A. Merritt, Seven Footprints to Satan (Avon, 1928)
[originally posted 12Apr2000]
Merritt was a million-seller back when being a million-seller meant something. Think of him as a depression-era Stephen King. The parallel’s not all that odd; Seven Footprints was one of the first books optioned for film before it actually came out (the film came out in 1929, starred Creighton Hale as Kirkham and Thelma Todd as Eve, and is probably best remembered for featuring, in a very very small role, Loretta Young).
James Kirkham is a professional adventurer who’s caught the eye of, yes, the diabolic one. Satan puts him to a test: he’s got a game rigged up where there are seven steps from the floor of Satan’s chamber to the top of this ziggurat-like thing. A machine randomly assigns four steps to be good and three to be bad. The person playing the game steps on any four of those seven, and depending on how many bad steps he steps on, he pays the piper (zero: you get to rule the world, one: you owe Satan one service, two: you owe Satan a year of service, three: you’re up the creek). The person playing can stop, voluntarily, after any number of steps.
While in the custody of the big guy, Kirkham meets, and becomes enchanted with, the beautiful Eve, and the two of them try to hatch a plot to escape the clutches of the guy with the big trident, aided by an old friend of Kirkham’s who just happens to have found himself in the same situation.
Yup, it’s sensational adventure-type stuff, easy reading, G. A. Henty for adults. Good for escapism, but is kind of like sherbet; it’s close to tasteless, goes down easily, and by the time you’re done with the next course, you’ve forgotten it. **