Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Barnabas Collins and Quentin's Demon


Marilyn Ross's series of Dark Shadow novels are an odd combination of formula and imagination, two ideals that shouldn't play well together. There's a certain kind of security that comes with reading these books because you always know what you're getting: a young woman arrives at Collinwood, becomes embroiled in the family's violent eccentricities, and well-mannered mayhem ensues.

In Barnabas Collins and Quentin's Demon that woman is Lara Balfour, the daughter of a Boston composer. Shortly before his death her father had struck up a friendship with a fan of his work, Quentin Collins. After her father's funeral Lara accepts an invitation to Collinwood where things get all murdery.

The book introduces Quentin Collins to the constantly shifting canon of Dark Shadows novels. Ross, who reportedly saw very few episodes of Dark Shadows, interpreted Quentin as a dour, controlling and unpleasant man. He has the sideburns, is fond of a very particular piece of music and (spoiler alert) is a werewolf but that's where the similarities to his TV counterpart end.

The rest of Quentin's family from the 1897 television storyline are replaced by a much smaller band of weirdos. There's Conrad Collins, Quentin's disabled brother, who spends a bit too much time with his kennel of angry dogs. Haunting the upper floors of Collinwood is Erica Collins, Quentin's 100-year-old aunt and black magic enthusiast. Catherine Edmonds, a relative of one of Erica's former acolytes, is assigned to take care of the elderly maniac. And, last but not least, there's cousin Barnabas Collins who resides at the old house with his servant, Benson.

Not THAT Benson.
It's slowly revealed that Quentin's wife had her throat ripped out by an unidentified animal, as have a lot of other women who have gotten a little too close to him. Everyone is a suspect and the reader is given no solid clue (or any other kind of guidance) on how to solve this mystery. It might be a werewolf. It might be Quentin ... or his brother ... or ancient Aunt Erica ... or maybe even that nice Michael Green chap who Lara meets hanging around the family cemetery.

I know for a fact that guy in the middle is a werewolf
It might seem like a cheat on Ross's part but nobody reads these book because they present compelling mysteries. Their first (and possibly only) priority of these books is to conjure a romantic sense of dread ... Masterpiece Theatre versions of the old Universal monster movies, if you will. Which is lucky because this book comes to a crashing halt during the final four pages.

During one of his many "spells" Lara witnesses Quentin's transformation into a werewolf. Using a pistol given to her by Barnabas and Michael Green, she shoots Quentin moments before he leaps through a window and runs into the night (and out of the story.) Conrad seizes the opportunity to reveal that he and his dogs are the real killers of Quentin's female friends and is subsequently shot dead, himself, by Barnabas and Green.

As she's hustled onto the first ship out of Collinsport she's given a note from Barnabas. Even though he's been indulging her with talks of marriage he informs her that he can no longer see her. And that's pretty much the end.

Now, these books clearly have a page budget. Every book in the Dark Shadows series comes in between 150 and 160 pages, so it's likely Ross hit his limit and was forced to wrap the story with extreme prejudice. But that's a lot of story to get across in four pages, and the sins of omission are even worse. We never find out what happened to Quentin, or even learn where the curse came from. Rumors place the blame on gypsies but it's never said where, when or why it happened.

There's also the question of where the 1960s Collins clan came from when you consider the only member of the family still accounted for at the story's end is a 100-year-old woman. But anybody who's ever read one of Ross's Dark Shadows novels know not to pull at THAT loose thread.

5 comments:

Laughing Crow Knits said...

I have three of the Marilyn Ross novelettes, and have read them all. I loved them.

Anonymous said...

In the TV series, IIRC, a gypsy cursed Quentin and turned him into a werewolf. Later, an artist painted a portrait of him that sorta-kinda provided a cure. During the full moon, the portrait turned into a picture of a werewolf, but Quentin didn't change. Also, the portrait aged, but he didn't (like Dorian Grey). That allowed Quentin to stay on the show when the 1897 story arc ended and the show returned to the present time (the late 1960's). But it seems like Quentin wasn't really featured on the show very much after that.

Anonymous said...

Are they any plans to have some of the Dark Shadows Books placed in EBOOK formats,
, for kindle or Barnes & Noble readers to enjoy .... John

Christy Aposhian said...

I wish i knew where i could get some of those booke.

Anonymous said...

These books are on ebay and mostly are pretty cheap!! You can get a complete set for about $150 sometimes.

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