Monday, July 04, 2011
To the Dark Tower
In previous posts I've discussed my mother's fondness for Gothic Romance novels. Not nowadays, mind you, but back when I was a kid she read possibly hundreds of the things, and all of them seemed to have more or less the same cover, a girl in her nightdress running away from a sinister house in the background. Before I could read I referred to them as 'girl running away from house' books, and in fact I often still do. I have remained fond of that cover image over the years and though my actual knowledge of Gothic Romances is pretty small (I've only read a couple) I still enjoy seeing the covers. One of the places where those covers, as well as well thought out reviews of the books, can be found is the blog My Love-Haunted Heart.
I was over there the other day, perusing the covers and I saw something that caught my attention. The latest book being reviewed was called To the Dark Tower, (I assume a reference to the Robert Browning poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. ) and the author's name was Lyda Belknap Long. Now the only Belknap Long I was familiar with was Frank Belknap Long, one of the earliest members of the 'Lovecraft circle' and reportedly the first writer to write a Cthulhu mythos story besides Lovecraft. Reading the review I found that the blogger, Sara, had also noted the Frank Belknap long connection and was wondering who actually wrote the book, since a couple of internet sites referred to LBL as a pen name for FBL, and especially since Lyda dedicated the book to her husband Frank.
So I did what I do when these things come up. I ran a couple of Google searches and then I called Cliff. Cliff was familiar with the book, though he hadn't read it, but he agreed with the various websites about the book and several other Gothic Romances being fully the work of Frank Belknap Long, even though they were credited to his wife. Later I found out that the original release of To the Dark Tower actually had Frank's name on the cover. Later editions and subsequent books all carried the Lyda Belknap Long name, not because FBL was in any way ashamed to be writing Gothics, but because a woman's name on the cover seemed to help book sales.
So of course, once I knew that Frank Belknap Long, author of such Lovecraftian chillers as The Hounds of Tindalos and the Space Eaters had written Gothic Romance novels, I had to get one. I ordered a copy of To the Dark Tower and read it Saturday. I had a lot of fun with it. I could see Long's style immediately, though the fist few chapters seemed a bit stiff, as if long was finding his way, but by the fourth chapter or so, things picked up fast. This is something of a mish mash of witch cults, voodoo (Hex) dolls, and weird, inexplicable occurrences. However it's also a 'Rationalized Gothic' in that all of the seemingly supernatural happenings are explained away. In fact it would kind of work as a grown-up Scooby-Doo plot.
The romance part is serviceable and the twists and turns come fast and furious, but the main thing that Long brings to this book from his Lovecraftian chops is mood, mood, and more mood. He pours it on on every page so that the accumulated creeps continue to build as the book goes on, until the reader is almost overwhelmed by the dark, stifling, mood of the novel. Edgar Allen Poe would be proud. It also has a fairly clever resolution, almost in the mode of Agatha Christie. Things aren't what the reader thinks they are.
Anyway, I had fun reading To the Dark Tower and will probably read some more of Long's Gothics. I did call my mom and ask if she remembered reading any Gothic Romances by Lyda Belknap Long and she said she did. In fact she wanted to borrow this one when I was done.
Check out Sara's review of To the Dark Tower and more Girls Running Away from House books at My Love-Haunted Heart here: