I haven’t blogged about any of his books recently, but I have said many times before on this blog that Ramsey Campbell is my favorite horror author of all time. As I noted in a recent post, his novella Needing Ghosts is perhaps the only work of fiction that I’ve ever read that made me doubt my own sanity.
What makes his work so powerful? Campbell is a master of subtle, creeping horror. His monsters do not typically jump out at the reader, but rather lurk in the shadows, skittering in one’s peripheral vision. The cumulative effect is to leave the reader increasingly unsettled, struggling to understand the nature of the threat. On top of this, Campbell is simply a masterful, beautiful writer. It was once aptly said of him that in his writing, it is “the words that count.” (Which he turned into a 1975 story of the same name.)
This past week, I read one of his more recent works the 2013 novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki.
This book is quite different from Campbell’s work of recent years, as it is explicitly Lovecraftian in nature, featuring monstrous, uncaring elder gods and books filled with forbidden knowledge. Like many horror authors, however, Campbell got his start by writing Lovecraft pastiches; his first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, was published by Arkham House in 1964 and featured a variety of Lovecraft-like stories. In the titular story, Campbell introduced the ancient monstrous god Gla’aki, who dwells in a lake in the bottom of a remote English lake.
The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, then, would appear to be a bit of an homage to the work that got Campbell started in his writing career in the first place!
The novel follows university archivist Leonard Fairman in his efforts to recover what may be the only surviving copy of the set of books collectively titled The Revelations of Gla’aki. After writing an internet article about the curious and sinister collection, he is contacted by a resident of the remote northern coastal town of Gulshaw who claims to have all the books and is willing to donate them to the university — for free. Though this is odd, Fairman is quite optimistic on the train ride to Gulshaw, until he discovers that Frank Lunt, the local theater manager, only has one volume of the set. To get the next volume, Fairman will have to contact another resident of town, and collect that book, and so forth. As a single day trip stretches upwards of a week, Fairman finds himself drawn deeper into the eccentric village and interacting with its increasingly bizarre inhabitants. While he waits, he starts to read The Revelations, and begins to dream strangely. Will he manage to collect the entire set, or will the set collect him? And what are all those people doing sitting, unmoving, on the beach every night, seemingly waiting?
Anyone familiar with Lovecraft will get a sense of déjà vu when reading about a seaside town with sinister, bizarre inhabitants. The Last Revelations has strong echoes of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, though Campbell tells his own unique and creepy story. It is Lovecraftian, but also undeniably Campbell, and has the same sense of dread that permeates all his supernatural work. Curiously, one of Campbell’s earlier novels, the excellent Creatures of the Pool, is also reminiscent of Innsmouth, but is not explicitly Lovecraft-themed.
For me, personally, I read The Last Revelations at the perfect time, because I was at the same time playing through the excellent video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which is based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and I was really in the mood for some seaside horror!
As noted earlier, The Last Revelations is a relatively short novella, but this actually works to its advantage. I typically find Campbell’s novels less effective than his short stories (though the former are still excellent). I think it is inherently difficult to maintain a sense of ambiguous dread over the length of a full novel, and in the case of The Last Revelations its length ends up being perfect and it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
In summary, I found The Last Revelations to be a nice Lovecraftian tribute that is also indisputably a Ramsey Campbell work. Fans of Lovecraft who would like a nice easy transition to Campbell’s more unique fiction will find it particularly helpful.
By the way, the cover used at the top of this post is for the newer 2014 edition of the book; if one is interested in seeing what Gla’aki the elder god might himself look like, the 2013 cover is illuminating!