When reading three books by the same author, most of the time, it seems, it’s good to spread them out. For the past few years my wife and I would visit an independent bookstore in January to pick up a few books for the year’s looming reading challenges. We slipped behind this year and I happen to have three unread Marilyn Ross books at home. Barnabas, Quentin and the Haunted Cave was the second of them. Since, unbelievably, I didn’t have books to fit into the other categories, I read my second Dark Shadows book of the season shortly after the first. It is a revealing experience to come back to a childhood influence as an adult. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t read this one as a child, and as much as I like Barnabas Collins, this particular story was somewhat tedious. And that’s saying something, considering how formulaic the series is.
One of the reasons I found it slow going—especially for a book of less than 200 pages—was that Ross relied too much on dreams to move the plot along. I read quite a bit of fiction and I always find writing about dreams tricky. Even within the diegesis of the story you don’t know whether to believe what’s going on in dreams or not. Just as in real life, dreams are a break from the tedium of consciousness and they permit the mind to wander. The dreamer can go anywhere, do anything. Generally without consequence. You awake back in the more continuous narrative of your life and the dream is forgotten. In fiction, which is largely made up, dreams often act as filler. Given the number of times Ross repeated himself in this particular book, it seems that he had to pad the story out quite a bit. It would’ve worked just fine without the dreams. Might’ve fallen short of contracted length, though.
It also continues the conceit of Quentin as a Satanist. I have to confess that the original series was so long ago I don’t remember much about it. The theremin music of the opening, with the waves crashing against the cliffs of Maine, yes. Barnabas, tortured but not evil vampire, yes. Much beyond that, no. I’ve had friends discover Dark Shadows as adults. I watched it on commercial television during its first run and I haven’t seen it since. I certainly don’t have time for soap operas in days crowded with other demands. Still, these little books can take me back to a dusty corner of childhood that has a pleasant patina over it. But it is best to keep such experiences separated a bit in time.