Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And Then There's John Bellairs

So, while I think Lovecraft is interesting as a mythmaker but not a v. good writer, and Clark Ashton Smith brilliant but admittedly an acquired taste,* I think the late John Bellairs, at his best (i.e., THE FACE IN THE FROST) can best even C.A.S.  Bellairs' vocabulary is much simpler, but he was a master of using detail to evoke a sense of nightmares. And I mean that literally: I've had nightmares after reading Bellairs, which has never been the case with HPL or even CAS. Here's a particularly good example of how he draws on common experience to build sinister effect:

It did not look haunted, especially at noon,
this crowded, textured, interwoven wood. 
[He] saw every shade of green, from light,
bleached, papery, yellow-green to a dark, wet, 
inky green that was almost black. Willows,
poplars, maples, oaks, and stubby kinked
mulberry trees. As he crossed the little clearing,
he noticed that the wood -- at least the part of
it that he saw -- was surrounded by a loose
fence of closely planted wooden poles
tipped with spear blades and linked by three
tiers of reddish iron chains. Nothing that a man
might not break down in a few minutes, but 
it might keep something in . . . 

Once he was actually inside the forest and 
the oiled gate was shut behind him, [he]
knew what was wrong. There are times 
when you feel you hear doors slamming 
in the distance, voices calling your name;
you see blurred things, far away or very 
close up, that look like people until you 
focus on them. That was the trouble. The
whole place seemed slightly out of focus,
very slightly off. It was as if you were half
asleep. There was a buzzing in [his] ears,
and he had to stare at a tree for several seconds
before it looked like a tree and not a leaning
furry shadow. . . A glass bell was ringing
somewhere deep, deep in the forest. An icy
green glass bell ridged with frost, trembling
on a green willow branch.

--John Bellairs, THE FACE IN THE FROST (1969), Chapter Five [The Empty Forest].

currently reading: THE WALKER IN THE WASTE [Pagan P. CoC campaign], AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND (the only Geo. MacDonald fantasy I've not read)

*anyone who cd write a play called THE DEAD WILL CUCKOLD YOU is definitely not for everyone


Brer said...

I'm glad somebody still appreciates Bellairs as a serious fantasy writer. That "green glass bell" has haunted me for years. And of course the great M. R. James was an influence on his work.

Theoretikum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morgan Thomsen said...

I came to The Face in the Frost without knowing what to expect (except that I had seen it recommended by David Bratman, if I remember correctly). It started out rather jovially, but just got darker and darker. The illusory town of Five Dials and the inn scence scared me deeply.