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This Spectacular Darkness
critical essays by
Edited by Mark Valentine and John Howard
Joel Lane, renowned as a writer of compelling strange stories, novels in the noir tradition, and acute poetry, was also a thoughtful and perceptive essayist on the fantasy and horror fields. For the journal Wormwood he wrote a series of pieces discussing the leading figures in twentieth-century dark literature, including H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Fritz Leiber and Robert Aickman. They are characterised by his profound insight, high critical standards and his keen allegiance to this fiction.
Joel always intended to collect these essays in a book to be entitled This Spectacular Darkness, a quotation from the poet Edwin Morgan, whose work he admired. This cannot be that book: but it brings together all the essays he was able to write in the series.
Joel writes in his essay, ‘This Spectacular Darkness’, ‘. . . it was essential to ask new questions about human nature and our place in the world. Horror fiction was . . . an attempt to generate new myths—or a new kind of imagination—that could deal with . . . new realities.’ And few have understood and explored these new myths and realities with the deep understanding that he goes on to demonstrate.
Also collected here are essays Joel wrote for other publications, including studies of Ramsey Campbell, Robert Bloch and Nyarlathotep. The volume is completed by appreciations of Joel’s essays, poetry, short stories and novels.
Contents: 'Foreword’ by Mark Valentine, ‘Acknowledgments’, Critical Essays for Wormwood by Joel Lane: ‘The Dark Houses of Cornell Woolrich’, ‘The October Revolution: Ray Bradbury’s Existential Paradigm for the Horror Genre’, ‘The Territory of the Others: The Dark Fiction of Theodore Sturgeon’, ‘No Secret Place: The Haunted Cities of Fritz Leiber’, ‘Ruins of Time: The Mortal Terrors of Harlan Ellison’, ‘The Ruins of Reality: Thomas Ligotti and the Uses of Disenchantment’, ‘World Gone Wrong: H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythology of Loss’, ‘Forever Always Ends: Robert Aickman’s Visions of Afterlife’. Other Critical Essays by Joel Lane: ‘Strange Eons and the Cthulhu Mythos’, ‘Negatives in Print: The Early Novels of Ramsey Campbell’, ‘Beyond the Light: The Recent Novels of Ramsey Campbell’, ‘Writers in the James Tradition: Ramsey Campbell’, ‘The Double Edge: Robert Aickman’s Supernatural Stories’, ‘The Master of Masks’, ‘A Dream by the Old Canal’, ‘Hell is Other People: Robert Bloch and the Pathologies of the Family’. Appreciations of the Writings of Joel Lane: ‘Mapping the Territory: Joel Lane’s Essays’, by John Howard, ‘The Paper Ghosts: Reflections on Five Early Stories’, by Mark Valentine, ‘“Where the Gods are Rotting”: The Poetry of Joel Lane’, by Mat Joiner, ‘Socialism or Barbarism: Joel Lane’s Blue Trilogy and the poetry of the lost’, by Nina Allan. ‘Publication History.’
'Joel Lane...was an exceptionally astute and sympathetic critic of supernatural horror' and 'Lane is particularly good on the modernist horror of Fritz Leiber, with its distinctive feel for the urban environment', also 'For Lane, worthwhile supernatural horror is always about something more: a displacement and distillation that crystallizes human situations in a moment of of metaphorical truth'. Phil Baker, Times Literary Supplement
'A fitting tribute to Joel, whose life was cut too short.' Rosemary Pardoe, Ghosts and Scholars, 31
'This is an excellent non-fiction book and deserves a place on the shelf of any serious scholar of the genre.' British Fantasy Society
'Joel Lane's perspective is insightful and intelligent, but never dull or overly academic, never afraid to introduce an element of humour even at his own expense. This Spectacular Darkness is the work of somebody who was passionate about the horror genre and its often untapped potential to throw light on the human condition, to help us make sense of our lives even as they feel ever more meaningless. In the present moment it often seems that rational and compassionate voices like that of Joel Lane are sadly absent from our dialogues at a time when we need them most.' Peter Tennant at Black Static
Copyright Tartarus Press 2023