Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You won't know the facts until you've read the fiction

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Barnabas Collins on DARK SHADOWS. To celebrate the occasion, The Collinsport Historical Society is spending the week looking back at the "introductions" of the character in various media.


It took a while for the DARK SHADOWS marketing machine to start generating Barnabas Collins merchandise. Dan Curtis Productions had an agreement in place with Paperback Library since the start of the series in 1966, which had produced a handful of short pulp novels focusing on governess Victoria Winters. But it wasn't until the end of 1968 until the publication schedule was able to add Barnabas Collins into the mix.

Cover for the 1968 U.S. edition.
Author Dan Ross (writing here under his wife's name, Marilyn) was one of the most prolific hack authors of the 20th century. Using more than two dozen pen names, he churned out hundreds of novels before his death in 1995. Unfortunately for readers, Ross lived in Canada — which didn't broadcast DARK SHADOWS during its original run on ABC. Consequently, Ross' DARK SHADOWS novels have little to do with the series beyond names and situations.

The pulp fiction version of Barnabas Collins is very different from his television counterpart. The character makes his debut in the appropriately titled installment "Barnabas Collins," a story that mostly ignores the continuity of the previous books. It begins with a hastily written wrap-around story that provides only the vaguest of links to the prior entry: On a dark and stormy night at Collinwood, governess Victoria Winters is reading a family history she discovered on a book shelf in the mansion. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard fills Victoria in on the missing gaps of the narrative, which involves her grandmother and a cousin from England named (ta-da!) Barnabas Collins. The story then leaps backward to the early part of the 20th century, where we meet ancestors Jonas and Margaret Collins, and their disabled daughter, Greta.

Barnabas maintains the usual cover story: He's the descendent of an American ancestor who migrated to England a century earlier and is interested in exploring his roots. This cover story masks his real intentions: Greta's bears an unfortunate resemblance to the lost Josette, and Barnabas hopes to woo her.

From there, things get really gross.

Cover for the 1976 German edition.
While TV Barnabas was content to kidnap and abuse Maggie Evans, Pulp Barnabas is setting up Josette Franchises all over Collinsport. His intentions on Greta are almost innocent when compared to his dealings with other women in the novel. Barnabas is slowly killing a young servant at Collinwood, who he has visiting the Old House each night for a little Josette cosplay and/or blood letting. Barnabas also has the owner of a private orphanage in town in his thrall, and has set his sights on a third Josette: An underage orphan who also looks a lot like his dead girlfriend. It seems that the gene pool in Collinsport is rather shallow.

After a few deaths in and around Collinwood, Margaret discovers Barnabas' secret: Her English cousin is a vampire who has been wandering the world since the end of the 18th century. They engage in a battle of wills, with Margaret taking temporary custody of Barnabas' child bride. (In his defense, Barnabas plans to wait until the child is of legal age before marrying her ... but that doesn't really make it better.)

By the end of the book most of its characters are dead — including young Greta. This presents a pretty significant continuity error in the novel's bookends: Elizabeth mentions that Margaret is her grandmother, whose only daughter dies during the course of the tale. It's a little unclear how Elizabeth entered the picture with such a significant pruning of the family tree.

I don't think fans have ever really embraced Ross' version of DARK SHADOWS. In 1966, he was the perfect choice to continue the storyline in print. Ross was a one-stop clearing house for gothic romance in the 1960s, the kind of "women running from houses" stories that Dan Curtis was trying to translate into a daytime drama. The introduction of Barnabas Collins eventually changed that dynamic, moving the series away from its pulp roots and into more traditional horror/science fiction. His pulp counterpart is a fairly traditional gothic anti-hero who has more in common with Jane Eyre than "Dracula." The DARK SHADOWS novels remain collectible (the books produced after the cancellation of the series remain some of the show's most sought-after merchandise), but fans have generally rejected their dry tone.

I'm a fan of his work, but will save my defense of Ross' writing for another time.

Up Next: Barnabas Collins makes his four-color debut!


Unknown said...

I loved the book BARNABAS COLLINS. What a heartbreaking tale. I still remember finishing it on the playground with a tear in my eye. I loved Greta (and of course Barnabas).
I embraced the paperbacks totally! I just thought of it as a parallel world.

Unknown said...

Like BT, I also thought of the Marilyn Ross novel's as parallel time stories, and have often enjoyed revisiting them over the years. I'm currently revisiting Hawkes Harbor, via an audiobook, during my nightly commute. Concidently, this evening I listened to the introduction of Grenville Hawkes (Barnabas Collins) and it was genuinely chilling. The novel really evokes the original DS series, and while listening, my mind was back in the old house, with Barnabas, Willie, and Julia!

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