Ghost Story (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
Ghost Story is not, it turns out, about “ghosts” at all. Its originality of concept is one of the reasons why Peter Straub’s horror novel was not only the best of its kind in 1979, but must also be ranked as one of a handful of modern dark fantasies that have transcended the limits of the genre to establish themselves as significant works of art.
Perhaps the uniqueness of Straub’s novel can be most clearly seen by a brief comparison with another excellent contemporary dark fantasy, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1975). The basic plots of these two works are quite similar: a young, introspective, troubled writer comes to a small, provincial Eastern town where he encounters a mysterious and unnatural menace. Viewed with suspicion and hostility by the local authorities, he nevertheless manages to recruit a small group of converts, most notably a bright teenaged boy, to do battle with the evil before it destroys them and overwhelms the town. After a harrowing and protracted conflict, the menace is finally vanquished, but not before much of the town has been ravaged and most of the hero’s allies killed. However, in Salem’s Lot the menace is vampirism; in Ghost Story it is a new (or at least obscure) species of evil capable of destroying its adversaries in new and different ways. The qualities and tools needed to fight the vampires in Salem’s Lot are well known; the creatures in Ghost Story...
(The entire section is 2231 words.)
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