Thursday, 24 March 2016

Zombies or maybe Killer Hippies at Collinwood?!.

Dr Wotan's celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Dark Shadows continues with my marathon reading of the 'Marilyn Ross' Dark Shadows novels.

I just finished the fifth novel in the series The Curse of Collinwood which was first published in May 1968.

When I received this from Amazon I was immediately struck by the cover which uses the painting of Victoria Winters from the original illustrated cover of the first novel in the series Dark Shadows (see last blog post).  Superimposed on this image is now the vampire Barnabas Collins who by the time this book was published, thanks to the incredible talent of Jonathan Frid, had become the most popular element of the show.  So to get the attention of readers it makes sense to have him on the cover, fangs bared and clutching his wolves head cane.  However, readers of the book would realise quite early on that Barnabas does not appear anywhere in this story!  This is not a Dark Shadows story about vampires - but, as the back cover proclaims, the question of whether Zombies are walking at Collinwood!

At the start of the novel Victoria is upset over the recent death of Ernest Collins, the classical violinist with past wife problems from the first novel Dark Shadows.   This death causes Victoria to think that phantoms are haunting her - possibly Ernest.  Ross gives us the same cast of TV characters - Elizabeth, Roger (still swigging away at the brandy), Carolyn, David and (in very bit parts) Matt Morgan and Jo Haskell (no Julia Hoffmann presumably because no Barnabas).   We also get a really interesting new character Amos Martin who lives in a shack by the beach and holds seances (we know how much the Collins family love them) with the help of his dead mother.  He is appropriately called 'Mad Martin'.  Ross also develops the relationship, just hinted at towards the end of the first book, with Victoria and the mysterious Burke Devlin.

The two strands of the story that Ross introduces through Victoria and Burke set up the suspense of the story.  First, Victoria and Burke learn from Amos Martin the story of Derek and Esther Collins - ancestors of the Collins family who lived in the 1850's.  Amos calls Derek 'a dark-souled villain' who got involved with the slave trade and made his wife Esther, on board the ship with him, witness the suffering and degradation of his captives until 'she was consumed with a hatred for him that exceeded any lover for him she ever knew.'  Esther's hatred grows until one night on the ship off Barbados (not Martinique) she shoots Derek dead.  But that's not enough for old Esther.  She elicits the help of a voodoo witch doctor (well they are close to Barbados) to prepare her husband's body so it would live again but not as a human - but as a zombie, one of the walking dead, condemned to walk the earth as a mindless slave (a nice irony!).  And because she still kind of fancies old Derek she then shoots herself and is turned into a zombie as well - so she could join him in zombie bliss when he returned from the dead (now that is devotion - a somewhat twisted version of the Angelique/Barnabas story).

Both their bodies are placed in 'elaborate mahogany coffins' and shipped back to Collinwood where they are placed in a mausoleum (another Collins mausoleum).  The prophecy is they will stay in their coffins unless a shaft of moonlight strikes their coffins.  Well no surprise that curiosity gets the better of Vicki and Burke and they go to the mausoleum and through a series of adventures the moon-light strikes their coffins.   Derek and Esther are seemingly released and start their murderous rampage through Collinsport.

But here Ross does something that I thought was clever.  He creates a counter-story of two hippie types who are reported as breaking out of jail and are on the run.  Sergeant Sturdy comes to Collinwood and lets the family know that the big lumberjack Tim Mooney and his girl friend Nora Sonier have broken out of jail and are heading to Collinsport and thus could very well be the cause of the strange man and woman ravaging the country-side (which Victoria thinks are the released Derek and Esther).  The description of Mooney is quite interesting and I think here Ross based on this dialogue is drawing on contemporary news and media from the time the story was written:

'They say the girl is a looker,' Roger went on taunting his sister, 'She's one of the hippie crowd with long yellow hair and a great figure.' 

Carolyn nodded 'I read that in the paper.  And Mooney wears his hair long. Like those poets in the coffee houses. [Remember Carolyn has had experience of this with her fling with Buzz!] 

'Like the LSD crowd that goes around killing innocent people.' Elizabeth reproved her daughter, 'Mooney is a kind of degenerate revered by the foolish youngsters in the Village and then in Cambridge, when he moved to the Boston area.  They called him the lumberjack troubadour because he worked in a lumber camp for a few months and plays a guitar.  Don't forget he killed someone and probably won't hesitate to kill again.'  (63) 

Elizabeth's response is quite interesting as she gets very specific.  I would suggest Ross might be drawing upon a real-world person here who around this time also played a guitar and was revered by foolish youngsters who joined his 'family' - a 'family' that in August 1969 would become infamous for murdering innocent people in Hollywood in the Tate/La Bianca Murders.

Did Ross know something (perhaps in the papers) about Charles  Manson and his 'Family' which influenced his characterisation of Mooney?  The description seems very close and Manson's 'Family' was known for heavy drug use (at their trial, depicted in the 1974 book Helter-Skelter by prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi, one of the family members Linda Kasabian said she took LSD 150 times.

So Ross juxtaposes the possible threat of supernatural zombies (Derek and Esther Collins) with a real-life version of late 1960 'monsters' possibly drawn from the media of the time.  And for the rest of the story this interplay between these two possible solutions to the horrors and murders that come to Collinwood ratchet up the tension until the final page-turning conclusion....and the finale with Victoria Winters in Burke Devlin's arms (with that ill-fated flight to Brazil far in the future).

A good cracking and interestingly nuanced story that moves aways from the main television story-line of the time to create an alternative story that adds to the Dark Shadows mythos.

Now for Vampires!  Time to go into that other masoleum, open the coffin and meet the novelised version of Barnabas Collins in novel number 6 - Barnabas Collins!

My 50th Anniversary Dark Shadows journey continues!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Dr. Wotan's Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Dark Shadows - The Marilyn Ross Novels

2016 is proving to be a very exciting year for Dr. Wotan.    Coming up in April 2016 will be the publishing by HarperCollins of a new Tolkien book I have co-edited with the brilliant Dr. Dimitra Fimi - A Secret Vice - J.R.R. Tolkien On Invented Languages  which will include hitherto unpublished Tolkien material (a true 'staggerment' project indeed) - I am also currently teaching an online course on 'Language Invention through Tolkien' for Mythgard Institute/Signum University.

I am also due to give papers on various subjects around Tolkien and Language Invention in Fiction at

So if I can manage to limit my time on Lord of the Rings Online (I blame Professor Corey Olsen's recent brilliant 'Chicken Run' to raise funding for Signum University) I should get all this (and more!)  done.

But another project I have set myself for 2016 is one that will celebrate my favourite television show of all time and the body of mythology that has been developed from it - Dark Shadows.

2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of this unique pioneering show which debuted on June 27, 1966.  Americans had never before encountered on day-time television (the domain of game shows and weepy soap operas) this unique gothic tale which thanks to a dedicated team of writers and a stellar company of actors and actresses (many playing multiple roles in various time periods) created one of the most complex liminal worlds for a televisions series which had its focus on the brooding mansion on the hill - Collinwood - the great house which hosted ghosts, phoenixes, witches, vampires, werewolves and zombies.

The original show ran for over 1200 episodes (I am in my third cycle of watching the entire series on DVD) and drew from some of the greatest tropes of horror, fantasy, and weird literature as well as related science-fiction themes especially time travel and through inter-dimensions via parallel time.  It grew from the original television series, to movies, several reboots of the television series, games and trading cards.  Most recently additional 'texts' have added to and extended the mythology with the excellent Big Finish Audio Dramas and novels - several written by the original cast members - and we are very excited to hear that Lara Parker (aka Angelique the witch) has written a new one which is coming out later this year (recently released cover picture here)  

All of these texts and inter-texts work together in the minds of watchers and fans to create what I characterise as 'the mythos of Collinwood'.  This is an example of what Mark J.P. Wolf explores in his seminal text Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation; namely how different layers of 'texts' (in all forms) work together to build a secondary-world - in this case not an immersive world (like in Tolkien's legendarium) nor a portal world (as in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series) but a liminal world - in our world but not quite (for example, why were there no televisions at Collinwood in the 'modern-day story-lines?).

There is already some brilliant activities planned for the 50th Anniversary.  The foremost authority on Dark Shadows Jim Pierson has recently given two brilliant interviews on the Podcast Radio Retropolis and Big Finish is planning a new series of Dark Shadows Bloodlust (with original and new cast members) and more audio dramas.

What I thought would be interesting would be to go back and explore some of the earliest para-texts that were developed around the broadcast of the original television series (as audiences at the same time became familiar with the characters and story line).   One of the earliest examples of this extension of the narrative of the day-time television show - is a series of Paperback Library books.   Starting in December 1966 they began issuing books based on the TV series Dark Shadows which had just begun broadcasting in June of that year.  Paperback Library published 33 novels in this series through 1972 - all written by Marilyn Ross which is a pen name for William Edward Daniel Ross - a Canadian writer - who wrote mysteries, westerns and gothic fiction under many various pen names.  For the Dark Shadows novels Dan Ross (as he was known) used his wifes name Marilyn.  In the 1990's the author of the excellent Barnabas and Company Craig Hamrick interviewed him  - he said he watched enough of the show 'to keep up'.

I have been collecting these books over the years (my first one 'The Phantom and Barnabas Collins' was purchased at a Dark Shadows convention in New York and is signed by the legendary Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) himself.  So I thought in this anniversary year it would be fun and interesting to read the Ross texts and use this blog to explore how they add to and contextualise the 'Dark Shadows mythos'.

The first book in the series is appropriately called 'Dark Shadows' and was published in December 1966 and reprinted several times - my edition is April 1969 (the eighth printing).

The cover of my edition clearly draws from the television series but what I found interesting is the cover has Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins and Alexander Moltke as Victoria Winters with a good grabber headline 'Mysterious Footsteps in the night terrify Victoria Winters at Collins House - a mansion haunted by legends of murder, madness and evil'.   Funny enough Barnabas Collins never appears in this story (apparently Willie Loomis had not unchained his coffin yet!), the picture is clearly taken in the Old House and in the text the name of the house on the hill in not 'Collinwood' but Collins House!  The picture itself looks like it comes from the post-1795 timeline when Barnabas bites Vicky (notice the scarf on her neck) to make her forget about her travel to 1795 and attempts to take her away (only to have an automobile accident and be 'cured' of his vampirism for a time by Dr. Lang).

According to the Paperback Library notes the first edition was printed with an illustrated cover (left) and then re-released in 1967 with a cover that had Victoria and Louis
Edmonds (Roger Collins) who is in the novel on it (right).

By the edition I have (from April 1969) the publishers were clearly using the popularity of the reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins to sell books (and the same would happen in later books with David Selby as Quentin Collins).

Interestingly the same picture from the eighth  edition (from a slightly different angle) was used on another volume in the series - Strangers at Collins House (to be reviewed in an upcoming post!)

The text of this novel is a slightly revised telling of Victoria Winters arriving in Collinsport from the television series.  Ross sets the gothic mood from the start with 'The Ominous clouds of the October afternoon had warned of bad weather on the way and now the threat was being fulfilled' (5) (an echo of the shows leitmotiv of their never being good weather at Collinwood!).  The same themes of Victoria coming to Collinsport from the New York Foundling Home (placed there years before and possibly linked to the Collins) having been mysteriously offered a position to be the governess of the rascal David Collins by the matriarch of 'Collins-House' - Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (who herself has not left 'Collins House' for 18 years!) is all taken from the original plot of the television series.   Just as on the television series we have the scene of Victoria talking to the waitress Maggie Evans who tells Victoria 'I mean Collins House is a real kookie place!' (7) and she introduces Victoria, and the reader, to the cast of characters living at the mansion on the hill.   Historical depth in the narrative is established when Maggie tells Victoria that Jeremiah Collins built Collins House in 1830 (although entirely inconsistent with the later story-line of Joshua Collins building the 'New House' in 1795-6).   Later Elizabeth Collins tells Victoria as she looks at his picture in the drawing room of 'Collins House' 'that's the man who built Collins House, my great-grandfather, Jeremiah Collins.  He was one of the most outstanding of our line.  It was he who began the fishing firm as well.' (23)   The 'confusion' between Jeremiah and Joshua Collins as the founding patriarch is clearly taken from the earlier story-lines of Dark Shadows before the 1795 story-line which established Joshua Collins (played brilliantly by Louis Edmonds) as the patriarch and father to Barnabas Collins. The first Collins to land from the Mayflower Isaac Collins is mentioned by Roger Collins as well (26).

In terms of history one of the most interesting passages Ross writes actually goes to the heart of why there is a curse on the Collins Family (long before Judah Zachary and Miranda DuVal were thought up) and it is around the place of all tragedy in Dark Shadows - Widows' Hill:

'Long before Jeremiah Collins built his mansion here, this was a sort of common gathering ground....In those days all the men of the village were fisherman and they would put out to sea for their catch and remain away often for days at a time.  Often storms would come up unexpectedly and since this was the highest point of land, their wives would come up here and watch anxiously for the boats to return...Only too often they never did come back to Collinsport.  And it was on this very hill that the wives realised it had come their turn to be widows.  Many tears had been shed on this very point of land......When Jeremiah bought the land he refused to let any of the townspeople use it and so the waiting wives would come here no more.  They cursed my ancestor and wished bad luck on all his kin.
It seems the curse had power.  None of the families have been happy here.
First to suffer Josette, the French bride for whom Jeremiah built Collins-House.  She threw herself from this cliff, down the full hundred feet to her death.  And there have been others since then.' (43 - my emphasis)

An interesting passage grounding the curse that would plague the Collins family in the Widows (who are heard in the television series wailing 'Elizabeth!') Also notice the use of Jeremiah/Josette story line which would become fleshed out and revised by the arrival of Barnabas and the 1795 story line (by the time this book was first published Josette has appeared as a ghost in the Old House in episode 70 broadcast on September 30, 1966).  

While most of the characters remain the same as the television series (although the caretaker Matthew Morgan is known as Matt Morgan!).  Carolyn is written very much with the vivacious actress Nancy Barrett in mind, David is his early series mischievous self and there are brief mentions of 'his mother' (hinting at the Lara Colllins Phoenix story line which clearly Ross did not want to engage with in this novel).  Roger comes off a bit more sleazy than the way Louis Edmonds played him (although both the book and television Roger both endulge in the drawing room brandy snifter).  There are brief peripheral appearances for more involved television characters such as Joe Haskell and the mysterious Burke Devlin (who Ross brings in towards the end of the novel as a possible link to Victoria's own secret).

For me the most interesting addition to this text is the character of Ernest Collins who is an entirely made-up character (and tells Victoria the curse story above).  This character does not appear anywhere in the television texts.  Ernest Collins is a classical violinist (musicians are a rarity in Dark Shadows saving the Victorian music hall singer Pansy Faye and Bruno Hess in the 1970 Parallel time story-line based on Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca) who drives most of the plot of the story that follows and serves as one of two love-interests for Victoria in this story (the other is the lawyer Will Grant).  Ernest has several secrets around his former wife who supposedly fell to her death from Widow's Hill which serves as one of the possible sources of the 'mysterious footsteps' that threatens Victoria during her stay at Collin House. Ross is clever here as 'he' juxtaposes this new story line with the one that would have been more familiar to those who watched the show - namely the possible reason why Elizabeth Stoddard Collins had not left 'Collins House; for 18 years - with the suspicion that she killed her husband, Paul Stoddard, and buried his body in the cellar (a no-go area for Victoria).

This first story is a good engaging Gothic thriller that certainly draws from Jane Eyre for its spine tingling conclusion (there is more in Collins House than meets the eye!).  Readers would have recognised many of the characters and story-lines from the television series but this text not only offers a novelisation of the early story-line of the television series but also builds new texts into the mythos (such as the character of Ernest Collins).   Ross also established Victoria Winters at 'Collins-House' and sets up further stories with the concluding paragraph -

'In the meantime she would go on as governess to David.  She would live on here in this quaint village and try to pry further into her secret past.  She could not easily forget her meeting with the mysterious Burke Devlin and wondered if he might be able to help her.  The Collins family had come to seem like her own - perhaps one day she would discover this to be true.  In any event, she looked forward to the weeks and months ahead.  She could cope with Roger.  Carolyn was loveable, and she could get to know the gracious Elizabeth Collins Stoddard better in the strange old mansion by the sea,  Collins House!' (159) 

And waiting on another part of the Estate behind a lion mouth guarded wall in the Collins Mausoleum  another member of the Collins family would eventually meet Victoria Winters - but that is for another posting!

My 50th Anniversary Dark Shadows exploration has begun!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Dr. Wotan's Autumn 2015 Musings and Upcoming Projects

Greetings all.  It has been a busy time for Dr. Wotan in the Tolkien Office at Balham!  Here are some updates!

Dr. Dimitra Fimi and I continue to work on our co-editing of the new volume of J.R.R. Tolkien's A Secret Vice which is now due out from HarperCollins in April 2016.

The 2016 Annual Fund Campaign for Mythgard Institute/Signum University (for which I serve as a Board member) is in full flow as we move towards our target of raising $50,000 to offer a full year of free Mythgard Academy courses and the very exciting Guest Lecture Series which is curated by Sorina Higgins - who is also the genius behind the current Almost an Inkling Flash Fiction Writing contest which has unleashed the narrative and sub-creative talents of many submitters - I have been blown away by the writing talent out there - this brilliant program even got me to dust off some old world-creating I did back in high school and submit some stories from my Lost Chronicles of the Croutoni (yes I also invented languages for this!).  The campaign is currently edging towards  $14,000 with lots of exciting planned on line activities and will be in full force to Halloween -  I encourage everyone to help support this incredible arena for the exploration, discussion and discovery of Fantasy and Science Fiction works.

As part of this fundraiser I was recently interviewed by the dream team of Sorina Higgins and Corey Olsen about my recently completed Doctor of Philosophy through Cardiff Metropolitan University and thesis 'The Genesis of Tolkien's Mythology, the upcoming 'Secret Vice' book and plans that are currently formulating to offer an 'Invented Language through Tolkien Course' through the Mythgard Institute in the near future - more details to follow on this.

I also recently completed for the excellent  Journal of Tolkien Research a book review for the Blackwell Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien which is a very important volume of papers for Tolkien studies by the top scholars in the field.  As I said in the introduction to the review during the writing of this I at times felt very much the way Tolkien must have felt when he had to review the work of the top philologists and lexicographers in those This Year's Work in English Studies (1924-1926).  Tolkien had to review the work of Jesperson, Bloomfield and Ekwall (among others) and I had to review Shippey, Flieger, Fimi, Rateliff (among others) - a daunting and challenging task!  You can access the book review here and I welcome comments. 

Talking about 'full force' I have really been enjoying Dr. Amy Sturgis's The Force of Star Wars: Examine the Epic course at The Mythgard Institute this autumn.  Amy is leading us on a brilliant exploration of world-building in the Star Wars Mythos through the six films, radio adaptations, books (many!), television shows (from The Star Wars Holiday Special (with Wookies and Bea Arthur!) up the current excellent Rebels series) as well as exploring audience and fan reception of the mythos.  It is really interesting to explore these texts and discuss the concept of 'canonicity' (now further complicated by Disney creating the 'Legendary' vs. 'Canon' distinction in Star Wars texts as we await for Episode Seven 'The Force Awakens)'.  I have read some brilliant Star Wars books including John Jackson Miller's Kenobi and James Luceno's Tarkin and (the excellent!)
Darth Plagueis (pictured).  This is world-building that is happening in our life time and it is fascinating to see how this secondary-world mythos has grown from Lucas's original concept through the multi-layered use of various forms of narrative texts...and the epic continues!

So that is the 'lit' and the 'lang' of my Mythgard Institute autumn is Introduction to Anglo-Saxon which is being team taught by Professor Michael Drout and the brilliant Nelson Goering (whose knowledge of philology and Germanic metre astounds me!).  I took this course to brush up on my Anglo-Saxon grammar and to get better at reading the poetry (an area that in the past I have plodded my way through).  One key element Drout puts important emphasis on in his lectures is listening to these poems before attempting to translate them and his website Anglo-Saxon Aloud offers audio recordings of all the poems and prose in the corpus - so I am listening carefully. We are using two excellent texts for this course Drout's Quick and Easy Old English and Pope and Fulk's Eight Old English Poems (pictured) - currently my translation of The Battle of Brunanburh is coming along!  So in a way this course is both 'lit and lang' and I am sure Tolkien would have been very pleased to see this happening (it being online may have reminded him of learning thru a palantir!)

Finally it has been an incredible joy and treat to read David J Peterson's new book The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building.  David is a linguist and the creator of such languages as Dothraki and Valyrian for the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  He has also invented languages for Syfy's Defiance and Dominion as well as the language of Shivaisith for the movie Thor 2: The Dark World and most recently Star-Crossed and The 100.  Peterson is also a co-founder of The Language Creation Society - which is a group of not so secret language inventors.  If you are interested in the art of language invention and how language works I urge you to read this book.  Peterson adapts a very practical (and sometime humorous - this man does not like onions!) approach to laying out for the would be language inventor (and I know they are out there!) the sounds, words, and syntax of invented languages (using many practical examples and case studies from his and others invented languages).  He also includes a brilliant chapter on writing systems.  I very much enjoyed Peterson's descriptions of how his invented languages actually were used and pronounced by the actors on Game of Thrones and the detail he put into these languages as elements of world-building.  This is a must read for all practitioners (or want to be practitioners) of the 'Secret (and no so Secret) Vice' - and you will learn a lot about how language works as well.

As Autumn swiftly turns to Winter I've got a good group of stickies on my wall to work on -

The Call for Papers is out for the planned volume I would like to do to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Dark Shadows in 2016.  No takers yet and if this does not get a good take-up I may just attempt some papers on subjects I want to explore around the Dark Shadows mythos and post to

I am currently working on a re-submission of an article to Tolkien Studies was well as an upcoming paper for the volume A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honour of Verlyn Flieger.

In May 2016 I will also be giving a paper 'Early Explorers and Practitioners of A Shared Secret Vice ' as part of 'Tolkien and Invented Languages' panel at The International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo and also hoping to return to the Leeds IMC.

Finally my efforts are also focused on turning this monster......into a monograph for publishing!

So lots to do - best get on with it!

Lebe wohl, Namarie and Hajas for now!

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