“Be cautious with it! We don’t want a string of strange deaths in our group.”
But it’s the age old story, isn’t it? Man comes into contact with something other — something beyond our grasp, beyond understanding, beyond words — and it changes us, occasionally for the better. And we take that encounter, and we turn it into story.
I mean, not this story, obviously. This story is insane. You know how Joseph Campbell and the Mythkateers say that all mythic narratives are just variations on a single great story? Yeah. This is one of the exceptions.
But even the strangest sound has an echo, and here, in the midst of the ragged and unruly Leviathan tale clattering across our screens in double-time, we can reach out and grab hold of another story that’s following a similarly erratic track.
There is another story where Barnabas very gradually fights an otherworldly menace, where Quentin appears and disappears with little consequence, where Maggie experiences carefully controlled doses of mild peril, and where an upsetting reptile pulls the strings, and makes the puppets dance.
This is a story that our people tell. We call it Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse.
Yes, it’s time for another visit to the Parallel Time of the Paperback Library, a contemporary line of spinoff books that re-imagined Dark Shadows as a set of self-contained stories, starring a limited selection from the cast. At first, these books were focused on girl governess Victoria Winters, roughly based on the original series bible and featuring lurking ghosts that might or might not be a Scooby-Doo style hoax. But they couldn’t ignore Barnabas forever, and by book #6, the vampire took a lead role.
The last time we checked in with the Paperback Library, it was for Quentin’s first appearance in the series — book #14, Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon. Quentin didn’t appear in the next book, Barnabas Collins and the Gypsy Witch, but apparently the people are still clamoring for more Quentin books.
So it’s here, in April 1970, that the series pivots once again, with book #16 — Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse. There’s 16 more books in the series, and from here on, they all use that title construction: Barnabas, Quentin and…
So we get Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin, and the Crystal Coffin, and the Magic Potion, and the Frightened Bride. Not all in one book; those are four separate titles, each disappointing in its own unique way.
One of the interesting things at this point in early 1970 — and I use the term “interesting” loosely — is that both the TV show and the book series are having a problem figuring out what to do with Quentin. Back in his hometown of 1897, Quentin was the king of kaiju — a handsome, star-crossed rogue with six girlfriends and all the storylines. But once the show returned to 1970, the Quentin that’s washed up on the shore is not really the guy we once knew. This Quentin looks the same, but his connection to the current storylines is strained at best. And in the Paperback Library, Quentin is an even more slippery concept, because the author doesn’t really know who Quentin is, or was.
The PBL novels were written by Dan Ross, under his wife’s name, and he never watched Dark Shadows, because he had a demanding job. He wrote two 160-page books a month, which averages out to 16 pages a day. It could be a novel about nurses, or a gothic romance, or a western, or a mystery. The only thing that mattered was the two pages per hour emerging from the Selectric. The credo: Always be typing.
Therefore, stopping for half an hour in the middle of the afternoon to find out if Olivia Corey is really Amanda Harris would be a colossal waste of time. It’s just not relevant to the job that he’s being paid to do. It would actually be reckless folly for him to learn anything more about the television series that he’s adapting.
So the Quentin briefing, as far as I can tell, was essentially this: Like Barnabas, he’s an itinerant Collins cousin who can appear in different time periods. He has sideburns. He’s a werewolf. Briefing complete. Let’s see what Mr. Ross comes up with.
The main character in BQ/MC is Maggie Evans, a governess at Collinwood who’s basically Vicki without the backstory. Apparently a carrier pigeon arrived at Dan Ross’ house under separate cover telling him that now the governess is called Maggie, and there’s a little girl named Amy; this pigeon will self-destruct in five seconds.
Well, you can’t expect Dan to keep all those characters in mind at the same time, so he offloads half of them at the start of the book. When we join the action at the snowbound Collinwood, Maggie’s alone in the house with Roger and his young son David. Elizabeth, Carolyn and Amy have decamped to the West Indies for the duration, probably picking up some voodoo artifact that they can use in book #19, Barnabas, Quentin and Some Voodoo Artifact.
It’s getting close to Christmas, so David’s on break from the study schedule, and Maggie is kind of knocking around the house with nothing to do.
As always in these books, the characters are snippy and quick to anger. Roger mentions his cousin Anthony, a noted archaeologist, and David says, “He’s the one who used to be always sending us cards from Europe and Africa. He went around digging up things.” That sentence earns him a scolding from Roger and another from Maggie, and when David leaves the room, Roger says, “I fear my son is badly spoiled.” Then Roger complains about the winter coming so early: “It makes things more difficult at the factory, and I dislike the cold and snow.” He doesn’t like anything.
Maggie says that she’s glad Barnabas is coming to spend the holidays at Collinwood — he’s often traveling around the world somewhere, in this reality — and Roger sniffs, “He’s never been a stable type. Traveling all the time. It’s no wonder the Collinsport people have regarded him with suspicion on his visits here.” Maggie sticks up for Barnabas, saying that people judge him because he’s different, and Roger moans, “I wish he understood that. I’ve tried to advise him to dress more conventionally, give up his all-night hours and come without that wretched mute monster, Hare.” And then he’s off on another Roger hate-jag.
Hare, if you’re not entirely au fait with the recurring minor characters of the Paperback Library, is Barnabas’ mute, violent companion, who guards the Old House while Barnabas is “working,” and chases off anybody who tries to visit during the day. We met Hare in the first Barnabas novel, which took place in 1902, and here he is again in 1970, still hard at work. There’s no explanation for Hare’s longevity, and he doesn’t need one. He’s an immune system. If you have any further questions about Hare, then he will growl and wave his hands and chase you off the property. I like Hare a lot.
The big, plot-moving news is that the archaeologist cousin is coming to the estate — Professor Anthony Collins, who recently retired from the Boston Historical Museum. Maggie asks what he’s like, and Roger gives her an incredibly Paperback Library description, which sounds exactly like the way that people don’t ever talk.
“Anthony is a typical aged professor. He was still erect of figure, though sixty-five, and his hair was iron-gray when I last saw him. He has the Collins features but he’s very near-sighted without his glasses so he wears them nearly all the time. This gives him a scholarly look. Of course he is precise and exact in his manner.”
Imagine saying that out loud, as part of a conversation. It can’t be done. It’s only page 9, so it’s far too early to give up hope, but “his hair was iron-gray when I last saw him” does not bode well for the dialogue to come.
Anyway, Anthony’s here to chew gum and catalogue Egyptian artifacts, and he’s all out of gum. He’s going to live at the red brick house near the entrance to the estate, and he’s brought along a bunch of playmates, who can be the victims and/or suspects of the terrible crimes that will no doubt ensue. There’s a young professor named Herb Price, and an old professor named James Martin, and a dark-haired secretary named Harriet Fennel, and a maid from the village named Bessie who is destined to be monster chow.
They’ve arrived laden with artifacts liberated from the tomb of King Rehotip, because that’s what professors do when they retire from historical museums; they take a truckload of the museum’s collection with them, so they can keep working and not actually retire.
The next morning, Maggie walks into the drawing room and finds a stranger, Professor Herb Price.
He heard her and turned to greet her with a thin smile on his pleasant face. He was in his late twenties or early thirties with light brown hair. He wore heavy sideburns and dark-rimmed glasses. He is Quentin, in disguise.
Well, it doesn’t actually say the Quentin part, but it might as well. The frontispiece of the book has a little plot summary, and it poses the following question: “Death strikes at Collinwood — but who is the killer?” There are several potential answers, and one of them is “the disguised Quentin Collins”. So obviously we’re supposed to spend the entire book trying to figure out which character is secretly Quentin. The answer is Herb Price, because he has sideburns. People with sideburns always turn out to be secretly Quentin. That is a fact about the world.
Price introduces himself, and says that he’s going to be working with Professor Collins on cataloguing the Rehotip collection. “I hope you won’t think archaeology a boring business,” says Professor Price, “because it isn’t.” Maggie didn’t even say anything.
“Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of curse on the King Rehotip tomb?”
He nodded. “That story was started because of the bad fortune suffered by the first expedition that attempted to open the tomb. Professor Collins was the leader of the second and successful group.”
“Wasn’t there some sort of inscription on the tomb?”
Herb Price looked grimly amused. “I can quote it: ‘Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of Pharaoh.’ Does that sound sufficiently sinister?”
Well, it sounds sufficiently made up, if that helps. Did they really say “toucheth” in ancient Egyptian?
And now we’re doing Howard Carter’s canary, all over again. You remember Howard Carter, he was the guy who opened Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, and then everyone involved in the expedition mysteriously died of explicable causes over the next four decades. My favorite part of that story is the claim that at the exact moment that Carter opened the tomb, a snake entered Carter’s house and ate his canary. So this is one of those.
Anyway, after a while Price goes away, and Maggie tells Roger about the visitor. “He seemed familiar to me,” she says. “I could be wrong, but I think I may have seen him somewhere before. But he wasn’t wearing glasses as he is now. Glasses make quite a difference in people.” Yeah, I guess they do.
By the way, I’ve read this entire book, and if you want to ask me why Quentin is pretending to be an archaeologist, then go ahead and ask. The answer is that I don’t know. Nobody ever explains it.
The next day, Maggie gets a phone call from Professor Collins, who asks her to come and work for him over the holidays. He’s already got a secretary, but he’s a very busy man and he needs extra secretarial work, because he’s retired and apparently archaeologists just get busier after they retire. Also, he’s planning on monkeying around with the mummies, and you need a random girl around for peril.
Roger doesn’t mind if Maggie wants to earn some extra cash, so she walks over to the red brick house and meets Anthony. It turns out he’s “a tall, bony man with iron-gray hair and the strong features characteristic of the Collins family,” which is exactly how Roger described him. That’s the thing about descriptions in the Paperback Library books; they have real staying power. Once somebody gets described, they stay described.
For example, when Maggie meets Anthony, it says that “he wore rimless glasses which gave prominence to his fanatical blue eyes,” and then two pages later, “his pale blue eyes with their strange brightness marked him as a fanatic.”
But the really important thing that you need to know about Anthony is that he’s 65 years old. The following sentences are all on page 25.
“I’ve told her it’s a myth created by the sensation-hungry press,” the old man grumbled.
“Fine,” the old man said.
The old man led her to a dark hallway.
With the venerable professor leading the way, she slowly made her way down to the cellar level.
But if you think Professor Collins is old, wait until you meet Professor Martin, on the next page. Professor Martin is tremendously, relentlessly, inconceivably and unforgivably old.
An old man sat at the table writing something. He was frail and appeared to be eighty or more.
Anthony Collins came close to the old man and spoke loudly in his ear. “This is Miss Maggie Evans, my new assistant.” The old man’s thin, yellowish face showed a slight smile. His eyes were sunken and his head bald. With his hollow cheeks and shiny false teeth, he seemed more like a Death’s head than a human being.
Which, jeez, okay, I guess the dude is old. You don’t have to go all the way to “Death’s head”. You could just say “in his eighties” and we’d believe you.
Maggie decides to give the archaeology a whirl, so she follows Anthony around with a notebook as he says things about Egypt. And Dan Ross just keeps tapping away at that keyboard.
Maggie decides to take the job, so she’ll go back to Collinwood for the night, and then come to stay at the red brick house tomorrow. But it’s snowing like crazy outside, so Herb Price offers to walk Maggie back to Collinwood, to make sure she gets there safely.
There’s a little bit of tension here, because apparently Harriet has her eye on Price, and she’s not thrilled about having another young woman around. This is boilerplate PBL material and won’t actually lead to anything in particular. By this point in the series, Ross has given up on the norms of murder mystery writing, like motives and suspects. This weakens Americans’ faith in the murder mystery process that will take a generation to repair.
Once they’re outside, they act like Maggie is entirely helpless out in the snow, and she’s relying on Price to help her navigate this relatively short walk across the Collinwood estate where she’s lived for several years. Also, she’s from Maine. Snow is not really that big of a deal.
But she says, “I hope we know which way we’re going,” and he says, “We’ll manage,” and they lope along, gossiping about Professor Martin, who is a strange old man, and Harriet, who is a bitter, frustrated young woman. People fill a lot of time in this book reciting bits of the character bible at each other.
And then suddenly Price is taken ill. His face is white and drawn, his voice suddenly taking on an odd gasping quality, his pace slackening and so on. “I suddenly don’t feel too well,” he says, and says something about going back to take his medicine. And then there’s the dognoise.
Before she could answer, there came a mournful howling like the wolf call she’d heard the night before. It seemed very near. She gave him a terrified look. “What can that mean?”
Well, obviously what it means is that Price is a snow-wolf? Or something? There’s only a couple times in the book when Price has one of these sudden attacks, and both times, it begins with him hearing another wolf howling in the distance. I’m not sure where the other wolf is supposed to come from. There’s no mention of the moon, and this doesn’t really tally up with any known depiction of lycanthropy, but this is how Paperback werewolves work. So Price shoves the flashlight at Maggie, and then he stumbles off into the darkness. That was Quentin, by the way. That was one of the Quentin parts.
This leaves Maggie basically on her own front lawn with a flashlight, and she wonders if she’ll manage to make it home without accidentally falling off a cliff. Seriously. “It would be terribly easy to reach the edge of the cliffs and stumble to her death on this stormy night,” the book says. Would it?
But she finally manages to make her way towards the big house, and then suddenly a dark figure appears before her, and she discovers the caped coat and gaunt, noble face of Barnabas Collins! Hooray for snowstorms!
So here’s Barnabas, with his gaunt face and his melancholy smile. “Gaunt” is the new keyword for Barnabas. He has a gaunt, noble face on page 31, and then a gaunt face a few paragraphs later; he’s a gaunt-faced man on page 33, and then he’s got a gaunt, handsome face on page 34.
Traditionally, the Paperback Library has been particularly insistent about how handsome Barnabas Collins is; in the three previous books that we’ve discussed, he was called handsome 16, 18 and 24 times. But in this book, it appears we’ve crossed some kind of threshold, and Barnabas is now both gaunt and handsome, in that order.
Let’s do the numbers. Barnabas is a “gaunt, handsome man” on pages 48 and 60, and he has a “gaunt, handsome face” on pages 34, 37, 84, 88 and 141. He has just a plain “gaunt face” on pages 31, 50, 87, 127, 158 and 159, plus a “gaunt, noble face” also on 31, and he’s a “gaunt-faced man” on page 33. He’s also a “dark, handsome man” on page 36, a “handsome British cousin” on page 97, and a “handsome Britisher” on 120, and he has a “handsome face” on page 104.
That gives us a final score of 15 gaunts and 11 handsomes, so Barnabas is officially 1.36 times more gaunt than he is handsome. And if reading the last few paragraphs has made you feel like you no longer recognize “gaunt” as an English word, then just wait until we get to how old Professor Martin is.
Once Maggie is safely inside and protected from the horrors of an average New England winter, we can get down to business and figure out what everyone disapproves of. Here’s how this kind of thing goes down, in the world of the Paperback Library.
“What’s this talk about defiling tombs?” Roger Collins demanded as he came back into the room.
“I question this project of Anthony’s,” Barnabas told him. “And I think you made a mistake in allowing Maggie to work for him.”
Roger’s face darkened. “Are you suggesting I’m not taking proper care of this young woman?”
“I don’t think you gave it sufficient thought.”
“You and Anthony have never gotten along,” Roger reminded him.
Barnabas shrugged. “That has no bearing on this.”
“Of course it has,” Roger argued. “You’re prejudiced against our cousin. That’s why you want to prevent Maggie from working for him.”
“I’m thinking more of the curse than anything else. Do you have any idea how death stalked the other expedition that attempted to raid that tomb? I don’t want to see Maggie in any danger. Anthony has a right to jeopardize his own life if he likes, but I don’t think he should drag others into the shadow of the curse of Osiris.”
Roger looked nasty. “I’m not up on those fancy names like you, Barnabas, but I’ll match my good sense against yours any day. Especially when you hire someone like Hare!”
And then they just throw down. Man, if there’s one thing people can do in these books, it’s argue. Roger is perpetually on the verge of playing the Hare card.
Oh, and Maggie and Barnabas have kind of a slow-burning romance going; I suppose I should mention that. Back in Barnabas Collins vs. the Warlock, they started one of those super tame love affairs that people apparently have in these novels, where they kiss every once in a while, and spend the rest of their time telling each other to be careful. Maggie, like all the heroines in this series, is entirely in love with Barnabas, and she refuses to believe the wild stories about him being a vampire, even though he obviously is one, and literally everybody else in the book points this out on the regular.
This is a typical manifestation: “She surrendered completely to those cold lips to which she’d become accustomed. They were no indicators of the warmth and charm of this solitary and lonely man.” And now we can get back to the tomb-defiling.
The next morning, Maggie reports back to work at Anthony’s red brick house, where she’ll be living for the next several weeks or until she gets murdered, whichever comes first.
First thing, she interrupts Anthony in the middle of studying two breathtakingly lovely gold scarabs set with precious stones, which he’s super awkward about and establishes the motive for the upcoming murders, check and check. And then it’s time to go downstairs and play with Professor Martin.
So, you remember old Professor Martin, right? Sure you do; he’s the old one.
The scrawny old man was on his knees beside an uncrated stone tablet. “You’re the young woman Anthony hired yesterday, aren’t you?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“See this,” the old man said proudly, pointing at the tablet before him. “Art as ancient as this and in this state of preservation is rare. It’s worth any risk to bring it back.”
Her eyebrows raised. “You think there is a risk?”
The old man shrugged. “You have heard of the curse?”
“Lord Carter was a personal friend of mine,” the old man said, still on his knees. “He financed the original expedition and died of a mosquito bite.”
“Did he get the bite while at the site of the tomb?”
The elderly professor nodded.
And OH MY GOD SERIOUSLY WE BELIEVE YOU THAT PROFESSOR MARTIN IS OLD. This concept does not need to be reinforced every three sentences. He is an old man and he is concerned about poisonous curse mosquitos. MESSAGE RECEIVED.
So obviously I counted the number of times that people in this book are described as old or young, which is a totally normal way to read a book and is not considered obsessive-compulsive behavior. Here are the findings.
Professor James Martin: 40 references to how old he is, including old man, old professor, elderly professor, aged professor, veteran professor, ancient professor and old scholar, plus at one point Maggie says that he’s a strange old man and Price responds, “He’s very old.”
Professor Herb Price: 39 references to how young he is, including 20 young professors, 18 young mans and 1 young fella.
Professor Anthony Collins: 31 references, including old man, older man, venerable professor, senior professor, elderly professor, elderly cousin, elderly man and old Egyptologist.
Also, if you’re curious, Maggie is a young woman, the Collinwood housekeeper is an old woman, David is a youngster, and Roger is a middle aged man. This concludes my report on how old everyone is.
And now, we finally get to the good part. Maggie leaves old Professor Martin and talks to young Professor Price, and then she starts to unpack a box full of Egypt stuff. She takes a vase out of a crate, and then she feels something cold and slimy, and she recoils in horror from the thing deep in the dark crate, which happens to be my favorite character in the book, hooray!
“In there,” Maggie cries. “Some dreadful slimy living thing. It crawled over my hand!”
So Price pokes around in the crate with a flashlight, and there he is, the true star of the book: a small lizard, hiding in one of the vases.
But this isn’t just any lizard. “It’s a lizard of a species I’ve never seen before,” says Price. Maggie asks if it could be poisonous, and Price — who has only seen the lizard for two seconds, hiding in a vase, and also he’s Quentin — immediately says, “Very likely. It didn’t sting you, did it?” It did not. Maggie is fine. This is a girl who hangs out with an undead ghoul who kills people with his teeth, and she falls to pieces over miniscule reptiles.
“This could be a find,” says Price, “a lizard that’s somehow managed to exist for thousands of years.” That doesn’t get an exclamation point, by the way. It’s an absurd assertion to make, but if you’re going to make it, give it some appropriate punctuation.
Price tells Maggie to go and get Professor Martin, and she does: “Maggie hurried out of the room, glad to put some distance between herself and the crate with the tiny horror in it.” She’s only done fifteen seconds of actual work so far, and she flees the scene because there’s a lizard.
By the time Maggie and Martin come back, Price has captured the lizard in a jar, which he shows off to everyone. Here’s the text from the wanted poster:
The vicious looking green lizard was about four inches long and had an ugly wide head that measured an inch at least. A darted tongue kept in constant motion as the lizard slithered wildly inside the jar.
Old Prof Martin peers at it and says, “I can’t place it in any category.” This is apparently something entirely new in lizards.
Professor Martin’s frail figure almost trembled with excitement. He pointed a thin forefinger at the jar. “That little fellow may have been placed in the tomb by one of King Rehotip’s trusted servants. If so, the chances are it’s poisonous. Some of the Egyptian kings used to pepper their tombs with all kinds of poisonous creatures to guard against the tombs being vandalized.”
So that’s a thing, they are 100% certain that somehow a single lizard can survive for thousands of years. Not that type of lizard, or that family, but actually the same actual lizard, who’s been hanging around in the tomb for four thousand years, getting progressively more poisonous and annoyed with the world.
“I’ll take the jar up to Professor Collins and get his verdict,” Herb said.
“Be cautious with it!” the old man called after him. “We don’t want a string of strange deaths in our group.”
Maggie gave the old professor a frightened look. “Do you really think that could happen?”
“Why not? Those Egyptians were devious people. And it might be possible for some of the poisonous creatures to remain in a state of inactivity for literally thousands of years and then come alive again.”
So that’s how science works, in Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse. Everybody looks at this creature and instantly proclaims it to be an immortal, radioactive super-lizard. I have no idea what they’re talking about.
At dinner that night, the girls sit at the table utterly bored, while the boys all talk about lizards, and Maggie begins to wonder if maybe Egyptology is not for her. But that’s the point of these books, that women should go nowhere and do nothing. Quickie gothics like this make housewives grateful for their lot in life, by reassuring them that anything interesting in the world is dangerous and unpleasant.
After dinner, Barnabas comes by to gossip about everything. “I don’t like that lizard business,” he says, which should have been his catchphrase.
Barnabas has an encounter with Cousin Anthony, and they don’t like each other. Barnabas points out that Anthony is defying the curse of Osiris, and calls him a grave robber. Paperback Barnabas is not good with diplomacy.
“I have great respect for the dead,” Barnabas says, “and for their resting places.” Anthony fires back, “I had almost forgotten. But your preoccupation with the dead is a natural thing. True to your nature.” After Anthony leaves, Maggie asks what he meant by that, and Barnabas says, “Don’t ask me to explain all the fuzzy thinking of my elderly cousin.” There are no further questions.
Price wanders into the room, and he flinches at the sight of Barnabas. After Price leaves, Barnabas asks Maggie if she’s heard of Quentin Collins. “He’s another of the family who shows up here at intervals,” Barnabas says. “There have been whispers that he has involved himself with witchcraft. Some think he is under the curse of the werewolf.”
Then Maggie remembers seeing a picture of Quentin in a family album. “Of course, he does bear a remarkable likeness to Quentin. But his hair is lighter, and he wears glasses.”
“Glasses and hair dye are simple means of disguise,” Barnabas explains. “I’m by no means sure that your Professor Herb Price is Quentin, back here under an assumed name. Just the same, I’d watch him closely. Especially since there is the wolf business involved.”
So that’s the situation at the red brick house at the moment. Lizard business, wolf business and a Clark Kent-style disguise, worn at intervals.
After Barnabas’ antisocial call, Maggie goes to bed, and wakes up in the middle of the night as her door slowly creaks open, and a shadowy figure stands in the doorway. Heroines in Gothic novels spontaneously wake up at least three times every night, just in case shadowy figures drop by.
At the foot of her bed, it made a kind of gesture, as if tossing something at her.
Instinctively she knew what it was. Even before the slimy thing came crawling across the bedspread she had seized a heavy glass ashtray from the bedside table. With screams of terror she struck out at it wildly and then fumbled for the switch on the bedside lamp.
She found it and turned it on, panting with terror. Her aim had been better than she could have hoped. The battered remains of the lizard made an ugly stain on the bed covering.
Yes! It’s Maggie’s first night in academia, and already someone is trying to murder her with lizards. The shadowy figure apparently counted on the lizard automatically engaging its anti-governess features; tossed onto the bed, it would scamper straight at Maggie and poison her in the face, rather than run into a closet and hide. And now a priceless four-thousand-year-old reptile has been destroyed by secondhand smoke.
Nobody believes Maggie’s story of a shadowy figure, because how could a person walk into someone’s bedroom. In Professor Collins’ study, they find the glass jar lying on the floor, which proves this was an attack by a lone lizard, who was probably radicalized on the internet.
The following morning, Maggie wakes up kind of depressed. “Her eerie experience of the night before,” says the book, “and the generally ominous atmosphere of the red brick house, had about decided her that she should give up this new job and return to Collinwood.”
This is the correct conclusion. Maggie should go back to Collinwood immediately; there is literally no reason for her to stay. Nobody likes her here, she hates the work, she’s not interested in Egypt, she thinks archaeology is grave robbing, she’s afraid of lizards, somebody is threatening her, and her actual house is within easy walking distance. Why is she still here? But the women in these novels never decide to leave the terrible house parties they attend; it was the same with Lara in the last book we discussed.
Now, obviously, Maggie needs to stay on the premises or there’s no more story, but the author doesn’t even do her the courtesy of giving her a motive. The first thing that comes to mind is that she should be romantically interested in Professor Price aka Quentin, which would give him a purpose for being in the book. But at this stage in the series, Barnabas is still such a draw that they can’t dilute the fantasy by having Maggie interested in another guy.
Still, there are lots of ways to give Maggie a reason to stick around. I will now make up several of them off the top of my head. #1: Maggie has a friend or relative there, preferably a woman, who she wants to protect. #2: There’s a mystery that she wants to solve, probably something to do with a necklace that looks familiar to her, possibly from a past life in Egypt. #3: She really needs the extra money because her aunt is sick, or she wants to buy a motorcycle. #4: Anything else. It is so easy to do this.
But the book insists that she’s just indecisive, and she needs to consult with at least two men before making up her mind to do anything. Meanwhile, she’s stuck in the cellar with the venerable and decrepit Professor Martin.
She sighed. “I’m not sure I’m in agreement with what you’re doing. Even though you open these tombs in the name of historical research, you are actually robbing graves, aren’t you?”
The old man looked startled. “That’s a primitive way of putting it,” he said. “Ours is not an easy profession, Miss Evans; it requires dedicated men. I have lost my health through explorations. The malaria from which I suffer keeps coming back and robbing me of a little more of my strength each time, and the best experts assure me it is incurable.”
THEN HOW ARE YOU SO OLD? cries the reader. For Ptah’s sake! You’re an ancient skeleton man and your strength is ebbing away a little at a time, and somehow you keep on functioning. Everybody talks about the curse of Osiris, and how everyone in the first expedition died, but here is a man who is clearly 98 percent of the way there already, and he’s outlived a quadrimillenial lizard. This is why nobody believes in pyramid curses anymore.
And then there’s the matter of Professor Price being Quentin, which they keep talking about and it never goes anywhere. Maggie asks Anthony if he’s sure about Price’s credentials, and Anthony says he thought they looked okay. But then she tells him that Price walked into Collinwood the other day without being invited in, and he says that’s strange, I’ll watch him closely. Then she says, “He may be perfectly all right,” because nobody in this book can hold a single opinion in their head for five minutes.
So that night, she sits by the fireside with Price, as he tries to pretend that he’s not Quentin, which he obviously is. They hear a wolf howling outside, and Price gets all jumpy and weird again, and then he rushes up the stairs and probably turns into something.
Maggie goes over to Collinwood to look at David’s jigsaw puzzle, and on her way back to the red brick house, we finally get a non-lizard-related chapter-ending cliffhanger.
She walked a little faster and soon she was nearing the red brick house again. Gray smoke was issuing from its chimneys and many lights glowed warmly in its windows. In a few minutes she would be safely inside.
The thought was still in her mind when from out of the bushes there came bounding a giant, snarling wolf. The terrifying creature blocked her path, its yellow eyes filled with mad hatred. At the sight of its powerful fangs she screamed and drew back!
It all works out okay, of course. This is just the usual mid-book wolf attack, where the fierce predator looks at the main girl and makes some growling noises, and then it gets chased away by Barnabas, or a passing car, or it suddenly remembers an appointment. Who even knows with giant wolves.
But forget all of that; I certainly have. The important thing now is to get the marquee monster up and moving. We only have twelve chapters, and it’s half-past six. Let’s get some mummy up in here.
To set the scene, Anthony sends the other professors off on a trip to Boston, to bring some of the items that they’ve catalogued back to the Historical Museum. I don’t know why they’ve carted all this junk from Boston to Collinwood, if they’re just going to unpack it and bring it back to Boston, but I guess even Egyptologists need a change of scene sometimes. So young Professor Price and old Professor Martin and dark-haired irrelevance Harriet Fennel cart the stuff off in a U-Haul, back to the metrop.
And while they’re out of the way, Anthony tells Maggie that he has a special activity planned for this evening, namely: the reanimation of the dead.
There are three caskets in the basement of the red brick house, all taken from the tomb of King Rehotip, and you’ll never guess what secret toy surprise is hidden inside the biggest and shiniest. Take it away, Professor.
“To win new fame for his favorite god and himself, King Rehotip hit upon a plan to pretend he had died and been resurrected through the magic of Osiris.”
“How could he do such a thing?”
“His plan was excellent. He had the court physician give him a mercury-like liquid which induced a coma resembling death. He’d already arranged with the physician and his heir and younger brother, Prince Seotris, to later give him an antidote which would restore him to life.”
“And did they do it?”
“That is where the story becomes interesting.”
Yeah, well, I’ll be the judge of that. So the crackpot backstory of this crackpot book involves a pharaoh from the 17th dynasty putting himself into a coma, and giving his younger brother the wake-up juice. But everybody knows that you can’t trust younger brothers, everybody except the Great Light of the Dawn in the mystery box over here.
And so he sleeps e’en now, this suspended ruler, pickled in time like gherkins in a canopic jar. And that’s what Anthony Collins is going to fuck with this evening.
Maggie has some opinions on the subject, and surprise, somebody in a Paperback Library book is not going to be supportive.
“You’re doomed to failure,” she said. “King Rehotip’s plan was meant to cover only a short period of time. He’s been in that coffin for thousands of years. Some deterioration of his mind or body has surely occurred.”
Madness gleamed in the pale blue eyes of the Egyptologist. “I disagree,” he said. “There should be no tissue change. And when the antidote is poured between his lips, King Rehotip should live again!”
“In a strange age and a foreign land of ice and snow! The shock of his returning to life should be enough to send him insane!”
“I don’t agree,” Anthony Collins said.
And oh my god, you have to stop saying that you disagree with every sensible thing that somebody says to you. There is a point where that stops being a useful worldview.
But you know Egyptologists; they figure once you’ve defiled a tomb, you might as well keep on defiling it. He cracks open the flavor seal, and there’s the lightly-embalmed King Rehotip, with a little glass vial tucked behind his ear, filled with magical purple drank.
And Maggie has no choice but to stand by and watch, as Anthony tears the linen strips from the ancient king’s face and presses the potion to his parchment lips. Well, when I say she has no choice, what I mean is she has like six dozen opportunities which she does not act upon. Also she brings him a pair of scissors when he asks for it.
So the Professor decants the antidote into Rehotip’s mouth, and nothing happens, which is very deflating for about a page and a half, and then suddenly
Then, suddenly, there came a faint sound of movement from the golden casket. A chill shot up Maggie’s spine. Unbelievably, the eyes of King Rehotip had opened. The dark brown eyes gazed straight up at the ceiling and had a wild light in them.
Anthony Collins’ lined face had taken on an expression of sheer wonder. He was frozen motionless as he stared at the coffin. A weird shriek came from the lips of the bronzed figure and there was the sound of ripping cloth as King Rehotip broke the linen wrappings that bound him.
In the next instant the pharoah had sprung to his feet. Most of his wrappings still clung to him in mummy fashion, though his head and shoulders were uncovered and his arms and legs free. He moved towards Professor Anthony Collins with an insane gleam in his eyes. Again a weird, savage cry escaped his lips and his bronzed, sinewy hands seized the professor’s throat.
And if that isn’t the biggest “I told you so” in the entire world, then I don’t know what is. I mean, two hundred points to Maggie on this one.
So everybody loses consciousness all at once, and when they get back up, Rehotip’s actually shuffled all the way upstairs and out the door, out into the wide open spaces, wild and untamed and utterly, impossibly, mad.
At this point, in walks eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, stopping by on a snowy evening to pass the time of night with his girlfriend and her irresponsible employer.
“Are you telling me this fugitive from the tomb is at large out there?” he asks. They are. They are telling him exactly that.
Anthony’s response is, “I did what any scientist or researcher in my place would have done,” which is a citation needed if I ever saw one. This whole book is just one big 160-page citation needed.
Maggie asked, “What if that creature wanders about the countryside attacking innocent people?”
“That won’t happen,” Anthony argued. “As I have told you before, King Rehotip wil die in a short time from the cold.”
Barnabas said sharply, “Wasn’t he already dead? The state he is in now could scarely be termed as alive.”
Maggie nodded. “That’s what I’ve told the professor. We’re not dealing with a normal person and so you can’t count on his minding the cold.”
Barnabas turned to his cousin. “Well, Mr. Egyptologist, do you have an answer for that?”
He doesn’t, really. Nobody does. But Anthony says he’s not going to call the police until the morning, because why even bother, and that appears to be that.
“I will not interfere,” Barnabas says, “as long as your spectral fugitive refrains from killing wholesale.” Retail killing is apparently just fine.
Later, Maggie confides in Barnabas that she shouldn’t have involved herself in this insanity, and Barnabas smiles, “If we all did the right thing at the proper moment, what a simple and uninteresting world this would be.” That is not a healthy philosophy, not in this town.
Their chat continues along similar lines, raising the question of whether Barnabas is a vampire or not. He says he’s not. She says she believes him.
“Please don’t try to explain or make me see things differently,” she says. “I’d prefer to be wrong than to be disillusioned.”
So that’s something of a mission statement for this entire enterprise. The Paperback Library Gothic line is an endless series of stories about young women who don’t know when to quit. They’re abused in just about every possible way — pushed around, threatened, attacked, harassed, driven to the very brink of madness — and they always remain compliant and docile, accepting everything that comes their way, and hoping for the best.
Don’t call the police, says the Paperback Library to its unwitting readership of actual women with real-life problems. Think it over. Stick around and see if it gets better by itself. What an interesting world this will be!
So then the story goes pretty much the way you’d expect; the sun comes up, and nobody’s been mutilated that we know about, so Anthony just goes back to business like nothing ever happened. He swaps in another mummy to take King Rehotip’s place, and he says that the others won’t notice. Apparently he was keeping a secret spare mummy for emergencies, hidden in plain sight among the artifacts that his team is supposed to be carefully examining and cataloguing. These are not very efficient archaeologists.
There’s a long, maddening series of conversations between Anthony and Maggie about King Rehotip. Anthony says the pharoah must be dead by now, and Maggie says, I saw him from my window last night, so he’s still alive, and Anthony says, well, maybe he was alive last night, but he must be dead by now. As long as the monster that he personally reanimated is currently out of his line of sight, Anthony insists that it’s died and instantly disintegrated the second it disappeared from view. He does this many, many times. Professor Anthony Collins is a made-up fictional person, and yet I want to hit him in the face. How do you account for something like that?
Young David calls Maggie at lunchtime, and tells her that he saw “ghost tracks” in the snow when he was out skiing this morning. The tracks didn’t look like normal shoe prints, and they stumbled all around, leading into the cemetery. Maggie tells David not to go into the cemetery. He asks why, and she says, “It’s just that I think cemeteries aren’t proper places to ski.” This is not the appropriate warning for the current threat level.
Maggie takes a break from archaeology that afternoon to go skiing with David for a while, and he shows her the funny tracks. After a happy afternoon together, she sends him back to Collinwood, and then makes another in a string of unwise decisions.
It’s not quite dusk, so she figures she’ll go check out the cemetery before it gets dark, and then she’ll tell Barnabas what she found. But when she gets to the cemetery, she realizes that it’s getting dark quicker than she’d expected, because we are reading a book about a grown woman who doesn’t understand how the sun works.
Naturally, Rehotip is in the cemetery, and supernaturally, he grabs her with steel hands and lifts her off of her feet. And it’s pretty much game over for Maggie, except then Barnabas shows up, hurrah, and he says Egyptian words, and Rehotip kind of hisses and runs away, end of action sequence.
Barnabas and Maggie talk about Anthony, and his many excuses for not informing the authorities about the dangerous creature on the loose. Apparently, Anthony is the only person they know who can get a cell signal, because they don’t take any steps to call the police themselves. Barnabas asks how long Maggie plans to stay at the red brick house, and she says, “I don’t know. Not long. I would like to see this terrible situation cleared up before I leave.” But the terrible situation is the reason you should leave, I say out loud to these fictional people, but they don’t listen; they never do.
Barnabas walks Maggie back to Collinwood, where she has dinner with Roger and catches up on the local news. A girl was attacked in the village last night — one of the secretaries from the Collins plant — and given a savage kiss on the throat. The girl didn’t get a look at her attacker, but her condition was familiar — she was weakened and dazed, and had two red marks on her neck. So that means Cousin Barnabas was responsible, because Barnabas, as everyone in this book series knows, is a vampire.
“This is the first attack since that other time, and Barnabas is back here again.”
“But your secretary didn’t see who attacked her,” she pointed out. “It could have been anyone.”
Roger shook his head. “Not with those telltale marks on her neck and the strange feeling of dizziness she experienced. I call them Barnabas’ trademarks.”
“Then you’ve made up your mind.”
“I’m afraid so,” he admitted. “I want no scandal. But if Barnabas is going to slake his thirst for blood at the throats of young girls, he’d better do it somewhere else.” He frowned. “If only Barnabas would leave on his own. But I fear he won’t.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“I can’t let him remain here and expose us all to gossip and perhaps have him seized by the authorities. The Collins name is worth more than that.”
“I doubt if things will get that bad.”
“It will only need another attack or two,” Roger predicted moodily. “And if Barnabas is truly a vampire, those attacks are bound to come.”
And oh my god, what is the matter with you people? Everybody in this book is okay with the idea that dangerous monsters of their own creation are out slaughtering the innocent. It’s things like this that make townspeople reach for their torches and pitchforks.
Okay, what else? There’s some more Quentin/not Quentin conversation that I don’t need to trouble you with, and another round of wishful thinking with Anthony.
“King Rehotip did not perish from the cold as you’d hoped,” Maggie insisted. “He is still very much alive. He was hiding in the old cemetery, and now he’s taken refuge in the forest.”
Anthony frowned. “I can’t believe he’ll survive long. It’s not possible with the temperatures dropping to zero at night.”
Then Maggie goes to bed, satisfied with another day well-spent.
She awoke later to stare up into the darkness with alarm on her pretty face. Outside in the hallway, measured footsteps were coming in the direction of her door. The footsteps brought to her mind the limping and mutilated ancient king in his linen wrappings. Her flesh crept and she waited.
The footsteps halted outside her door and then she heard the door handle turned. She held her breath. After a moment the attempt to force the door ended, and the measured footsteps moved away.
She gasped with relief and lay back on her pillow. Who or what had it been? And why had they wanted to get into her room? Then a shrill cry, somewhere between a wail and a scream, came from outdoors. It lasted only a minute but it made her quake with fear for a second time. After that, there was a grim silence. And at last she again fell asleep.
So what do you even do with people like this? It’s unreal. She’s the most irresponsible heroine I’ve ever seen outside the Twilight series.
The screamer was Bessie, obviously; the girl was a born redshirt. In the morning, Harriet reports that someone dragged the maid outside, and threw her off the cliffs to a messy death on the rocks below. In other words: an entirely solveable mystery, if only the people who heard her scream would get out of bed, go downstairs and see what’s going on.
Maggie is sorry about Bessie’s death, but not, like, do anything about it sorry. She consults with Anthony, who tells her that it probably wasn’t King Rehotip anyway.
“I have been down to the beach and seen the body. So I know what I’m talking about.”
“What do you mean?”
Professor Collins’ pale blue eyes held that gleam of madness again. “I examined the body closely and I found two red marks on her throat.”
“Two red marks,” she echoed faintly.
“And you know what that means,” he said with malicious triumph. “Not Rehotip but Barnabas! It is Barnabas who leaves red marks on the throats he drains of blood!”
And then they find out that Professor Price is missing; nobody’s seen him since they learned about Bessie’s murder. Therefore, Price is the murderer, because that is how murder investigations work.
Turns out Price was Quentin after all, apparently, and he knew that the police would want to question everybody about Bessie’s murder, so he just ran away, and he doesn’t ever come back for the whole rest of the book. That is the end of Quentin’s participation in Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse; Barnabas and the mummy will have to take it from here.
Now, the obvious question is, why would Quentin come back to Collinwood in a transparent disguise and pretend to be an archaeologist, and then leave at the first sign of trouble? And the other obvious question is, why was Quentin in this book at all? The werewolf thing didn’t go anywhere — “Price” had a couple of funny turns and then Maggie saw a wolf, but once King Rehotip started marching around, everybody forgot about the possible-werewolf living under their roof.
The answer, I think, is that Paperback Library knew that Quentin was crazy popular, and they told Dan Ross to put him in all the Dark Shadows books from now on. So Barnabas Collins and the Mummy’s Curse becomes Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse, and Dan makes a little adjustment in the outline that he’s currently working from. Professor Price becomes Quentin in disguise, people talk about that occasionally, and otherwise the story just goes on as planned.
So the concept of “Quentin” has been drained of all meaning, even more than what’s happening on the show right now. Quentin is a name and a photo on the cover, a werewolf out of water, in a story that doesn’t need him. The title Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse implies that Barnabas and Quentin are the two main characters, either helping each other or fighting with each other, but it turns out to be just a list of three things that appear in the book. Quentin doesn’t even know that King Rehotip is walking around. He missed the actual storyline by a mile.
Oh, and then Maggie is driving from Collinwood to Anthony’s house, and King Rehotip is in the back seat, reaching out his withered brown hand to grab hold of her. She stops the car, runs out in a panic, and tells Anthony that the mummy is still on the loose.
“That’s a strange story!” says Anthony.
Things start to unravel at this point; there’s about twenty-five pages left, and some of the characters are still alive. This is swiftly corrected.
First, they find Harriet dead in the cellar, having apparently tripped on the stairs and broken her neck in the fall. Martin finds another pair of red marks on Harriet’s neck, so Anthony says that Barnabas killed Harriet, and we have that conversation all over again.
Maggie finds Barnabas down at the Blue Whale drinking a beer, and he tells her that he’s been keeping an eye on the pharoah.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time tracking your mad king down,” he said. “Contrary to what Anthony claimed, he’s still very much alive.”
“I knew it,” she said.
“A lot of his time is spent at the old cemetery.”
“So he’s gone back there.”
“There’s a tool shed in the far corner of the cemetery, away from the graves,” Barnabas told her. “Much of the time he’s been hiding in there. He seems to be afraid of the daylight. But after night he leaves the wooden shed and roams about widely.”
And murders people, presumably, and hides in the back seat of parked cars, unless that was the vampire, or the wolf man, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This is why they’re called Universal Monsters, because you can plug any of them into an action sequence, like it’s a USB port.
It’s all clear in the back seat as Maggie drives back to the red brick house, but when she arrives, King Rehotip is there on the lawn. But the real monster, as always, is inside the house.
She saw the angry distorted face and mad eyes of King Rehotip staring at her. His clawlike hands reached out toward her with more than a hint of menace.
Maggie screamed and backed away as the horror limped towards her. The thing opened its withered lips and made that shrill, shrieking cry again. She wheeled around and fled to the rear door, reaching it ahead of the pursuing monster.
Anthony Collins was standing in the middle of the room. She ran up to him and cried, “Rehotip! He’s outside. He chased me to the rear door. In a moment he would have caught up with me.”
“You’re telling me you saw Rehotip just now?”
“Out there!” she said, pointing dramatically.
“I find that hard to believe,” the professor said. “I heard nothing until your car pulled up a few minutes ago. Then you screamed just before you came in here.”
Well, what do you think she was screaming about, you madman? Christ! I guess you have to kill a guy to get Anthony’s attention.
Oh, and guess what happens next. Maggie and Anthony go downstairs to the cellar, and they find Professor Martin, slumped over one of the caskets. The feeble old man is dead; the ancient curse of Osiris has claimed another ancient victim. Final score: Professor Martin: 0, Curse mosquitos: 1.
Except Martin has two red marks on his neck!! which Maggie says doesn’t prove anything. Everything has marks, she patiently explains. Sometimes people just have marks; it’s a thing that happens and nobody can do anything about it.
“At least let us not give the story to the police until the morning,” Anthony said. “Otherwise we’ll have reporters flocking in on us in the middle of the night.”
Maggie listened to his serious words and decided this was a fair enough compromise. The authorities needn’t know that they had discovered James Martin’s body before going to bed. It could just as well be in the morning. “Very well,” she said.
And then they go to bed. I swear to all the agricultural gods, I don’t know what to do with these people. There are not enough laws to address this kind of behavior.
In the morning, Maggie decides that Barnabas should be the one who puts an end to the mad king, but she’ll have to wait until dusk to talk to him about it.
Barnabas would never consent to breaking the usual routine of remaining in the Old House until dusk. So if she were going to solicit his aid, she would have to wait until then.
More specifically, the police would have to wait until then. She decided to say nothing about the shed in the cemetery where Barnabas said Rehotip had been hiding. If the police found it on their own, well enough. If they didn’t, she would suggest at dusk that the aid of Barnabas Collins should be sought.
She had breakfast alone. Tea and toast were all she could manage.
So, again, I don’t even know. Words fail me.
“It would be helpful if you would keep this information secret until Rehotip is captured,” Professor Collins said to the inspector. “If the press gets word of it the whole business could turn into a mad carnival.”
The inspector looked indignant. “It’s mad enough as it is. And how long do you think I can manage to keep this secret if I tell my men we’re looking for a fugitive madman born two thousand years ago!”
Maggie suggested, “Can’t you merely say that you’re looking for an insane man?”
I HAVE ALREADY FOUND AN INSANE MAN, shouts the inspector, and locks up every single character in the book.
The police don’t find anything, obviously, because Maggie doesn’t tell them where the creature is, but after dusk, Barnabas leads them straight to the tool shed in the cemetery and sets it on fire, and then the inspector and the mummy fight to the death in the blazing ruins, and Barnabas has to go in and carry the policeman out of the shack before it collapses. He’s probably fine.
So that takes care of the mummy, but there’s still the matter of three or four mysterious killings to solve, and you’ll never guess who the murderer turns out to be. It was the lizard!
Tomorrow: A Helping Hound.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the beginning of the episode, Carolyn is lying in bed, asleep. Then we see somebody on the right nudge the bed with a rolled-up script, which is her cue to get up and start the scene.
Sky tells Carolyn, “I’m staying up until Miss — until Angelique gets back.”
It’s storming like crazy all over the place — huge thunderclaps in every scene — but nobody’s wet. Bruno goes wandering around in the woods with his fur coat on, and when he comes back to Collinwood, he’s perfectly dry.
After Liz goes upstairs to bed, Jeb and Bruno walk forward past their marks, and stand in half-shadow.
The DS comic panels in today’s post are from “Awake to Evil” in Gold Key’s Dark Shadows issue #6, published in August 1970. That makes three Dark Shadows Barnabas vs. Mummy stories published in a little over a year — Mummy’s Curse, “Awake to Evil” and the comic strip story from May 1971, where it’s revealed that Barnabas actually is the god Osiris.
Tomorrow: A Helping Hound.
— Danny Horn