It was a guilty pleasure read. We’d just moved and I needed a new novel for bed-time reading. Most of our undamaged books were still boxed up and, well, enough excuses: I like Dark Shadows novels. Hardly well written, these pulp potboilers are like extended, Gothic Scooby-Doo episodes. I first started finding them used at Goodwill when I was a kid and I’ve re-collected a number of them as an adult. Although they feature a vampire, and sometimes a werewolf and witch, the crisis of the story generally devolves to a hoax at Collinwood. So it was with Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost. I hadn’t thought to write a blog post about it until I came across a passage mentioning Rocain. In context, one of the characters explains how Rocain, the son of Seth, shows that sorcery goes all the way back to Genesis.
Genesis was one of my lines of research during my academic career, although I never published anything I was working on. I didn’t, however, recall having read about Rocain. The internet quickly pointed me to Legends of Old Testament Characters by Sabine Baring-Gould, chapter 8. Clearly this was where Marilyn Ross, or his source, got his information. Baring-Gould sits on my shelf as the author of The Book of Were-Wolves. He also wrote the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” There was an era, overlapping with Baring-Gould’s lifetime, when a minister could be an independent scholar of repute. Although much that’s found in his many publications is now disputed, his was a lively and lifelong curiosity that led to several books.
Upon reflection, Sabine Baring-Gould, who was a priest fascinated by occult topics, would have fit quite well into the Dark Shadows diegesis. Although set in the late 1960s into the mod ‘70s when the television show aired, these were Victorian vignettes of a conflicted vampire and his strange, wealthy, and somewhat clueless family. All kinds of guests, some of them quite Lovecraftian, drop into the Maine mansion and its grounds. The writing of the novels is tepid at best, but the series was surprisingly literate. Dark Shadows is nevertheless undergoing a kind of revival these days, and friends sometimes tell me they’ve just discovered this oddly compelling world. I invite them in. I’ve unpacked a few more boxes since selecting this pulp novel, and one of them, I note, holds books by Sabine Baring-Gould. The guilty pleasure read?