I have recently finished writing an article for a collection of essays on the Bible and horror. Have no fear—I’ll pass along details once it’s published. I do have to wonder, though. All those years I was teaching and publishing regularly in ancient Near Eastern studies nobody ever approached me about contributing. It took coming out of my monster closet for that to happen. Monsters, you see, are a guilty pleasure topic. They’re so much fun that they hardly seem like work to write about. Or read about. I was a child when Dark Shadows aired as a daily soap opera on ABC. For reasons about which I’m beginning to speculate I found this series strangely compelling. Marilyn Ross (W. E. D. [William Edward Daniel] Ross) based some 32 of his over 300 novels on the series. I collected them as a kid and then got rid of them when I went to college. I’ve been collecting them again in a fit of nostalgia over the past several years.
I just finished Barnabas, Quentin, and the Crystal Coffin. The story was actually quite different than typical Collinwood fare. What drew me to these novels as a child was their atmosphere and, if I’m honest, the fact that Barnabas was a vampire. Memories of youth are fleeting things at my age, but it may be that Barnabas Collins was my introduction to vampires. I was four when the series first aired, and I’m not sure if I discovered it before I came across Dracula or if it was the other way round. Dracula, once I was experienced enough to have an opinion on such things, was my favorite monster. I liked the others as well, but he was rich and immortal—the things sickly kids in poverty idealize.
In my fascination with Dark Shadows I’m not alone. Despite Tim Burton’s movie version, Johnny Depp (who is my age) admitted growing up wanting to be Barnabas Collins. Friends about my age have discovered PBS’s recent re-release of the original series in all its campy glory. For whatever reason, however, it is the books that always draw me back in. They, for me, defined the Gothic novel. Ross’s writing is formulaic and predictable. His adjective choices feel forced and subtleness was never his strong point. Still I can’t stop myself from occasionally dropping into the world he manages to recreate in the woods of Maine. Afterwards I move on to more profound writing, but then, his work is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.