The Enchanter is the Ur-Lolita, the precursor to Nabokov's classic novel. At once hilarious and chilling, it tells the story of an outwardly respectable man and his fatal obsession with certain pubescent girls, whose coltish grace and subconscious coquetry reveal, to his mind, a special bud on the verge of bloom.
A novella written in Russian when Nabokov lived in Paris in 1939, The Enchanter resurfaced among his papers 20 years later. Nabokov described it then as "the first little throb of Lolita '' and said its title anticipated the ``enchanted hunter'' motif in the later novel. Here it refers to the lecherous, ironic, middle-aged protagonist who woos an unappetizing widow to get access to her nymphet daughter. But his phallic ``magic wand'' (paralleled by his antique coral-headed walking stick) transforms wolfish lust into the dream of a fairy idyll, with overtones of Lear/Cordelia and Little Red Riding Hood, to produce an unexpectedly surreal effectand a denouement strikingly different from that of Lolita. Narrated in the third person, the novella has the remoteness of a tale, with its nameless characters and vaguely foreign ambienceunlike the novelistically specific Lolita, rooted in Americanness and told by its main character, Humbert Humbert. The Enchanter is entertaining independent of its Lolita connection. It is arch, delicious and beautifully written. As translator, the author's son writes an endearingly fussy afterword thatrecalls Nabokov's own self-parodying penchant for the long footnote.