Dark Shadows: The Novels

On September 24, 2020, Hermes Press began re-releasing the initial Dark Shadows novels that originally appeared from 1966 to 1972.  Each will come out in enlarged formats more in line with contemporary paperbacks, but they’ll have the original cover art or photographs, and the archival paper bond.  As of this writing, twenty of the thirty-two are available.  “Cousin Barnabas” writing for The Collinsport Historical Society says about these novels:

They kinda-sorta feel like the Dark Shadows we know and love but suffer from a manic sense of continuity and arbitrary deviations from the television’s story.  The original series produced some of the wildest, craziest programming to ever be broadcast on television, but the books felt like the daytime show’s heavily medicated sibling.  Once in a while, the books forget to take their meds (resulting in stories like the batshit insane Barnabas, Quentin, and the Body Snatchers), but too often they’re a snooze.

Eight-year-old Chuck felt the same as Cousin Barnabas.  My older sister owned a set that she was willing to share, even if she kept it stashed ignobly in a large grocery bag.  I was aware of Barnabas Collins being a vampire, and this drew me to the novels. But having never encountered the television show, I was looking forward to something akin to the Hammer Films/Christopher Lee blood fests that appeared occasionally on Creature Features . . . with your host, Bob Wilkins!  I made it halfway through the first novel, Dark Shadows, which chronicled the arrival of Victoria Winters to Collinwood and her search for clues about her mysterious past.  I didn’t care whether she was related to the Collins family. Where were the blood and fangs? Right back into my sister’s bag that dud went. Now thanks to Hermes Press, I’ve been able to read the first four in the series which come across like half-rate Jane Eyre or Rebecca. What’s worse, Barnabas himself doesn’t appear until the sixth book, and after all these decades I’m still not there yet.  I stood no chance back then, but I’ll move forward now, since, I admit without irony, I’ve grown fond of hack-level nostalgia.

More interesting than the novels is the man who wrote all thirty-two, William Edward Daniel (W. E. D.) Ross, writing here as Marilyn Ross.  According to scholar Janet B. Friskney, Ross produced over 300 novels under various pseudonyms, earning the title “Canada’s Most Prolific Author.”  Ross knew what he wanted: to write successful, popular novels.  To blazes with becoming honored like Hemingway or Stein. Ross had his business model, which meant he wrote to earn a living.  He wrote romances as Jane Rossiter, Leslie Ames, Ellen Randolph, Ann Gilmer, Rose Williams, Rose Dana, Clarissa Ross, Marilyn Ross, Jan Daniels, Charlotte McCormack, Ruth Dorset, Miriam Leslie, Dana Ross, Laura Frances Brooks, Lydia Colby, Diana Randall, Diana Ross, and Marilyn Carter.  Included within his oeuvre are erotic novels as Olin Ross and Westerns as Dan Roberts and Tex Steele.  There are many more, but you get the idea. Ross – with editorial help from his wife, Marilyn – became quite the pot-boiler factory, which met right with his plans.

Friskney, whose paper appeared in Authorship 10.1 (2021), adds that Boston University holds a large collection of Ross’s papers which aided her research immensely.  Ross never bothered to watch the show upon which he was basing these novels, leading to ambiguous continuities that fans still decry today.  Much like the comic series running contemporaneously to the novels, the plots soon became centered around Barnabas and his cousin, Quentin the werewolf, facing off against any number of supernatural menaces, saving distressed women, and lamenting their individual curses.  And like the comics series, the novels outlasted the show itself, seven having been released after the show’s demise in 1971.

Gothic novels enjoyed a heyday during the 1960s and into the 1970s, but then hit a downturn right about when ABC cancelled Dark Shadows. Many who’d reaped healthy cash moved on to write mysteries, bodice-rippers, and other genre offerings.  Ross’s rise among these marketeers began in 1962, when the industry began considering him a journeyman, a title he trained hard to obtain.

Of course, I’ll collect all thirty-two, acquiring each when Hermes Press releases them.  There have been recent novels not related to the initial run, most notably by Lara Parker who played the witch Angelique on the television show, but none compared to those original gothics, written for sheer profit but providing fans with needed fixes once ABC pulled the plug on their main source of fun.  Indeed, the novels and the comics (Yes! There was a comic-book series too!) function like any franchise’s expanded universe – Star Wars, Star Trek, and World of Warcraft, for example – that keep us going until whichever studio or developer serves the next big helping.  Dark Shadows may have the goofiest expanded universe of all, but you’ll catch a groove if you’re willing to relax and turn off your frontal lobes.