Today is Ramsey Campbell’s birthday. He’s my favorite writer and reading his work inspired me to write my own horror tales. Born in 1946 in Liverpool, England, he now resides in Merseyside and is one of the most accomplished writers of weird/horror fiction alive. He published his first short story in 1962 at age 17. Since then he’s published hundreds more, added over thirty novels, and winning a slew of awards. He’s edited numerous anthologies and serves as the president of the British Fantasy Society. In this article I am going to focus on some of his novels.
1. Incarnate (1983): This is my favorite Campbell novel. It’s about a group of people who took part of an experiment in prophetic dreaming. Eleven years after being disbanded, disturbing visions crop up again and strange things occur as reality seems to be warping around the participants. This is a wonderfull journey into a bizarre realm where you can never be certain who or what are real and what consequences the experiments brought forth. This one has stuck with me despite the many years since I read it.
2. Ancient Images (1989): Another great one. A girl’s search to uncover a suppressed Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi movie stolen from a collector leads her to uncover dark secrets attached to its production. It takes her to a remote community tied to the film, and she soon finds herself shadowed by odd creatures that seem to be a mix of dogs and scarecrows. As the novel goes on, more secrets are revealed and learning why the movie has been suppressed puts her life in danger.
3. Midnight Sun (1991): A writer returns to his childhood home with his wife and two kids after inheriting it. He begins to believe his hometown holds an evil entity that wants to exert its influence on the world through him. He witnesses its power at work in the tress of the nearby forest and the snow itself as it begins to change him.
4. Nazareth Hill (1997): Here Campbell tackles the haunted house theme as a girl and her father move into an apartment house rebuilt after a fire. As a child the daughter saw a hideous creature reaching for her when her father held her up to look in a burned out windows. When they move in years later, she finds dark things from the building grim past drawing her attention. My favorite scene in the book takes place during a Christmas party held by the tenants which involves passing around a paper where each person draws a section to create an amalgamated person. The result is disturbing, leaving the reader to suspect the influence of the house has played a part in the game.
5. The Darkest Part of the Woods (2002): A family living near an ancient forest in England find themselves drawn into the dark forces tied to it and the ruined tower that used to belong to a resident alchemist. The forest contains many ancient, inhuman things brought about by the legacy of the evil forest.
6. The Grin of the Dark (2007): This novel has some of the spookiest, most surreal scenes I’ve ever read. It’s about a man researching the films of a silent comedy star named Tubby Thackeray, who’s been forgotten over the years. As he searches for copies of the movies and information about him, he encounters all sorts of bizarre, unsettling people and events. On a message board he comes into conflict with an odd character whose screen name is Smilemime. Smilemime’s taunting posts regarding Thackeray become more insidious and troubling as the story goes on, making the main character wonder if this mysterious person is someone close to him. There are a number of scenes in this book that reminded me of why I am in awe of Campbell’s writing, such as the bizarre, dreamlike visit to a clown show which is very unsettling in a completely bloodless way. There’s also a scene involving a face sliding across the floor. For me the best scene is when the protagonist enters an abandoned movie theater with his elderly parents on a winter night. What they find inside, and the way it’s described is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read.
7. Thieving Fear (2009): Ten years after four teenagers went camping and one discovered a strange trap door in the ground containing something she later attributed to a nightmare, they start to feel watched and their lives begin unraveling. They may have inadvertently awoken something in the Earth best left to slumber.
You can find out more about Ramsey Campbell at his website at http://www.ramseycampbell.com/.