that he is there at all) had to fight it off. After this, it was declared that Lothar surely will need to rest, and he and June are left on the Argos while Colonel Barton and Mandrake go ashore to Amoz Island to seek out the flame pearls. They soon find out that this Amazonian island is run by women. The men do the women’s work and the women do the hunting. The men are tied up, and it was declared that Mandrake would be the husband of the one who found him. Colonel Barton is too old and fat, so it was decided that he would be thrown off a cliff into the ocean. At this, Mandrake again gestures hypnotically to save Colonel Barton. He makes him fly to a high bough of a tree.

The queen decides she wants Mandrake for herself since he seems so powerful. While Mandrake is sleeping, Roba, the woman who wanted him for herself, makes an attempt for his life, for if she can’t have him, certainly her sister the queen would not have him. The queen discovers this just in time and saves him. The queen then challenges her to a battle to the death for her impudence. Mandrake again saves lives, as he gestures hypnotically and their swords crumble into dust. The queen was very angry at this, and she raised her whip to strike Mandrake, but he ‘stared fixedly’, and her hand stopped in mid air. She was unable to bring down the whip, and after a few minutes, she wasn’t angry anymore. The sister, not really wanting to fight in the first place, bowed to the queen’s will.

The queen again says that she will marry Mandrake. “What about your husband? He loves you!” Mandrake asks, and she basically says to hell with him, you’re going to be my new husband. They are to throw her current husband off the cliff to the sharks. Mandrake must save yet another life with his magic, and he saves the queen’s husband with illusions in the eyes of the mob.

We then see that Colonel Barton has been dressed in a skirt, and is very embarrassed. If only his daughter June could see him now! Mandrake decides that this role-reversal must no longer be! He again gestures hypnotically, this time at the queen’s husband. Mandrake tells him that from now on he is the boss of the family. He tells him that he must no longer be afraid of his wife.

For a time, this works. When the queen appears, the husband demands, “Go cook my meal!” He throws the queen over his shoulder and drags her to the house and makes her do women’s work. The men follow suit, and soon the women are doing the cooking and cleaning, and the men are to go out to hunt. This arrangement doesn’t last long, though, because at the first sight of a boar, the men grow squeamish and run away from it. At that, the hypnotic spell was broken. All goes back to normal for their society.

Mandrake has another idea. There is only one way to fight women, he declares. He takes the queen to a lake and makes her look at her reflection. Instead of seeing her beautiful face, she sees an ugly one, and he tells her that if she does not let them go and tell them where to find the flame pearls, she will stay like that forever. Of course, this works, because, after all, women only care about looks, and she tells him that in three days journey they would find a cave where the flame pearls are.

Mandrake and the rest of the gang go on to Strangler’s Strait and somehow every time a big boat goes through the strait, it crushes it. In order to avoid this fate for their yacht, they use dynamite to blow up the strait. Trouble isn’t over yet, not by a long shot! In the rumble, a big sea monster is stirred. Luckily for the Argos and her crew, the monster is used to the huge pressure of the bottom of the ocean, and it explodes when it comes to the surface because of the much lower pressure.

They come upon a smack (I had to look this up, because I had never heard of this. According to Wikipedia, “A smack was a traditional fishing boat used off the coast of Britain and the Atlantic coast of America for most of the 19th century and, in small numbers, up to the Second World War.”) with a bunch of people that look like they are dead, but it turns out they are only sleeping. They try everything, but they cannot wake the sleeping men. Someone gets the idea of trying oxygen, and this works. Giving oxygen to the entire crew wakes them. The newly revived crew cannot talk because they are so hungry. Apparently they had not eaten for a week. After they ate and began to feel stronger, they related their story.

The fishermen said that there was a ghost ship — The last thing they remembered was a ghost ship coming towards them. When they found out that the Argos was going straight toward the ghost ship, they hurry back to their own boat. The crew of the Argos gives them supplies and say goodbye.

The crew of the Argos is very unhappy when they learn about the ghost ship. They go into a tropical storm, and the crew decides that they are not going any further. Captain Beeker says they are talking mutiny. By the way, this is the first time that the story brings up Captain Beeker or there being a crew at all. I guess it was probably supposed to be a given, but I totally imagined it being Mandrake, Lothar, June and Colonel Barton up until now.

When Mandrake learns that the crew are afraid of the ghost ship, he says that this is all superstitious tommy-rot (a funny expression!) and resolves to go talk some sense into them. Captain Beeker kind of believed the whole thing, himself, and asks Mandrake if this is all tommy-rot then how do you explain the sailor that were sleeping. Mandrake says, “I can’t, but medical science might.”

At this point, they spy the ghost ship. There is panic among the crew, and a mist enveloped the Argos. Members of the crew started falling down into a sleep, and Mandrake and Lothar took command of the ship. Airtight flood doors were closed, and relief was found in the engine room.

Mandrake grabs two portable underwater helmets. His plan was for he and Lothar to board the ghost ship, but Lothar is scared. He didn’t fear much, but ghost ships were another thing. Mandrake gave him some encouraging words, and Lothar decided to push through. June begs them not to go, but Mandrake reasoned that air in the engine room wouldn’t last long.

On the ship, all Lothar saw were skeletons. A skeleton was at the wheel and skeletons were at the dining table. Seeing him flee, Mandrake follows in his steps, but despite what he saw, he knew that a ship run by skeletons was impossible. Lothar was nowhere to be seen.

On deck, Mandrake saw an old man who introduced himself as Captain Gar. His daughter stood beside him. Suddenly, all the crew of the vessel came from below and went to their duties. Lothar also appeared out of nowhere. He had fallen through a trap door!

Mandrake had lots of questions for Captain Gar. The sleeping gas has been his own invention, Gar explained, and the skeletons and lights on the sails were just props to scare people away. Mandrake asks more questions, and Gar replies that they have plenty of time to be answered — They will spend the rest of their lives on the ship! Gar told his story.

He had been an inventor. After his wife had died, he was left with his daughter Gretel, but nothing seemed to matter anymore. He was determined to shield his daughter from all the greed, selfishness, cruelty and wars of the world, so he bought a ship and enlisted a crew with no ties. Since there already was a legend of a ghost ship, they became the ghost ship. Since this is Gretel’s home, anyone who find the truth about the ship must stay.

Later, Mandrake asked Gretel if she was happy on the boat. She says this is her home, but she is curious about the outside world, and she wants to marry a young sailor on the boat.

Gar overhears this conversation, and was not pleased. He puts a gun to Mandrake and Lothar and orders his men to chain them. Mandrake gestures hypnotically, and the chains appear to melt like hot butter. Gar again raised his gun to shoot, and his rifle turned into a slippery eel.

Mandrake tries to champion for Gretel’s right to marry and how it is wrong for Gar to keep her in such a life. Gar pretends to listen, but signals one of the crew to knock Mandrake out. Lothar fights against them, but there are too many of them, so he eventually goes down. What’s even worse, Gar ties the man that Gretel wants to marry to a mast and tells him he will stay there til the sun bleaches his bones.

Mandrake wakes up to find himself blindfolded and bound, because Gar is afraid of his hypnotic eyes. He declares that he will die in the brig, and he will also shoot down the yacht that he knows is following them.

Gretel, knowing she is the cause of all this, begs her father to stop firing. In doing so, she runs and trips down the stairs,, and all thought of battle is forgotten. She had broken her leg. Gar unchained Mandrake and begs for his help. Mandrake tells him that there is a doctor aboard the Argos.

Meanwhile, the crew of the Argos is very angry at the unprovoked attack, so they storm aboard the ghost ship, out for blood. Mandrake turns their guns into flowers, and tells them that they are, instead, invited to a wedding! Gar apologizes to his daughter and giver her a wedding gift…. a flame pearl!

Colonel Barton is excited almost beyond words, though he can manage to ask Gar where he got the flame pearl. Gar replies that it was given to him by a native boy who found it in the land of the Giants, two months canoe trip from there.

In five days, they were there. June insisted on going ashore this time. During a rest period, June notices a huge footprint, about 12 feet long. Mandrake says that would mean it was made by a 90 foot tall person, which was unlikely…. but it did look like a footprint.

Just then, an earthquake starts, so they run back to the yacht. They tell each other there will be plenty of time to explore tomorrow when the earthquake was over. Soon, they all went to sleep with the boat anchored at shore.

But a colossus was watching them! He waved to a woman colossus, and they both picked up the Argos very carefully. It was a gift for their little girl! The little girl picked up June to kiss her, as a little girl would do to a doll. This isn’t all, for another group of colossi wanted the shiny object for their own.

They witnessed a battle between two huge men. Unfortunately, the enemy colossi won, and chained the kinder colossi, taking them to their village. June hid in the child’s hair. The Argos was placed carefully against a tree, so no other could steal it. Watching, the crew of the Argos realized that the enemy giants were about to melt down the steel yacht into weapons. There was panic about the ship. Lothar had been stabbing a giant’s ankle with a stick, and Mandrake was preparing dynamite. The colossi stoned the yacht in defense.

Noticing that panthers and vultures were about to attack the fallen, kind giant, and Mandrake went to melting the shackles with a torch. He was banking that he’d be kind enough to help. Once free, the colossus knew what to do. He ran to the enemy village, and rescued his wife and child. Upon examination, the Argos was not badly damaged and could be repaired..

In time, Mandrake learns the colossus language, and uses a megaphone so they could hear him. The colossi voices are booming. They stay there for a while and learn how they live. One day, June complains that she hasn’t had a hot bath in weeks, so they give her a cup to bathe in.

When they were about to leave, the Barton realizes that they never asked them about the flame pearls. They show them what they’re looking for, and they direct them to swim under the ocean. Barton is so excited, that he insists on being the one to dive, even though he doesn’t know how to swim. Disappointment is to be had, though, as it turns out the colossus thought that the flame pearl was a piece of coral. Colonel Barton almost died when his net broke 50 feet down. The colossus had to fish him out and save him. The Argos had to leave without any idea where to go to find the pearls.

In a while, the Argos comes to a channel where they are attacked by pirates. mandrake gestures hypnotically at the leader pirate and turns the gun into a lobster which pinches his nose. The other pirates were not under his spell, and they see that it is just Mandrake pinching it himself.

Mandrake made himself to appear very tall to the leader and tells him that they just came from and survived the island of colossus. The other pirates saw nothing except mandrake talking to their leader. Seeing that the leader was about to give up, another pirate knocks out Mandrake, and they capture the Argos. They decide to keep Lothar and June and put the rest of them in a cave where it fill in at high tide. Two pirates and the leader guard this cave so no one can escape.

Mandrake is still knocked out for a time, but he finally wakes up. He gestures hypnotically to make it appear that a big hand was reaching out of the water. Lothar finally broke out of his bonds, and overtook the leader and knocked out the two guards. This gave the crew of the Argos enough time to swim out and escape the cave.

The leader runs out to get his crew who had just looted the Argos. Lothar traps them all in their hut, and Mandrake smokes them out, saying they will be released if they leave their weapons. They hand over their guns, but they secretly keep their knives. When the door is open, they trip over a bunch of logs that Mandrake put there, anticipating the attack.

Mandrake demands to know what they’re doing here, anyway. They tell him that they are hunting flame pearls, which are about a day from here. They said they got there, but the water they approached was burning, so they turned back. Mandrake didn’t believe a word about the burning water, and he offered to take them as prisoners to find the pearls, or they could leave them there without weapons. The pirates decide to stay.

The Argos sails off, not without getting their stuff back, and at dusk they came upon the burning water. They put a metal cover over the speedboat, and June stows away, despite her father telling her she couldn’t come. They race through the fire, and soon they are on the other side of it. June appears, to their astonishment.

They realize that the water is burning from natural oil deposits floating on the surface. For no real reason at all, Barton is about to give up and turn back. June says she wants to stay awhile, and goes for a swim, much to Barton’s anger. Barton yells at her to come back, and she says how nice the water is, and there are oysters down there. She threw it to him, and there was a flame pearl in it!

“The secret source of the fabulous gem had been found by a laughing girl!”

She declared that there were millions of them.

Mandrake decides to explore the island, and the shore is covered with flame pearls. Apparently, seagulls had been eating the oysters over the years, dropping the pearls.

Exploring the island further, they find no signs of life, just remnants of an ancient civilization. They come to a large idol with flame pearls all over it. It had four arms, two in its lap, and steam coming out of his nostrils. Mandrake concludes that it is a floating island, and steam chambers underground are keeping the island at the surface.

Barton says he’s taking it! Mandrake protests, but he is stubborn. The idol toppled, and the huts start to crumble to the ground and the island begins to sink. At the speedboat, a whirlpool had formed. It was a struggle, but they got out of it.

Barton was a mess, thinking they’d come all this way and didn’t get one flame pearl because of his greed. But June had scooped up some in her bathing cap! Seeing this, Beeker (forgot about him, didn’t you? – so did I) says he’s taking the Argos and the pearls. A struggle ensues, and the whole bathing cap sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

In the end, Barton laments that the whole trip was a waste, all these years of searching. But Mandrake says it wasn’t a waste, because wasn’t it a glorious adventure? Wink Wink That’s what it’s all about! 😂

Despite Barton’s disappointment and the rather sad ending, this was a grand adventure. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite so action packed! It was a very good story, and I liked how they made it clear to the reader that Mandrake is just doing magic tricks and illusions rather than actual magic.

Mandrake the Magician was a real person, but the comic strip was not based on the real life person, Leon Mandrake (born Leon Giglio, 1911-1993). The creator, Lee Falk, claimed to have made up the name independently, but it is clear that Leon Mandrake didn’t care one way or the other; as a result, he became a household name in North America.

Lee Falk (born Leon Harrison Gross, 1911-1999) was a playwright, director/producer, and comic strip creator.

I’m giving this a 5 star review, because it is exciting and action packed. It keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time!

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