Episode 692: The New Mischief

“It is strange, isn’t it, how suddenly the swamp seems to be playing a leading and sinister role in the affairs of Collinwood?”

Let us speak, then, of Barnabas Collins Versus the Warlock.

It’s book #11 in Paperback Library’s long, strange line of Dark Shadows-inspired novels, and it’s the first one in a while that actually takes inspiration from the show in any meaningful way.

In this book, governess Maggie Evans has to save her young charges, David Collins and Amy Jennings, as they — more or less — fall under the influence of an evil phantom that stalks the halls of Collinwood. It’s complicated.

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There were 32 Dark Shadows gothic romance novels published between 1966 and 1972, written by Paperback Library’s most prolific author, Dan “Marilyn” Ross. For the most part, the books exist at an odd remove from the show — taking some concepts, locations and character names, and creating an entirely different set of stories.

And it has to be that way, because daytime soap operas and quickie paperback gothics have completely different narrative structures. You couldn’t just novelize a set of Dark Shadows episodes and publish it as a book, because it wouldn’t make any sense in that format. It hardly makes sense as a television show in the first place.

So the Barnabas Collins of Paperback Library has his own history. In the novels, Barnabas was never chained up in his coffin. He just walks through the centuries, falling gently in love with an endless sequence of emotionally flustered heroines.

In a previous post, we discussed Barnabas Collins, the first novel that features Barnabas. In that book, Barnabas visits Collinwood in 1899, developing romantic/sexual relationships with five different women, including Elizabeth and Roger’s grandmother, Margaret Collins. The next book was a flashback to the early 1800s, when a lovestruck heiress pursued Barnabas from England to France, and then to Boston, and finally Collinsport. Paperback Barnabas is kind of a player.

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Now, for the first couple of years, it made sense for the books to stay at a respectful distance from the TV continuity. Most of the readership bought the books because they were fans of the Paperback Library gothic romance line, and they didn’t necessarily know or care about the show.

But by early 1969, Dark Shadows has become an inescapable blockbuster hit, and it’s ridiculous to keep pretending that the show doesn’t exist. So they’ve started incorporating current concepts from the show into the books, in their own left-field Paperback Library way.

This first comes up in book #9, The Foe of Barnabas Collins, which features a werewolf named Christopher Jennings. But it’s not actually the Chris that we know, so it feels like they’re just trolling DS fans. The book takes place in 1910, and “Christopher Jennings” is basically a werewolf version of Mr. Rochester, like everybody else in these books. Paperback Library has an endless supply of Janes and Rochesters.

But in book #11 — Barnabas Collins Versus the Warlock — it looks like we’re in for a smoother ride. The story takes place in the present day, with Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn and David all accounted for, plus Maggie Evans as the governess, Amy Jennings as David’s friend, and Barnabas Collins, the long-lost cousin from England, staying in the Old House.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Chapter 1

So get a load of this.

The isolated and menacing swamp had always been a forbidden place!

“The what?” says the Dark Shadows viewer. This is new geography for us.

In a sloping field at the rear of the estate of Collinwood, there was the ancient cemetery. And fringing on the cemetery was a lonely forest of tall evergreens through which several shadowed paths twisted. On the other side of the forest lay the swampland.

So the first thing you need to know about BC vs TW is: when they say that this book is based on Dark Shadows, they don’t mean Dark Shadows the television show. They mean Dark Shadows the board game, which came out in 1968 and featured a cemetery next to a swamp. That means we don’t have to worry about TV show continuity; we just need to save up on bat cards so that we can take the shortcut past the angry dog.

In this universe, it’s summer 1969, and Maggie has come to Collinwood “to help Elizabeth by taking care of the children.” The back of the book says that Maggie is a governess, but I don’t think they use that word in the book itself, and she never teaches the kids a damn thing.

Maggie, Elizabeth and Barnabas are really the only adults from the TV show who make an impression in this story. Roger is mentioned, but he’s away on a business trip the whole time. Carolyn works in a gift shop in the Collinsport Inn for the summer, so she’s only in a couple of scenes.

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But David and Amy are here, and they’re making Maggie’s life difficult, on account of the phantom.

In the past few weeks, a strangeness had come over the two youngsters. Their dispositions seemed to change and they became brazen and unruly. When Maggie or Elizabeth reproved them, the two youngsters became sullen and resentful.

Through questioning, Maggie drew a weird story from them. David insisted that he and Amy had been visited by a shadowy stranger. And from then on he’d ordered them to do things. Vicious, cruel actions they would never have indulged in before.

Like what, for instance? Like going over to the Old House to tease Hare, Barnabas’ mute, violent and apparently mentally handicapped manservant. Hare appears in several books in this series, in various time periods, and nobody ever asks why he’s alive in the 1800s and in 1969. There is no explanation for Hare. He’s not really a character per se; he’s more of a human-shaped immune system who exists to keep visitors out of the Old House during the day.

But that’s an important job, because Barnabas Collins is a very busy man. He’s a charming if eccentric cousin from England, who’s spending the summer visiting the great estate. He’s currently writing a book on Collins family history, and he’s so busy that nobody ever sees him during the day. He just keeps on writing, apparently, like a Paperback Library author pounding away on the typewriter, trying to complete another contractually-obligated romance novel. Barnabas must never be disturbed, because people who write books are busy and thoughtful and very important.

But these evil children have no respect for hard-working writers and their surly servants.

Hare’s mute stare seemed to bring out the worst in the children, who loved to tease him and have him chase them away while he made angry grunting sounds. It was a cruel sport on their part, and typical of the new mischief that had taken hold of them.

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Yes — the new mischief, let’s get to that. In chapter 1, the kids lure Maggie out to the swamp, that incredibly dangerous bog within easy walking distance of Collinwood, the swamp that has apparently killed dozens of people over the years.

There are no trails through the vast and deadly marshlands, and once you enter it, you become instantly lost, and you need to be rescued before you perish. The swamp has snakes and mud and the rotting corpses of all the other people who got lost in the swamp. It’s terrible, the swamp is just terrible.

And now Maggie is forced to enter this terrible and foreboding place, in order to rescue these terrible and malevolent children. Maggie finds Amy’s handkerchief along the path, which means the kids are in the swamp and almost certainly dead by now.

Putting her fears aside, Maggie sets foot in this uncharted jungle, and within two pages she steps into a puddle of quicksand and becomes irretrievably trapped. Seriously, actual quicksand.

Not that the youngsters could do much to extricate her from the deathtrap into which she’d so easily stumbled. It would need adult’s strength and proper methods to get her free. Apparently the ground all around her was of the same soft type. The mosquitos seemed to be doubly vicious in their attacks, and daylight was only a glimmer now.

So, the swamp, right? Even the mosquitos are dicks.

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Chapter 2

But then who should arrive but the charming and heroic Barnabas Collins, who tosses Maggie a tree branch and pulls her out of the mire, saving her life and earning him nothing but undisputed adoration by everyone, including the narrator.

At this point in the book series, the mandatory point of view is that Barnabas is the world’s greatest inhabitant, and anyone who questions him in any way is an underhanded fink who must be cast into the outer darkness with wailing and gnashing of teeth. The next few pages are given over to the praise of this wonder man.

His tall frame seemed to emerge from the gray mist in ghostly fashion. He stood there in his caped coat with his black silver-headed cane in one hand. A look of concern showed on his sad, somewhat cadaverous face, with its high cheekbones and his thick black hair sweeping in careless disarray across his high, intelligent forehead.

She had always secretly hero-worshipped this charming man, and now she saw him in a truly heroic light. His hypnotic eyes were fixed on her, and his intent expression served to emphasize that he was truly a handsome man.

That’s the first time in the book that Barnabas is called “handsome,” which is the official position of the Paperback Library. He’s described as handsome 16 times in this book, including four times in Chapter 2 and twice on page 66.

This is a drop from the first Barnabas Collins novel, where they called him handsome 24 times, but I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s handsome enough.

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But there are still dark rumors about his namesake, the original Barnabas.

Maggie had not been able to learn the true story of this, though Elizabeth had told her of a startling legend that had come down through the years.

“Some of the villagers claimed the first Barnabas Collins was a vampire,” she’d told Maggie.

She’d been thunderstruck at the attractive Elizabeth’s statement. “A vampire? You mean some sort of ghost?”

This is how gothic heroines think; everything is some sort of ghost for them. They think glass is some sort of ghost, because you can see through it.

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So the tall, handsome Barnabas escorts Maggie back to Collinwood, and even though she’s all bedraggled and quicksandy, they decide that she should go straight to the drawing room and meet the new guests, who have just arrived.

Liz’s cousin Nina Bremmer has come for an extended visit. Nina is young and blonde and attractive, and kind of a jerk, just like everybody who isn’t Barnabas.

Her husband is Dr. Eli Bremmer, a wizened old prune who’s obsessed with “psychic research,” the purpose of which is entirely unclear. Dr. Bremmer is about thirty years older than his wife, and he’s also very wealthy, so Maggie decides that she married him for his money.

The third guest is Noel Hart, Dr. Bremmer’s secretary, who has glasses and a receding hairline, and is therefore not very important.

Dr. Bremmer gives the drawing room a once-over, and declares that he can feel the influence of the spirits in this house. Elizabeth says, “The children have been misbehaving lately, and they’ve told wild stories about some phantom who nagged them on to mischief. Could what you feel have anything to do with the wicked influence on the children?”

Bremmer says, “It is quite possible they may have been visited by some phantom,” and Elizabeth gasps, “You terrify me!” It’s that kind of party.

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Dr. Bremmer asks if the children could describe the phantom. Maggie says, “They spoke of a man with long hair and a black mustache dressed in funny clothes.”

Bremmer says that this proves the man is a phantom, because “the long hair and black mustache suggest a long-ago character.” It also suggests three-fourths of the Beatles, but never mind.

Alarmed by the possibility of chart-topping evil forces at work, the squad pulls together an instant seance. They sit at a small table and turn out the lights, and before you know it, Bremmer’s speaking in tongues.

Identifying himself as Phineas Collins, the unearthly voice says that the warlock’s skull is in the swamp, and they’ll never find it, just like they’ll never find his gold. Phineas’ gold, I mean, not the warlock’s gold. Apparently Phineas’ gold is lost somewhere in the swamp, along with the warlock’s skull. I don’t know where Phineas’ skull is. I can’t keep track of everything.

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Chapter 3

The seance ends in confusion, as they always do. Once the group pulls themselves together, Barnabas fills everyone in on the weird legend of Phineas Collins.

Phineas was a miserly old man in the 1820s who collected a trunk full of gold coins, and then he buried it in the swamp, like an idiot. To remind himself where he buried the gold, he stuck a pole in the ground, and then put a skull on top of the pole.

To help you process this bizarre legend, here are some Frequently Asked Questions about Phineas Collins.

Q: What?

A: I know.

Q: Where did he get a skull from?

A: He found a complete skeleton in the basement of the Old House.

Q: Why did he put the skull on the pole?

A: To scare away superstitious villagers, so they wouldn’t dig up his hidden gold.

Q: Wouldn’t that make it pretty obvious that’s where the gold was buried?

A: Probably.

Q: What happened to the gold?

A: Nobody knows. The spring floods washed the pole away, and Phineas spent the rest of his life trying to find the gold again. He never found it, but he did find the skull again.

Q: What happened to the skull?

A: The family kept it as a conversation piece. Barnabas still has it, in a box at the Old House.

Q: What?

A: Yup.

Q: Is the whole book like that?

A: I’m afraid so.

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The next morning, Maggie runs into the good-looking Chief Jim Baxter of the Collinsport police. Baxter warns her not to go out alone, because there have been Some Attacks on the Girls in Town, as they so often have in Collinsport.

“They all describe what happened pretty much the same way. Some kind of dark phantom comes out of the shadows and grabs them. While he covers their mouths with his hand, he hypnotizes them. They black out and when they come to they feel sick and dizzy. And, get this, there are some kind of funny marks like bite marks on their throats.”

Maggie stared at him. “That’s a fantastic story!”

He nodded gloomily. “Don’t I know it? My guess is there is some kind of mild lunatic loose in the area.”

The great thing about these Paperback Library novels is that you get a facepalm moment like that every few pages. You want to keep reading, just to see what they come up with next.

Now, as it turns out, Chief Baxter used to know the young and attractive Nina Bremmer when they were in school together, so he goes off to chat with his old friend. That makes #1 on the long list of guys who pay a lot of attention to the lovely Nina over the course of the novel. Every adult male in the book has a massive crush on her, except for Barnabas and possibly Hare.

And the weird thing is that this becomes the primary story thread. Most of the book is actually concerned with figuring out which dude Nina is having an affair with. The potential cuckolds include the police chief, Bremmer’s secretary Noel, a hippie who shows up in chapter 8, Phineas Collins, and the skull.

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Next, Maggie is approached by creepy old Dr. Bremmer, who tries to pump her for information. “You must realize there is something not easily explained going on here,” he says. “A supernatural something!”

Maggie says that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so he starts making smart remarks about Barnabas. He never leaves the house during the day, he wears old-fashioned clothes, his hands are cold like the hands of a dead man, and there was a rumor that his ancestor became a vampire, which is some sort of ghost.

Rattled, Maggie extricates herself from the conversation.

As she walked rapidly back to the grim dark mansion, she was sick with misgivings. She didn’t understand what the wily old doctor was hinting, but she felt positive he was plotting some kind of evil against Barnabas.

Paperback Maggie is an idiot.

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Chapter 4

That night, Maggie meets Barnabas outside, as he’s heading to Collinwood. He’s carrying the skull that Phineas Collins used to mark where his treasure was buried, because Dr. Bremmer wants to see it. I guess when your family keeps a skull as a conversation piece, and somebody wants to have a conversation about it, you’re pretty much obligated to bring it over. Otherwise, you’re wasting a perfectly good skull.

Maggie warns Barnabas that the old doctor was making mysterious insinuations about him.

“Please be careful,” she begged him.

He smiled at her in his sad way. “I appreciate your concern, Maggie. Believe me, I do.”

“You saved my life last night,” she reminded him. “But even if that had never happened, I’ve grown to like you anyway.”

“And I am fond of you, Maggie,” he said gently. “It is strange, isn’t it, how suddenly the swamp seems to be playing a leading and sinister role in the affairs of Collinwood?”

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Once Bremmer gets his hands on the skull, it’s time for another seance. They put it in the middle of the table, turn the lights out, and guess who turns up?

Suddenly a burst of harsh laughter came from the doctor. A moment after, a different, robust voice cried out, “All you members of the Collins clan gathered here, take warning! It is Asaph Clay who warns you!”

Noel Hart spoke up, “Were you a friend of Phineas Collins?”

The ghostly laughter came again. “A friend? Now, that’s a funny one! ‘Twas Phineas who murdered me, Asaph Clay, after I’d served him long and loyal. I, who captained the vessels dealing in his black traffic! I, who knew his guilty secrets too well! When I demanded my fair share of his dirty profits, he struck me down! Split my skull and hid my body in the cellar!”

So it turns out that Asaph Clay had long hair and a drooping mustache, which means that he’s the phantom that’s manipulating the children. Probably. It’s either Asaph Clay or George Harrison.

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That night, Maggie looks out her window and sees Nina standing in the lawn, and then a figure comes out of the shadows, and it’s a guy with long hair and a mustache.

She opens her window, and shouts, “Mrs. Bremmer, take care!” and then she runs down the stairs and out onto the lawn. The rogue Beatle has disappeared, of course, and Nina says that she didn’t see anyone and she doesn’t know why Maggie got upset. Maggie realizes that now she’s seen the mysterious phantom warlock with her own eyes. Also, Nina hangs out with a lot of random dudes.

The next morning, Maggie is reading a newspaper on the sun porch when a stone crashes through the window, almost hitting her. She tells Elizabeth about it, and they confront young David, who says that he didn’t throw the rock. The phantom did, and then he disappeared again. Liz says that she’ll tell Roger about this, and David shrugs, and that’s the last we hear about the kids and their mischief for a while.

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Chapter 5

Rattled by all of these perplexing events, Maggie decides to go over to the Old House to confer with Barnabas. It’s still daytime, but maybe if she asks nicely, she might persuade Barnabas to put his work aside and talk to her.

As she approaches, she sees Hare leaving the house, and he doesn’t lock the door behind himself, because otherwise how is Maggie ever going to get her “chapter 5: heroine finds the coffin” sequence?

So Maggie sneaks into the Old House, and she can’t find Barnabas, and she goes down into the basement, and guess what, there’s a coffin there, who knew. Then Hare finds her, and he manhandles her upstairs and out the door, and that’s the end of that, what a puzzling mystery, I hope there’s another 90 pages left in the book so she can wonder about it over and over and over and over and over.

Dr. Bremmer’s secretary, Noel, sees Maggie getting ejected from the house, and he has all kinds of pointed questions about Barnabas, and why he never leaves the house during the day. Naturally, “Maggie’s first thought was to protect Barnabas,” because everyone in the book is judged based on whether they want to expose Barnabas or protect Barnabas. Protect is the correct answer.

Noel’s push polling gets more insistent, but Maggie ducks all of his questions. After all, “Maggie disliked the secretary and suspected him of carrying on a romance with his employer’s wife,” so who even cares what he thinks. He’s homely and he wears glasses, and if he found her trapped in quicksand, he probably wouldn’t even think of throwing her a tree branch, like a hero would do. He’d probably just stand there and make snide remarks or have an affair with someone, because he’s not Barnabas and only Barnabas is cool.

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By this point, everyone is completely sick of these odious houseguests.

Dinner was a fairly grim affair. Elizabeth was having a hard time concealing her distaste for her visitors. This made Maggie uncomfortable, although the three intruders seemed to be not at all aware of the situation.

When Maggie went out to the garden for a stroll by herself, Nina joined her. The older woman was apparently anxious for information.

“Don’t you agree that Barnabas is an eccentric?” Nina asked.

“Because he is dedicated to his work?”

“There is more to it than that,” Nina assured her. “He never is around until after the sun sets. And his appearance has an odd other-world look. He dresses so strangely and his hands are so cold.”

“None of those things bother me,” Maggie said defiantly.

Because oh my god, don’t these people know the rules of this book by now? Stop saying mean things about Barnabas!

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And then we finally get the moment that we’ve been waiting for.

His grip on her arms relaxed, and he drew her close to him. “Maggie, my poor darling,” he said in a tense voice unlike his own.

She stared up at him, her eyes wide with concern. “Tonight Nina Bremmer asked me point-blank if I was in love with you. I ran from her since I couldn’t answer her.” She hesitated. Then she added softly, “Because I do love you, Barnabas.”

“Maggie!” He spoke her name softly and then he kissed her. The touch of his cold lips might have repelled her under other conditions, but, caught in a mighty wave of emotion, she was blissfully unaware of their oddness and returned his kiss with a passionate fervor.

She does manage to get a word in about the casket that she saw in his basement, but he says that he’ll explain it later, and besides, “it has no bearing on what we feel for each other,” so Nina Bremmer can suck it.

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Chapter 6

When Maggie gets back to Collinwood, she hears a cry for help, and finds that some public-spirited citizen is finally strangling Dr. Bremmer. He’s been asking for it for the last five chapters, so it’s nice that somebody’s stepping up.

Unfortunately, just as they’re getting down to business, Maggie comes along and spoils everything. The assailant has long hair and a mustache, so obviously it’s either Asaph Clay, or George Harrison taking a break from the transcendental meditation for a minute. The specter gets spooked and disappears into the night, leaving behind an old scarf and the still-breathing Bremmer.

Naturally, Bremmer doesn’t want to involve the police in this. Who does? The police will spoil everything. But Nina insists on calling Chief Baxter, because just try to keep Nina away from the dudes for five minutes.

And, ugh, wouldn’t you know it, Chief Baxter wants to waste time being suspicious of Barnabas, who is obviously innocent of everything. Baxter is totally prejudiced, just because the attacks on the girls in town started when Barnabas came to Collinsport, and he wears weird clothes, and he keeps a skull in a box as a conversation piece. There’s no law against keeping a skull in a box, probably.

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Later, Maggie has another weird encounter with Noel.

Noel stuffed the sheets of paper he’d gathered into his briefcase. “What did you think of the views put forward by the police chief today?”

“About what I expected.”

The eyes behind the thick glasses were scornful. “A predictable type,” he sneered. “I don’t expect any results from him. He’s a friend of Nina’s, but I’d say she’s outgrown his sort.”

“I don’t think he’s partial to ghost lore.”

He began to stare at her. There was a strange hypnotic power in his eyes. The shadowed room seemed to contract and become remote from all the rest of the big house.

In a voice that had taken on a hollow, echoing tone, he asked her, “Do you understand the composition of demons?”

Ugggh! Nobody cares, Noel! Nobody wants to have conversations with you about the composition of anything. Elizabeth is right, these people have got to go.

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For some reason, Maggie lets Noel take her downtown to the Blue Whale, even though he’s creepy and gross.

And when she gets there, she sees Barnabas — perfect, angelic Barnabas — drinking with some random girl.

The girl was a coarse if pretty type, a blonde summer visitor in skintight slacks and an equally tight dark sweater, apparently designed to reveal her ample proportions. Barnabas and the girl were smiling and talking in an intimate fashion. They came down toward the booths and were almost opposite where Maggie and Noel were seated before Barnabas saw her. At once the smile left his face and a look of remorse quickly took its place.

It’s a sticky moment, I’ll grant you that. But it turns out that Barnabas can’t explain about the girl right now for probably very important reasons, and the girl has nothing to do with anything, so it’s totally fine, no biggie, shut up Noel, will you please just SHUT UP.

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Chapter 7

Naturally, the next day there’s another report of a woman found dazed, with bite marks on her throat. The victim is a coarse if pretty type, a blonde summer visitor in skintight slacks and an equally tight dark sweater. This is obviously a coincidence.

After all, Barnabas could never be so colossally stupid as to hang out with his victims at the Blue Whale before he attacks them and drinks their blood, could he? Especially when everyone in town appears to believe that he’s a vampire? Of course not.

But then Maggie talks to Dr. Bremmer, who keeps bringing up Barnabas and then chuckling quietly to himself. He plans to use Barnabas to further his career in psychic research, in some vague way that he can’t currently explain.

Then he says, “About Barnabas. I’m hearing on all sides that you are in love with him. Is it true?” Because these people can seriously not stop gossiping about each other for more than five consecutive seconds.

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Chapter 8

Dr. Bremmer talks Maggie into walking down to the swamp with him, because he wants to poke around and see if he can find Phineas Collins’ lost treasure. Once they’re down there, Bremmer disappears, and now Maggie’s alone in the deadly Hell-swamp again.

In the swamp, Maggie sees a man with long hair and a mustache perched on a rock.

Standing on top of the boulder staring down at her gravely was the phantom figure of the long-dead piratical captain, Asaph Clay. The unkempt mane of black hair almost touching his shoulders, the narrow, sinister eyes, the drooping mustache, all matched the sketch she had seen. And his ragged jumble of clothing seemed of no period.

She gasped out her alarm. “No!”

“A swamp nymph!” The words were spoken by the apparition on the rock in a very real, masculine voice.

Maggie was petrified with shock. She stared at the strange creature. “You are human!” she finally said in a taut voice.

“That has been questioned,” the figure on the rock said, and he slid down with an easy movement to stand before her.

So it turns out the dude with long hair and a mustache is just a guy named Joe Smith, who’s pitched a tent on the beach with his young lady friend.

“That’s why you have such an odd appearance,” Maggie said. “You’re one of those hippie types. I should have realized.”

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Maggie finally puts two and two together.

She gave him an accusing look. “The children spoke of seeing you on the beach. They mistook you for a phantom. Have you been deliberately frightening them?”

“Indeed not,” he mocked her. “I did tarry a moment to wish them good day. And when they seemed to take me for a ghost I felt it proper for me to amuse them by playing the part.”

“I don’t find it amusing,” she said firmly. “If you’re the one who has been putting those youngsters up to all kinds of mischief I can promise you that you’ll have to answer for it.”

So this is rather startling, and makes one question the direction of the current television storyline. Why has nobody ever stopped to consider that maybe Quentin is just some dubious hippie type? It seems so obvious now.

Dr. Bremmer, stumbling around in the swamp, runs across Maggie and the hippie, and he gets all riled up and shouts at the guy. It turns out the hippie is hopelessly in love with Nina, just like every other guy in the book, and he’s been following her around and causing trouble. That means we now know who’s been frightening the children, and who Nina was meeting on the lawn when she pretended not to see anybody, and probably who strangled Dr. Bremmer with a scarf. We basically know everything there is to know about the mysteries, and that means the book must obviously be over.

The book is not over.

With a quick, scornful side glance, Bremmer told her, “I’ve felt from the beginning Barnabas Collins is not a normal man, and I’m more sure of it now than ever. It’s my guess he’s a vampire, as his ancestor was.”

“A vampire!” Maggie gasped, and came to a halt to stare at the old man.

He nodded grimly. “A vampire!”

So the whole last third of the books is all about managing Maggie’s bewildered ignorance, as she amasses more and more evidence that Barnabas Collins is a vampire, and then stubbornly refuses to believe it. A vampire, as you know, is some sort of ghost.

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Chapter 9

The moral of the book, really, is that if you love someone, you accept who they are. Also, you believe every single thing that they ever say, no matter how ludicrous or self-evidently false.

“I had to talk to you,” Barnabas said seriously as they faced each other. “I want you to understand about last night.”

“I’m sure you had a good reason for being with that girl,” Maggie said.

“I had a very good reason,” he told her solemnly. “It has nothing to do with us or any feelings I might have for you. Can you understand that?”

“I’ll try very hard.”

But the Collinsport police is not so blindly trusting. Chief Baxter shows up again, and offers Barnabas some light interrogation.

“Was it something urgent, Chief?” Barnabas asked politely.

“We had another one of those cases last night,” the chief said. “A girl you were reported seen with turned up about midnight hysterical and with those queer marks on her throat.”

“Indeed,” Barnabas said. “I’m not sure I recall the girl. I meet many people when I’m in the village. And this business of the girls with marks on their throats is getting to be old stuff.”

“Not for me,” Baxter said, his tone cutting. “I’m thinking the girls you go out with have a habit of turning up in trouble.”

Happiy, Maggie knows how to get Baxter off her lover’s case. She mentions that there’s a hippie camping on the beach, and he’s in love with Nina. Unable to resist gossip about the Bremmers, like everyone else in this town, Baxter lets Barnabas off with a warning and then goes to talk things over with Nina.

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Having concluded this awkward conversation, Maggie finds herself embroiled in another awkward conversation. This synopsis is probably giving the impression that the entire book is just Maggie drifting from one character to another, having endless, repetitive discussions about Barnabas and/or Nina, believing everything anyone says about Nina and refusing to take in any information about Barnabas. This impression is entirely correct.

Bremmer said, “Have you ever wondered about the remarkable likeness Barnabas bears to this portrait?”

“Everyone has spoken about it,” she said, wondering why he was suddenly making such a mystery about it.

He turned to her with questioning eyes. “Don’t you think it suggests more than ordinary coincidence?”

“I can’t imagine why,” she said warily, sure that he was cunningly trying to make some evil accusation against Barnabas.

“The man in the portrait was sent away from Collinwood because he was said to be a vampire,” Dr Bremmer said with careful deliberation. “I think our friend Barnabas may also be one of the living dead.”

Even though she’d been prepared for something like this, his words had a shattering effect on her.

So you know how it’s kind of ridiculous that nobody on Dark Shadows ever figures out that Barnabas is a vampire, even though he’s never seen during the day and every pretty girl he knows ends up with bite marks on their necks? Well, it turns out that the alternative is even more ridiculous. Everybody in this book knows that Barnabas is a vampire, and they talk about it constantly, and nobody does anything about it.

692 george harrison 5

Chapter 10

That night, Maggie wakes up from a dream about the phantom to hear distant screams coming from the hall. She gets up to investigate, and she finds a man with long hair and a drooping mustache viciously assaulting Dr. Bremmer using an old-fashioned slave ship whip. Seriously. It’s an incredibly surreal moment.

Maggie screams, and the attacker fades into the shadows. Then there’s a long sequence where Chief Baxter comes over and gets eyewitness statements from everybody. Baxter thinks that the attacker was Barnabas, and Maggie thinks that it was probably the hippie, and Bremmer insists that it was the ghost of Asaph Clay. Then David and Amy claim that they looked out the window, and saw Barnabas turn into a bat and fly away, which if that’s true would be kind of a noob mistake on Barnabas’ part.

692 hods barnabas maggie

Chapter 11

David’s missing again, and Maggie goes looking for him in the barn. The phantom attacks her, but it’s driven away by a huge bat. Bremmer confronts Joe Smith, who says, “You got yourself a big wall-to-wall hang-up on me.” Then the hippie tells Maggie, “You got the look of being on a trip. Had some pot?” There’s a barn, by the way.

329 dark shadows barnabas patterson

Chapter 12

The hippie’s girlfriend turns up dead, so police chief Baxter swings into action. Elizabeth suggests that Smith is responsible for the murder, but Baxter says, “Men seldom strangle girls they are having a romance with unless there is a good motive.” Smith is questioned and then released, and everybody just keeps on bickering with each other.

Finally, Dr. Bremmer suggests that the best way to solve the case would be to have a seance in the swamp by torchlight, where they could really get to the bottom of things. Bafflingly, the police chief agrees to this utterly crackpot plan.

Elizabeth, concerned that this might get out of hand, makes her own plans.

Maggie’s brow wrinkled. “Are you sure Chief Baxter will be fair to Barnabas? That he is capable of handling things?”

Elizabeth gave her a wise look. “I’ve thought of that too. As it happens, I have a good friend in charge of the State Police headquarters in Bangor, and I’m going to talk to him before tonight. I want to make sure we’re amply protected in that swamp, and that there are State Police there as well.”

“But that could annoy Jim Baxter. He might feel we didn’t trust him.”

“He won’t know,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll have the State Police stationed there quietly without informing him.”

“That would be best,” Maggie agreed, feeling some relief.

Obviously, Elizabeth is entirely in charge of the State Police, and can give them detailed orders about how to behave during her family’s spooky swamp seance.

Dr. Bremmer insists that they perform the ritual by torchlight, so everybody grabs a torch and off they go. But Barnabas — in his only positive plot-moving decision in the entire book — tells Maggie to secretly bring a flashlight along, and shine it on Bremmer when he tells her to.

214 dark shadows barnabas pose

Once they get out into the swamp, Dr. Bremmer tells everyone to douse their torches, so that he can contact the ghosts by moonlight. They do this utterly foolish thing, because why not, and then Bremmer begins to speak for the spirits.

“So you are all here! Here to worship at the shrine of my skull! The skull of the man Phineas Collins murdered. And you beg me to spare the Collins name and tell the truth about murder! I shall deal justice out to one of the name of Collins!”

The triumphant claim ended on a different note. A terrified, loud shriek that was more like the tone of Dr. Bremmer than the ghost he’d supposedly invoked.

The voice of Barnabas rang out sharply. “The light! Now! On Bremmer!”

Maggie lifted the flashlight and turned its powerful glow on the old doctor. And she gave a horrified gasp! For the ghost of Asaph Clay had appeared to take the psychic research expert’s throat in his hands and strangle him.

The thin face with the drooping mustache bore that familiar smile of malice, and the phantom’s long hair streaked down to his shoulders. The beam of the flashlight caused the smile to vanish and a look of fear replace it. The phantom released Bremmer, and dashed from the circle into the jungle darkness.

Then the State Police — stationed nearby at Elizabeth’s request — shoot the fleeing suspect, and he’s killed.

Maggie stared at the body and saw the fear-contorted features of the phantom warlock staring up at her with sightless eyes. The same drooping mustache and black hair that had been the ghost’s trademark remained to haunt her.

Barnabas spoke quietly. “Just one moment,” he said. He knelt by the outstretched corpse to deftly remove the mustache and long black wig, revealing the lean face of Chief Jim Baxter!

And so, with an unbelievable Scooby Doo flourish, the mystery is solved. Nina and Baxter were having an affair, and she brought her creepy old husband to Collinwood so that the police chief could dress up in a funny costume and murder him.

Naturally, this explains practically nothing, but that’s how life is in Paperback Library land. Barnabas kisses Maggie one more time, and then Barnabas and Hare leave the Old House, never to be seen again.

Maggie ran out to the steps and stood there with tears in her eyes. She had lost him! And then in the midst of her grief, a strange thing happened. She suddenly felt as if he were close by. His handsome face smiling at her through the gathering shadows. And in that moment, she knew that she would really never lose him. There would always be something of him close by her. What had he said?

“There can also be love in pain and parting.” The words were so vivid in her mind he might have spoken them. And she began to slowly walk back to Collinwood, convinced that he had spoken them.

Then George Harrison wrote “Something” for Abbey Road, and it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. And they all lived happily ever after.

Tomorrow: Sticks and Stokes.

In the next Paperback Library post, we read
Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon in
Episode 782: Don’t Leave Home

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

This is the third episode they’ve taped since one of the cameras broke; the malfunctioning camera makes everything look crooked. Looking at the taping dates, they skipped a day of filming — this episode should have been taped on Monday, February 10th, but they took Monday off, and filmed on Tuesday through Saturday, rather than Monday to Friday. If they skipped a tape date so they could fix the camera, it didn’t work; it’s still busted.

Julia says, “Chris, I’m afraid the only way you’re going to find your answers — is one way.”

Tomorrow: Sticks and Stokes.

In the next Paperback Library post, we read
Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon in
Episode 782: Don’t Leave Home

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 692: The New Mischief

    1. Those Ross books were my gateway to DS. My late grandmother accidentally picked a couple of the up whilst getting her usual stack of Mills & Boons (i think they’re called Harlequin Romance in the US?) from a second-hand shop. Once she realised they had vampires and werewolves in she gave ’em to me. One was definitely ‘Barnabas, Quentin and Dr Jekyll’s Son’ and i think the other one had a mummy in it. i used to think it was mindblowing that there was a TV show with monsters in it, but was sad that i’d never see it here in the UK.

      i am currently on my third watch-through and am a hopeless addict. I should conduct a seance over the coffee table just to thank Nan for getting me into this.:)

  1. Did you hear that Barnabas wanted to strangle one of the Beatles?

    He had ‘Ring-o’ around the collar.

  2. I wonder if the characters in these Dark Shadows novels do any backacting when talking to each other.

  3. Is that last photo a picture of George in front of Collinwood? Was he Barnabas’ long-lost cousin from England (or would the Liverpudlian accent make Quentin suspicious)?

      1. Most likely George’s house, Friar Park, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire–120 rooms!

  4. Funny to hear the constant “handsome” dropping- I hear that the paperback version of House of Dark Shadows has a similar thing for dropping the word “ugly” wherever Willie Loomis is concerned.
    Dan-Marilyn-Ross seems to have some specific tastes.

    1. Yeah, I’m looking forward to reading a couple of the “Barnabas and Quentin” books. Does Quentin take over as the handsome one? Is there an adjective war? It could go either way.

  5. The oft-repeated catch-phrase I remember from these novels is “He drew her into his arms for a lasting kiss.” If Dan Ross were writing these novels in the era of word-processing software, he’d save lots of time by creating a macro that typed that sentence for him.

  6. As she sat in the drawing room, she looked up, and just for a second, saw what looked like some sort of microphone, hanging directly overhead.
    So, Collinwood IS haunted, she thought to herself.

    From the paperback,
    Barnabas Collins And The Big Freak-Out.

  7. I wonder how many people DO know what Barnabas is, and they say nothing because when there is trouble he has some idea (not much, but some) of what to do.

  8. “Contractually obligated romance novel” Yeah, that is what Barnabas is writing. Under a pseudonym, as romance novels have women’s names on them.

    By the way, Henry Fitzroy, from the Blood Books of Tanya Huff IS a romance novelist, under the name Elizabeth Fitzroy (a dig at his half sister’s legitimacy..)

  9. Here’s a book no one wants to read,
    let alone think about:

    Ben Stokes And The Hot Toddy:
    His Secret Affair With Angelique

  10. I never thought of ‘Barnabas’ and ‘handsome’ in the same sentence (at least not in the ‘classic’ definition for handsome) – Quentin, YES, Jeb, NO, Gerard, NO..Peter/Jeff/Ned/Dirk (Possibly in the classic sense but NO when combined with charisma).

  11. So this book has:

    a.) A vampire who preys upon the beautiful women of Collinsport

    b.) A ghost who has possessed two children and who is making them do evil things

    c.) A woman who enlists her boyfriend to kill her rich husband

    Which of these plots does the writer think will be the most interesting to the reader? Which plot takes up most of the book’s pages, while the other two are pretty much ignored? What would be the best way to entertain someone who buys a book based on a TV show about a vampire? What should be the plot of a book with the title, BARNABAS COLLINS VS. THE WARLOCK?

    1. Yeah, I think the weird things about these books is that they’re not really aimed at people who like the show. There’s a gothic romance novel audience, and their stories follow a few well-worn paths.

      The romantic loner character has a terrible secret that the heroine learns about a third of the way through the book. In “Barnabas Collins”, Margaret discovers the coffin in chapter 6; in “BC vs the Warlock”, Maggie finds it in chapter 5. The fact that the “terrible secret” is that he’s a vampire is just a detail.

      1. Let’s not forget that book 7 featured an elderly servant named Ben in the late 1800s. He’s not explicitly named Stokes, but as I recall he resembled elderly Ben from 1840. I could be wrong there; it’s been a long time. But there was definitely a Nathan Forbes who was a naval officer. He was not a scoundrel though. I guess Ross felt like he could take elements from the show and throw them in wherever he felt like it. I think he probably received a memo that asked him to include more characters from the show, so he grudgingly threw tidbits here and there and nobody noticed or cared that they were not consistent with the program.

  12. “He just walks through the centuries, falling gently in love with an endless sequence of emotionally flustered heroines.”- pretty much the perfect life, right there.

    “He nodded gloomily. “Don’t I know it? My guess is there is some kind of mild lunatic loose in the area.” – if he really says “mild”, that’s pretty a pretty cool description. I wouldn’t mind being a mild lunatic, myself.

    One more, from B’s convo with the cop: “And this business of the girls with marks on their throats is getting to be old stuff.” – this does not sound like Barnabas. Maybe strike “old stuff” and replace with “rather tiresome”.

  13. “Mild lunatic” – perhaps Ross wrote “wild lunatic” and the typesetter botched it? But yes, a lovely concept indeed.

  14. I would reiterate one of the earlier comments. To UK residents, the only Dark Shadows we had until fairly recently was these books which I discovered on holiday stuffed onto book racks alongside the Marvel and DC comics that came over as ballast. I really enjoyed them but then I had no TV series to compare them with. I did wonder who this Victoria Winters was that the early books seemed to be about and why Banabas only appears part way through the series. But my real problem was when I started finding out about the actual series and the fact that these books seemed to have nothing to do with the plot line from the show. I still get very confused as to who exactly is the werewolf as I thought it was Quentin from the word go. They must get the tone right somewhere along the line as I recall being utterly shocked at how unpleasant Barnabas is and how violent the plot is in the adaptation of House of Dark Shadows.

    I guess it’s a bit like coming into Doctor Who via the Sylvester McCoy era. You supposedly like the same programme as other fans but you never quite see things the same way.

  15. So which one is the warlock again?
    I expected Joe Smith to really be Quentin in disguise but I guess I’m getting ahead of the story.
    I think Scooby Doo was better written.
    “It would have worked, too, if not for that meddling vampire!”

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