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Bookends: How they saved the world one Victorian Hallowe’en February 18, 2015

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Bookends: How they saved the world one Victorian Hallowe’enLonesome October

By Dan Davidson

November 5, 2014

– 780 words –

 

A Night in the Lonesome October

By Roger Zelazny

Illustrations by Gahan Wilson

Chicago Review Press

280 pages

$18.95

 

Apparently Jack the Ripper had a reason for all those grisly murders. He needed those body parts as his contribution to a ritual that had to be enacted on All Hallows Eve in order to keep the Great Old Ones from entering our reality and snuffing out all life on the Earth from which they had been banished millennia earlier.

Jack is one of the Closers who strive against the Openers, those who would open an interdimensional gateway at one of the thin places on the planet and let the Great Evil Ones in. This can only happen (and it never has – but it could) when there is a full moon on Hallowe’en, which only occurs every few decades.

That’s the story that Jack’s dog, Snuff, would like us to believe, at any rate, and since he’s the narrator of this, Roger Zelazny’s final novel, we’ll just have to decide if he’s reliable. Oh – wait – Cthulhu has not risen, and we have not come to the sad end shown to us in the recent movie, The Cabin in the Woods, which draws on the same source material, so perhaps Snuff was right.

Anyway, isn’t it appropriate that Jack the Ripper’s dog should be named Snuff?

Snuff is a dog of near human intelligence who can actually speak to his human master in English during certain hours of the day. The rest of the time he can only speak to the various animals who are the familiars of the other players in what they all call the Great Game. Some of these players are Dracula, Victor Frankenstein, Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), the Great Detective (you know who), a Mad Monk, a Satanic Clergyman, a Witch and a number of others. Each has a mentally enhanced creature that works with him or her: a snake, an owl, a cat, etc. This applies to all of the players except Talbot, whose dual nature allows him to be his own familiar, except during full moon periods, when the potions he uses to control his condition fail to suppress the wolf mentality.

The book has 32 chapters, one for each day in October and one introductory chapter in which we learn about Snuff and Jack and the fact that they are the keepers of a number of strange and deadly creatures they have imprisoned in their house. One of Snuff’s jobs is to ride herd on these critters and keep them from escaping into the world. At one point the creatures manage to get out, aided by one of the Closers. Snuff and Jack have a terrible time getting them back under control.

The book is made up of the present tense entries in Snuff’s journal. Since Snuff would always know exactly what the Game is all about and has no need to record exposition for its own sake, we only learn about the Game in disjointed bits and pieces as he interacts and chats with the familiars of the other Players.

You couldn’t say that the Players represent good and evil, since both groups engage in what would have to be called criminal activities in pursuit of their goals. On the other hand, you’ve certainly got to root for the people who are doing things intended to keep the real monsters from taking over the world.

I mentioned the film Cabin in the Woods, in which a group of sleazy scientists (so it appears) put a group of young people through every horror cliché imaginable. You hate them and root for the young people, only to find out they are doing it to keep the monsters from breaking through. Zelazny used the same “necessary sacrifices” idea in this book two decades ago.

Zelazny was in the vanguard of the second wave of great SF writers in the mid-1960s, famous for his poetic use of language (he also published books of poetry) and his linking of SF and Fantasy by reinterpretations of classic myths and legends. During his career he picked up six Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards and two Locus Awards, among others.

This was his last book, first published in 1993. It was a Nebula nominee for that year. This edition is a reissue from Chicago Review Press, which specializes in high quality paperback editions in its “rediscovered classics series”.

Gahan Wilson is one of the great cartoonists of the grotesque, and his 33 full page illustrations certainly add to the flavour of the book.

 

-30-

 

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