Campbell, Ramsey 1946-
(Full name John Ramsey Campbell; has written under the pseudonyms Montgomery Comfort, Carl Dreadstone, and Jay Ramsey) English novelist, short story writer, critic, and editor.
In the opinion of many leading critics of supernatural fiction, Campbell is the most prominent contemporary successor to a literary tradition which began with the eighteenth-century Gothic novel and later comprised the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, and H. P. Lovecraft. Contrasting with the majority of modern works of horror and the supernatural, which have their closest artistic analogies in popular movies, television shows, and comic books, Campbell's fiction displays an artistry and imagination that is often compared to the classics of Gothic literature. Moreover, few contemporary horror writers have been as highly praised for their power and acuity in portraying what Jack Sullivan has termed, apropos of Campbell's work, the "grey and grubby modern world."
Campbell was born and grew up in Liverpool; the impersonal, dreary industrial landscape of that city serves as the background for much of his best work. His parents' relationship was marked by discord, and though Campbell's mother sought a divorce, she was denied permission by the Roman Catholic Church. His father continued to live with the family but contact with him was severed. Campbell's father made every effort for his comings and goings to pass unobserved and, when at home, he remained in his closed room. Thus, for twenty years Campbell virtually never saw or spoke with his father though they shared the same residence. In addition, Campbell's mother suffered paranoia and delusions, and her resulting erratic behavior sometimes overwhelmed Campbell. Campbell began to write when he was eleven and published "The Tower from Yuggoth," a Lovecraftian pastiche, when he was sixteen. In 1962 he left school to work in a tax office and in 1966 began working for the Liverpool Public Libraries. He wrote the stories for Demons by Daylight in 1968 and, soon after the book was published in 1973, began writing full time. In 1978 Campbell's story "In the Bag" received the British Fantasy Award for best short story. That year he was also honored with the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction for "The Chimney" and again in 1980 for "Mackintosh Willy." Campbell resides in Merseyside, England.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Collected in The Inhabitant of the Lake, and Less Welcome Tenants (1964), Campbell's first published pieces represent his effort to perpetuate H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, a term coined by Lovecraft admirers that refers to his tales of cosmic legend. In this first volume, Campbell transplants the horrific elements of Lovecraft's stories to a fictional English setting while Maintaining essentially Lovecraftian characters and supernatural phenomena. In the collection Demons by Daylight, such tales as "The Old Horns" and "The Sentinels" combine the banality of ordinary life and human relationships with the dreamlike quality that forms the basis for the masterpieces of supernatural fiction. This is achieved in Campbell's fiction by various means, most conspicuously through the perspective of extreme subjectivity from which his stories are narrated. By relating the incidents of a narrative from the most intimate level of his characters' consciousness, Campbell magnifies the natural doubts, dreams, and fears of human existence to the point where they merge with the supernatural. In "The Interloper," for instance, a schoolboy's fear of his instructor ultimately attains a fantastic dimension in a scenario of doom that is convincing more in the manner of a nightmare than in the mode of realistic fiction. This technique is heightened in effectiveness by a metaphorical prose style that sustains an atmosphere of poetic delirium. Such stories as "Ash" and "Litter," which appear in Campbell's third collection, The Height of the Scream (1976), and "The Chimney" and "Mackintosh Willy," from Dark Companions (1982), are particularly successful studies of the menacing universe inhabited by his characters.
Campbell is considered among the first practitioners of the modern horror story. With the collection Demons by Daylight, Campbell drew away from Lovecraft's influence and revealed a manner of storytelling that was an unexpected leap both in his personal evolution as a writer and in the history of supernatural horror fiction. Although supernatural writers of the 1950s and 1960s attempted to adapt the fundamental plots and themes of Gothic literature to a modern milieu, Demons by Daylight is recognized as the first book to realize this ambition without sacrificing the intensity and imaginative richness of traditional Gothicism. The tales in Campbell's first work, The Inhabitant of the Lake, and Less Welcome Tenants, several of which were reissued in the collection Cold Print (1984), are considered to be among the best evocations of Lovecraft's work. In addition to his short story collections, Campbell has written several novels of the supernatural. Critics have generally perceived his novels to be less striking than his short stories, although this opinion is offered with the understanding that shorter fictional forms are more suited to expressing the tenuous and often intense effects of supernatural horror and that the supernatural novel is seldom more than a qualified success. Nevertheless, Campbell's novels are praised for the same qualities of style and imagination which distinguish his short stories.
The Inhabitant of the Lake, and Less Welcome Tenants 1964
Demons by Daylight 1973
Slow written in 1975; published in 1985
The Height of the Scream 1976
Dark Companions 1982
Cold Print 1984
*Crypt of Cthulhu, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1986
Scared Stiff: Tales of Sex and Death 1986
*Crypt of Cthulhu, Vol. 6, No. 8, 1987
Dark Feasts: The World of Ramsey Campbell 1987
Needing Ghosts 1990
Waking Nightmares 1991
Alone with Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell 1961-1991 1993
Two Obscure Tales 1993
Other Major Works
The Doll Who Ate His Mother (novel) 1976
The Bride of Frankenstein [as Carl Dreadstone] (novel) 1977
Dracula's Daughter [as Carl Dreadstone] (novel) 1977
The Wolfman [as Carl Dreadstone] (novel) 1977
†The Face That Must Die (novel) 1979
‡The Parasite (novel) 1980
The Nameless (novel) 1981
§The Claw [as Jay Ramsey] (novel) 1983
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SOURCE: "Ramsey Campbell: An Appreciation," in Nyctalops, No. 13, 1977, pp. 19-25.
[Klein is an American author of horror fiction whose works include the novel The Ceremonies (1984) and the novella collection Dark Gods (1985). In the following excerpt from an essay originally written in 1974, he examines the stories in Demons by Daylight and attests to the marked influence that the collection has had on the modern horror story.]
This is the story of how a young man crawled out from under H. P. Lovecraft's shadow, saw the sun, and wrote Demons by Daylight . . .
Back in 1969, after Arkham House had exhausted its supply of Lovecraft fiction and had run through three volumes of miscellaneous "Lovecraftiana" (juvenile efforts, fragments, "Lovecraft as Mentor," "Lovecraft in Providence," "Lovecraft and the New England Megaliths," et al), it dipped still further into the barrel and came out with Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, a collection of pastiches in the Lovecraft tradition. . . .
[The] best of the pastiches—i.e. the most faithful—were unaccountably the worst. One might almost conclude, in fact, that, as a literary form, the pastiche is really a close cousin to the translation (if temporal rather than spatial) and that it is, therefore, in the words of the adage, like a woman: the more beautiful, the less faithful; the more faithful, the less...
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SOURCE: "Rustlings and Slitherings in the Shadows," in Book World—The Washington Post, April 25, 1982, p. 9.
[Ryan is the author of short stories and a horror novel. The Kill (1982). In the following excerpt, he praises Campbell's Dark Companions.]
Stand in a bookstore, near a display of horror fiction, and you're very likely to hear readers exercising the single most compelling literary criterion for the genre. "Is it scary?" they want to know. There are other, and perhaps more dignified, standards to be applied, but "Is it scary?" is the bottom line.
Ramsey Campbell's stories are scary. He has been writing them, and building his reputation on them—the highlypraised fantasy magazine Whispers has just devoted a special issue to his work—for 20 years now, and his latest collection, Dark Companions, is both more accessible and more frightening than the earlier volumes. His recent novels, The Parasite and The Nameless, were well-received both here and in England, but Campbell seems most comfortable with the short story, where form and content conspire to create the effect on which horror fiction, blatantly and passionately, depends.
Campbell's people are as real as you or me, his settings—most often urban, gritty, and unwholesome—as immediate as the street outside your window, and the horrors as implacable as death. At his best, as he...
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SOURCE: A review of Cold Print, in Crypt of Cthulhu, Vol. 4, No. 8, Lammas, 1985, pp. 42-3.
[In the following excerpt from a review of the retrospective collection Cold Print, Cannon expresses a preference for Campbell's later stories over his earlier ones, finding them more effective and characteristic of the author.]
Britisher Ramsey Campbell stands today as one of those rare horror writers (of which T. E. D. Klein is perhaps the leading American exponent) who follow in the classic tradition of H. P. Lovecraft, not by adapting the superficial trappings of the Mythos, but by focusing on the creation of mood and atmosphere, through the use of a meticulous, subtle style and careful structure. [Cold Print, a] collection of fifteen "Mythos Cthulhu" tales (as the line on the jacket back puts it), arranged in approximate chronological order, demonstrates Campbell's development from immature imitator to sophisticated supernaturalist.
In his entertaining and informative introduction, Campbell acknowledges Lovecraft's influence and describes the background to the writing of each tale, with a comment or two on his intentions. He mentions in passing a number of stories not included here (evidently in some cases because of too strong a sadistic element), but which may well appear in future issues of Crypt of Cthulhu—to the delight of all Campbell completists, one might add....
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SOURCE: "Dig Us No Grave," in Fantasy Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, March, 1986, pp. 35-6.
[In the following essay, Campbell discusses the current state of the horror fiction genre.]
The tale of supernatural terror often deals with the cyclical nature of things: the ghost that always returns, the events that are repeated from generation to generation, the personalities that are reborn. As well as dealing with the cyclical, the genre suffers from the process too. Perhaps it should: we shall see.
"I believe ghost story writing to be a dying art. It's just possible that another Montague Rhodes James may appear one day, but I profoundly doubt it." So wrote H. Russell Wakefield in 1961, and I wonder why. Perhaps he might have overlooked Russell Kirk, whose tales had not then been collected, or even the publication ten years earlier of We Are For The Dark, but could he really have been unaware of Cynthia Asquith's ghost books of the fifties, the third of which displayed Aickman's mastery in "Ringing the Changes"? His ignorance is harder to understand than that of Colin Wilson and Nigel Kneale, claiming ten years or so later on television that no good ghost stories were being written any more; there seems to be no reason why either of them should be expected to know. They can't really be blamed for having been treated as experts by the media, and the same may be said of Roald Dahl, whose...
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SOURCE: "The Bare Bones: An Introduction," in Scared Stiff: Seven Tales of Seduction and Terror by Ramsey Campbell, Warner Books, 1987, pp. ix-xii.
[Barker is an English short story writer, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and film director known especially for the horror stories published in his popular six-volume collection, Clive Barker's Books of Blood (1984-86). In the following excerpt from an essay that was written in 1986, he commends Campbell for his ability to blend sex and horror in Scared Stiff.]
Death and the Maiden.
It's an eternally popular subject for painters, and in a sense for writers and filmmakers too. What does the image conjure? A woman, naked perhaps, or nearly so, gazing at us with horror (or, on occasion, with a sublime indifference) while Death stretches a rotted paw to touch her breast, or leans its worm-ridden skull towards her as if to ply her with kisses.
Corruption and sexuality in a marriage of opposites.
The motif is echoed whenever a movie monster takes beauty in its arms, or at least attempts to. Sometimes, of course, the Maiden keeps Death at bay; as often, she's claimed. Whichever, the sexual frisson generated by her glamour is increased tenfold by the presence of the foulness that shadows her.
But the drama of the image—with the Maiden representing innocence and life, and...
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SOURCE: "Campbell Is Coming," in New Statesman, Vol. 115, No. 2974, March 25, 1988, p. 28.
[An English critic and playwright, Newman is the author of Nightmare Movies (1985), a critical history of horror film since 1968, and coauthor of Ghastly beyond Belief (1985), a celebration of the most ridiculous moments from science fiction books and movies. In the following excerpt, he finds that Campbell's most affecting stories in Dark Feasts combine "almost surreal ghastliness and almost too-real urban decay. "]
Campbell's importance as a force in modern British horror is . . . demonstrated Dark Feasts, a representative selection from the first 25 years of his career. He began, very young, as a disciple of H. P. Lovercraft, and produced a series of stories he now refers to as "youthful indiscretions" in the tentacled and overheated style of the Sage of Providence, one of which ("The Room in the Castle") he includes here—several others, along with a selection of more mature and probing variations on Lovercraft's Cthulhu Mythos, can be found in Cold Print. In a story common to both collections, "The Voice of the Beach", Campbell finally subsumes the Lovecraft influence and tries to recreate the potent mood of his horror stories without using any of the creaking mechanics.
However, Campbell soon progressed, and the bulk of Dark Feasts finds him working...
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SOURCE: "Ramsey Campbell: Dark Feasts," in Horror: 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1988, pp. 216-18.
[An American educator and critic, Sullivan is the author of Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood (1978) and has edited Lost Souls: A Collection of English Ghost Stories ( 1983) and The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986). In the following essay, he states that Campbell's strength as a writer lies in the suggestive quality of his fiction, which creates in the reader the realization that "something lurks in the corner of the page even more chilling than what is vividly shown."]
A dozen years ago, in a little piece for Harper's on neglected spook masters, I sang the praises of an unknown named Ramsey Campbell, 'a young British writer who is probably the best living creator of supernatural horror'. Robert Aickman was still alive, so the statement was perhaps a reckless one, but my friend Ted Klein had put me on to a book called Demons by Daylight, and I was in that peculiarly heightened state one experiences when discovering an utterly new literary voice.
Here at last, I thought, was a horror writer who could really write, who was scarier than anyone in the business and whose scares were earned, who brought the same intelligence and...
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SOURCE: "The Lovecraftian Tales" and "The Tales of Illusion," in Ramsey Campbell Starmont House, Inc., 1988, pp. 11-15, 16-25.
[A short story writer, poet, and critic, Crawford is also the editor of Gothic, a journal of Gothic literature studies. He has published essays on such Gothic writers as Robert Aickman, J. S. Le Fanu, Walter de la Mare, and Oliver Onions, and contributed to Horror Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide (1981). In the following excerpt, Crawford surveys Campbell's short fiction.]
As Campbell remarks in his introduction to Cold Print, . . . his collection of Lovecraftian stories, "The first book of Lovecraft's I read made me into a writer." One could argue that the influence of Lovecraft on Campbell never wore off, for, as in his novel The Nameless, the idea of a world dominated by an occult race of beings has never quite faded from his consciousness. However, T. E. D. Klein remarks, in his essay "Ramsey Campbell: An Appreciation" [Nyctalops 13 (1977)], that there is a radical change in Campbell's fiction with the story "Cold Print," which appeared in August Derleth's Arkham House anthology Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969). A change in direction is obvious here since Campbell developed a new style, partly influenced by the films of Alain Resnais and his collaborator Robbe-Grillet. But this story was one of many that Campbell was...
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SOURCE: An introduction to Waking Nightmares, Tom Doherty Associates, 1991, pp. 1-6.
[In the following essay, which was written in 1990, Campbell discusses the intent and sources of inspiration for the stories collected in Waking Nightmares.]
Horror fiction can be many things. The field includes the ghost stories of Sheridan Le Fanu and M. R. James, not to mention the best tales of Russell Kirk. It ranges from the psychological terrors of John Franklin Bardin to the philosophical terrors of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable and Not I. It embraces both the supernatural visions of Algernon Blackwood at his best—"The Willows," 'The Wendigo"—and the relentless violence of Joe Lansdale's The Nightrunners, the last horror novel I found genuinely frightening. Horror fiction can work as humor, as metaphor, as political allegory, as the imagination's reveille. I won't presume to claim that [Waking Nightmares] has such scope, but I'm inclined to be pleased with its range.
I've arranged the stories in the interest of variety, but I'll discuss them chronologically. The earliest is "Jack in the Box" (1974), the first of a group of stories (several of which may be found in Dark Companions) written in emulation of Tales from the Crypt and the other E. C. comics, which themselves derived from Poe and Weird Tales magazine, and in particular from Ray Bradbury....
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SOURCE: "Patterns, Demanding to Be Read . . . ," in Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction, No. 2, Fall, 1991, pp. 4-6.
[In the following excerpt, Morrison celebrates Waking Nightmares and Dark Feasts as evidence of the continuing development of Campbell's skill as a writer.]
If you're a Campbell enthusiast, you already know you want [Waking Nightmares]; if not, I recommend it as an introduction to his recent work. Read in conjunction with the thirty stories in his twenty-five-year retrospective Dark Feasts (1987), these nineteen tales, all published during the Eighties, confirm his continuing growth and mastery.
The first thing one notices is that Campbell is now an even better stylist. He has finally curbed the mannerisms critic R. S. Hadji calls his characters' "obsessive rhetorical denials". And he is now able to focus precisely and to great effect the Aickmanesque ambiguities that have always distinguished his work: is the old woman "with eyes like grey marbles" in "The Trick" really a witch? And just what is the malevolent Mr. Matta, with his "soft secretly delighted voice" and "face smooth and placid as a sleeping child's—except that his face looked even more like a mask, on [his] ropy wizened frame", who comes to town in "Playing the Game"? Indeed, it's delightful to find the Ramsey Campbell of such frustratingly opaque tales as...
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SOURCE: An interview in The Count of Thirty: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell, edited by S. T. Joshi, Necronomicon Press, 1993, pp. 7-26.
[The interview was conducted primarily in July 1991 and updated in December 1992. In the following excerpt from the interview, Campbell talks about the beginning of his career, focusing on his short fiction.]
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SOURCE: "Alone with a Master," in Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction, No. 8, Spring, 1993, pp. 6-8.
[An American editor and critic, Joshi has written extensively on authors of weird fiction and is the leading figure in the field of H. P. Lovecraft scholarship and criticism. He is also the editor of The Count of Thirty: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell (1993). Here, Joshi reviews Alone with the Horrors and examines Campbell's appeal as a short story writer.]
I am on record as saying that Ramsey Campbell is the most significant weird writer of our time, and perhaps the most significant since Lovecraft. [Alone with the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell 1961-1991, 1993], gathering together thirty-nine of what Campbell himself feels to be his best tales, offers about as definitive a proof of the truth of that statement as could be desired.
Alone with the Horrors will inevitably beg comparison with Dark Feasts: The World of Ramsey Campbell (1987), of which this book is a sort of augmented edition. Twenty-seven of the thirty stories in Dark Feasts are in Alone with the Horrors, and it is interesting to note which tales were dropped. They are "The Whining", "The Words That Count", and "Horror House of Blood"; evidently Campbell decided (or was persuaded by Arkham House's editor James Turner) that these were no longer among his...
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SOURCE: "Ramsey Campbell: Before and after Lovecraft," in The Count of Thirty: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell, edited by S. T. Joshi, Necronomicon Press, 1993, pp. 27-31.
[In the following essay, Joshi traces the influence of H. P. Lovecraft in Campbell's short fiction, noting that Campbell developed his own distinctive literary style in Demons by Daylight.]
Although he does not have even a fraction of the popular following of Stephen King and Clive Barker, there seems to be general agreement amongst critics in the field that British writer Ramsey Campbell is the leading weird fictionist of our time. But like Lord Dunsany and Algernon Blackwood, Campbell has more often been praised than studied, and very little critical work of substance has been devoted to him. We are now, however, at a stage where important study of Campbell can begin: not only does he now have a very impressive and voluminous body of writing, but he will shortly make available his own bibliography of his work, a bibliography that is arranged chronologically by date of writing, so that it is possible to trace Campbell's literary evolution with much precision. (Throughout this essay, accordingly, all dates appearing in brackets refer to dates of composition.)
That bibliography shows that Campbell is not merely one of the most prolific of modern weird writers, but perhaps the most precocious. It has long been known that...
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SOURCE: "Glimpses of Absolute Power: Ramsey Campbell's Concept of Evil," in The Count of Thirty: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell, edited by S. T. Joshi, Necronomicon Press, 1993, pp. 32-37.
[In the following excerpt, MacCulloch explicates Campbell's concept of evil as illustrated in the story "The Guy. "]
He believed that the worst murders were inexplicable in terms of the psychology of the criminals. One of the criminals he'd interviewed had described a sense of being either close to something or part of something which the act of torturing had never quite allowed him to glimpse—a sense that he was trying to assuage a hunger which was larger than he was. Ganz had argued that he and all the rest—Gilles de Rais, Jack the Ripper, Peter Kürten—had been driven to experience the worst crimes they could on behalf of something outside themselves. Perhaps the crimes formed a pattern over the centuries, or perhaps they were stages in a search for the ultimate atrocity.
Introducing the short story collection assembled to represent the first twenty-five years of his career, Ramsey Campbell said that he hoped to "offer a little of the quality that has always appealed to me in the best horror fiction, a sense of something larger than is shown" [Dark Feasts]. As the above passage from Campbell's 1981 novel...
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Crawford, Gary William. Ramsey Campbell. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, Inc., 1988, 74 p.
Critical survey of Campbell's works, mainly his novels. Crawford provides primary and secondary bibliographies and a concise account of the author's life.
Dziemianowicz, Stefan R. "The Illusion of Control: An Appreciation of Ramsey Campbell." Tekeli-li!: Journal of Terror, No. 3 (Fall 1991): 25-8.
Asserts that Campbell's short fiction, beginning with the collection The Inhabitant of the Lake, depicts horrors originating in the human psyche.
Mariconda, Steven J. A review of Needing Ghosts. Studies in Weird Fiction, No. 9 (Spring 1991): 32-4.
Judges the novella Needing Ghosts "a Campbell tour de force—nearly surreal, a juxtaposition of reality and unreality, with nothing to guide the reader on his terrified journey."
Winter, Douglas E. "Ramsey Campbell." Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror. New York: Berkley Books, 1985, pp. 65-78.
Relates Campbell's thoughts on several subjects, including his psychological approach to characterization and his perception of a tendency toward exaggeration and sensationalism by contemporary horror writers.
Additional coverage of Campbell's life and career is contained in the...
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