Episode 1178: The Mary Sue

“Linger, my friend, while I tell you my fascinating thoughts.”

“Mr. Collins, are you there?” calls Lamar Trask, talking to a brick wall. He’s excited, this is his first murder.

Trask has walled up the trans-temporal eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins in a basement alcove, for vengeance purposes. First he thought that Barnabas murdered his father, the Reverend Trask, fifty years ago. Now he knows that Barnabas isn’t a vampire, but he still thinks that Barnabas is responsible for his father’s death. Or maybe it was Barnabas’ father who was responsible. It’s not clear to me what Trask thinks. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, one way or another.

“Mr. Collins, something has occurred to me,” he continues. “Something I think you might find interesting. Shall I tell you?” From behind the wall, Barnabas says yes. Apparently he’s still taking calls.

“Good,” Trask smirks. “You’re not dead yet. Linger, my friend, while I tell you my fascinating thoughts.” Which kind of sounds like what I’m saying, at this point in the blog.

Because Dark Shadows isn’t dead yet, either, but it’s not feeling very well. This storyline has another four weeks to run, and then they’re heading into an unloved Parallel Hell from which no viewer escapes. Jonathan Frid doesn’t want to play Barnabas Collins anymore, and a Dark Shadows without Barnabas Collins is unthinkable. This problem is not solved to anyone’s satisfaction.

But while the show still lingers, I have a number of fascinating thoughts that I’d like to share about what comes afterwards: the books and comic books and audio dramas that will fill the days and nights of our tomorrows. This is the War for Dark Shadows, a neverending battle through time itself to define what Dark Shadows will be, when it’s not broadcast on ABC daytime anymore. There’s a lot of it, and in the coming months, you’re going to get as much of it as I can manage. I mean, it beats watching the show.

Today’s unhappy ending is called Dreams of the Dark, a 1999 novel published by HarperCollins, a grownup publishing company which you’d think would have known better. This is the second of two Dark Shadows novels that HC delivered to the world at the close of the century, as the show’s fortunes were reviving on cable and home video.

Last week, we discussed the first HarperCollins novel, Lara Parker’s Angelique’s Descent. That book told the secret backstory of the sinister sorceress Angelique, as written by the actress who created her, and it was an uneven success, with some beautiful and wholly original ideas mixed in with some appalling racial stereotypes, plus the last seven chapters are basically just a novelization of the show. Still, it was good enough, and Dark Shadows fans are nostalgic enough, for it to be accepted as a reasonable spinoff of the show that we love.

And then comes Dreams of the Dark. It’s written by Stephen Mark Rainey and Elizabeth Massie, two horror writers who had published a lot in the horror fiction press. It was Rainey’s first novel; for Massie, this was maybe her sixth, published the same year as her Buffy the Vampire Slayer tie-in novel, Power of Persuasion. Most of the time, with spinoff novels for cult television shows, you get a lot of writers in their early career, often people who wrote fan fiction for a while and are now breaking into the business. This is perfectly normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.

And yet, and yet, and yet… Dreams of the Dark.

Prologue

How I love you, Barnabas Collins. How deeply I’ve always loved you.

How I despise you. You betrayed me. Abandoned me.

Yeah, it’s Angelique, saying all the stuff you’d probably expect. She’s in hell at the moment, and the head office wants her to stay put.

She has done so much for them, these unnameable dark forces for whom she has lived — and yes, even died — to serve, to master.

But has she not also disobeyed their calling? Has she not deigned to put her own interests above theirs? How many times, over how many years? But don’t they understand? Can they not know what it means to feel?

To love?

There’s ten pages of this, a stump speech for a campaign of chaos and destruction, which you’d think I’d be used to in 2020. But it still rubs me the wrong way, especially after reading Angelique’s Descent.

I mean, “can they not know what it means to feel?” would be a terrible line anyway, but coming straight after a whole book made up of a fairly lyrical stream of Angelique’s consciousness, it’s even more clunky and off-putting. I get that we may not need the word “chiaroscuro” in every book, but Angelique isn’t a green-skinned alien girl pining after Captain Kirk with “show me what it means to love” jungle-girl dialogue, and we shouldn’t treat her like she is. Ten pages.

Here’s where it gets a little more ornate:

She can still reach out with her mind, quest for those strands of power that run like conduits through her abysmal prison. She seeks just one of them, focuses on it, forming in her mind the shape of a many-spoked mandala, tracing one of them until it can lead her to the outlet she so desperately seeks.

There.

A darkness within darkness, yet so different in nature as to be almost brilliant — blinding. As her senses adjust, she explores the sensations, the revelations it might hold in store for her. She hears its pulse, the fuguelike music emanating from its onyx heart. She listens to the truths there, and begins to see…

Yes.

Her will is strong, her desire beyond anything even remotely human. She reaches out.

She makes contact.

The result is like something physical, even in this ethereal form she occupies. A rush of hot, orgasmic energy rolling like a thunderous ocean tide, sweeping over her and carrying her on waves of wondrous, beautiful sensation…

Holy cow. I know that exploring fuguelike music emanating from a blinding darkness’ onyx heart is exciting. I think we’ve all explored that at one time or another. Still, keep it together. It’s only page nine; we have a lot of book to get through.

Chapter 1

My name is Victoria Winters. For two centuries the great house of Collinwood has stood high atop Widow’s Hill…

So here’s where the reader says, wait, hold up. You’re not doing that, are you? They are. They do one paragraph with Vicki describing the house, and then they do a second paragraph in italics that goes like this:

Now, one young woman has been stricken by a terrible fear of night, for reasons she can neither understand nor accept without a challenge. But in discovering the truth behind her fear, she may encounter a danger more pervasive, more menacing

and so on. It’s ghastly. Big Finish can get away with doing these on the episodic serials like Bloodlust and Bloodline, because they’re about to play the theme song and it’s mostly tongue in cheek anyway. But doing it in a book like this, and actually meaning it, is just not okay. It communicates that you think this is what the fans want, and there is a terrible risk that you might be correct.

Anyway, here’s Vicki.

“Vicki, Barnabas is downstairs. He wants to see you.”

Victoria Winters turned from the darkening landscape outside her bedroom window and looked at the doorway. A young blond woman stood with her brightly painted fingers pressed against the frame. Carolyn was in her early twenties, slender and attractive, with a slight air of haughtiness about her, dressed in an expensive yet casual pair of slacks and a tight red angora sweater. Carolyn always did know how to attract attention.

Vicki, on the other hand, thought of herself as plain, with brown eyes and long brown hair, and simpler outfits fitting her position as a governess. She did not polish her nails, she wore very little makeup on the delicate features of her face, and although others had described her as comely, it was a label with which she did not feel altogether comfortable.

And that, I think, is the moment that you flip to the back of the book to see how many pages are left. (The answer, I’m afraid, is three hundred and sixty-four.) I don’t know if it’s the achingly low self-esteem, the word “comely” or the phrase “a label with which she did not feel”, but it makes you want to murder yourself, and that is an impulse with which I do not feel altogether like putting up. Not on page 14, anyway.

This is what I’m doing today, by the way, just sitting here disassembling this frankly terrible book, and I’m probably going to be doing it for a while. I’d completely understand if you want to bail at this point, and skip ahead to tomorrow’s post. I’m doing the Tim Burton movie in a couple days, you could come back for that. I mean, you’re welcome to stick around, obviously; I just want to make sure that you know there’s an off-ramp. I have to do this either way, because of my entirely self-imposed dedication to do something that nobody has technically ever asked me to do.

Anyway, back to Vicki, who’s looking out the window at the gathering dusk. For the last week, she’s been doing this every day, just watching the shadows lengthen, because she feels that if she’s not sufficiently attentive, something harmful will materialize. Carolyn calls this “night jitters”. We’re going to hear a lot about it, in the course of the coming chapters.

Then there’s a scene with David playing a prank on Vicki, and then asking her to help him make a Dracula costume for Halloween. David is twelve years old and acting like a brat, and Barnabas is waiting to see Vicki downstairs, so those are some clues offered to help the reader figure out when this story is supposed to be taking place.

It takes a long time to pin that down, and it isn’t a very satisfying answer when you get there, so I’m going to skip ahead and just tell you right up front that this is a week after Vicki gets back from 1795, except that it’s not.

This book takes place in a little backwater cul de sac outside of time, where Vicki doesn’t consciously remember her uncertain and frightening journey into the past. That’s why she has the night jitters, because she learned that Barnabas is a vampire, but now she’s back in the present day and she’s forgotten the whole thing.

Now, if you recall the actual episode when Vicki returned from the past, most of the drama surrounded Julia Hoffman — psychiatrist, blood specialist, faux family historian and the greatest character in fiction — who took that very moment to rip off her terrible wig, and take command of the narrative. That doesn’t happen in this novel. In fact, Julia doesn’t exist in this fictional world at all. Neither does Dr. Lang, or Peter Bradford, or Professor Stokes, or any of the other characters that populated that incendiary April.

David isn’t afraid of Barnabas, either, and there’s no sign of Sarah. Nobody mentions Maggie’s recent disappearance, and Roger definitely hasn’t married a brunette named Cassandra. There’s just Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn and David, living peacefully in their quiet mansion, with a governess who’s prone to night jitters. Barnabas lives in the Old House on the estate with his servant Willie, and he hopes to seduce Vicki into becoming his Josette someday, and that is the sum total of the current drama at the start of this book. Vicki went, she saw, she returned, and she forgot, and now life goes on, without any of those troublesome characters or plot points that plagued the show during this period.

This is a stable island of pseudo-history, where all of the characters’ concerns and storylines have been gently brushed away, leaving them as dolls who can be arranged around the breakfast table, memories wiped and neuroses resolved.

It’s easy to write “Missing Adventures” for shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who, because there are lots of little narrative gaps between episodes where you can shoehorn any number of extra stories. You can’t really do that on a soap opera, because there are always continuous overlapping storylines, especially this soap opera in particular. That’s why Angelique’s Descent takes place after the end of the show, and a lot of Big Finish’s audios find little outposts in the lives of individual characters, before or after we saw them on screen.

Postulating an ahistorical “time out” period when all the characters stood still is perfectly reasonable, of course; it’s Rainey and Massie’s novel and they can do what they like with it. But in that case, they’d better have something in mind that’s more interesting than Barnabas and Dr. Lang plotting to saw off Jeff Clark’s head and attach it to a Frankenstein so that Barnabas can use that body to escape from Roger’s new wig-wearing wife and steal Vicki away from her amnesiac time-travelling defense attorney, and that is not easy to accomplish. But hey, if you want to compete with April 1968, then go ahead. It’s your funeral.

Vicki heads downstairs and into the drawing room, for the obligatory description of Barnabas Collins.

Barnabas stood in the middle of the room, his shoulders draped in the black caped coat he usually wore, the silver handle of his walking cane clutches in his left hand. This brooding, handsome, dark-haired man had never been anything but gentle and thoughtful to Victoria, and though her heart was drawn to him and urged her to go forward, something in her soul was repelled and forced her to keep her distance.

So there you go. Page 23, right on schedule: Barnabas is handsome. People who write Dark Shadows novels are always very insistent about how handsome Barnabas is. His first Paperback Library gothic, Barnabas Collins, called him handsome 24 times — that’s a record so far, with Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon and Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock trailing at 18 and 16, respectively.

This doesn’t only apply to Paperback Library books; Angelique’s Descent managed to rack up 4 handsomes. But for Dreams of the Dark, this is Barnabas’ only handsome, which makes it the worst Dark Shadows book that we’ve read so far. I’m sorry, but that’s how it works.

Barnabas is here to tell Vicki that he senses danger for her, that evil is brewing, and that he fears she may stumble into it. In other words, he doesn’t want her to go to the Blue Whale tonight with Carolyn.

Chapter 2

Here’s where we meet the other main character of the book: Thomas Rathburn, a vampire from Atlanta, as played by Ian Somerhalder of The Vampire Diaries. This book was published ten years before the show, but this is pretty much who they had in mind; he’s dark and smoldery and super into himself.

Rathburn’s on a train going from Georgia to Maine, and the first thing that we know about him is that he can handle sunlight. “To his left,” the book says, “the last rays of sunlight lanced the train windows, prickling the exposed skin of his hands and face.” I’m not sure that’s what lanced means.

He’s wearing sunglasses, a duster and a western hat, which is his usual daytime wardrobe. He can still function in the day, but the rays of the sun are uncomfortable, so he has to wrap up like this during the daylight hours.

He hasn’t eaten for a while, and he cannot deny his need any longer, so he goes looking for a passenger he can snack on. He chooses “a lovely young thing, probably thirty years old, a businesswoman on her way to see family, perhaps.” Make what you can out of that.

From his reading of her, she was certainly not anticipating any romantic encounter, but would hardly refuse his advances. To her discriminating eye, he would appear attractive, his tall body, finely engraved features, and thick hair pleasing to her taste. She would want him.

So this is how it works, for the delicious Thomas Rathburn.

Rathburn slid back his compartment door and stepped out, blocking her path without appearing threatening. He put on a somewhat abashed expression, his catlike, green eyes gazing deeply into hers, which were a cool sea blue. “Excuse me,” he said softly.

“May I help you?” Her voice was a refined, bell-like chime.

“Good evening. My name is Thomas Rathburn. I couldn’t help but notice you were alone. Since you and I are both about to have dinner, I was hoping I might convince you to join me.”

There’s a bit more flirting, and then this:

For a moment her eyes tried to resist his, testing his will. When she found she could not turn away, her lips parted slightly in surprise. He lifted his hand, expecting her to place her hand in his. A moment later she did.

“Step inside with me, please.”

As he backed into the compartment, she followed, her gaze never wavering. Once they were both inside, he closed the door and slowly drew the shades facing the corridor. He could feel her rising fear and anticipation, and drank in the sensation with relish. With a gentle hand he brushed a streamer of silvery blond hair from her slim neck, saw the faint pulsing of her jugular vein, which increased its rhythm with every passing second.

I swear to God, there is not a single interesting sentence in this whole book. This is a fantasy-metaphor rape scene with a very thin fantasy-metaphor, and there has got to be a way to describe this kind of thing that would be poetic or romantic or disturbing, or anything besides entirely flat. When he’s done, it says:

He needed more. But somehow he forced down his desire. His hunger could wait. He had waited far, far longer before, and probably would wait so again.

I mean, this is the 90s. Watch Highlander, or something. There’s got to be a simile you could steal. Just tell them you’ll put it back when you’re done with it.

Then there’s a long section about the writers’ favorite subject, which is how awesome Thomas Rathburn is.

Dear God, no, he never brought them over. He had forsworn such practices long ago, knowing that new initiates to his breed tended to harm rather than strengthen its chances of a prosperous longevity. This age’s humans were stupid, arrogant, pathetic things that brought most of their baggage with them when they changed.

On the rare occasion when one of his kind sought to stake a claim in his territory, Rathburn drove him out, and at least once had even destroyed the intruder. Of the small number of undead individuals that walked the earth, most of them knew of Rathburn and respected him. Though some of them were older than he, few had the resources to pit themselves against him, if confrontation they wished.

Now, that doesn’t sound particularly likely to me. There are a small number of undead people, and the number gets smaller whenever he’s around, but everybody knows Rathburn and respects him, all over the earth. How does the word spread? Did the undead have Twitter in 1968?

But that is the main theme of this book, that Thomas Rathburn is bigger and stronger and hotter and more cunning than anything else the world has ever seen, including you. He could cut through you like a knife, dominating you through the power of his mind alone, scorching the earth with his majesty and presence and flawless use of hair care products. Rathburn thinks that you suck. That is a thing that you need to understand about Rathburn.

Like only a scant few of his kindred, Rathburn enjoyed a special advantage over almost any adversary, living or undead: the ability to move about in daylight. Though painstakingly developed over the years by his own determination, he suspected the trait had actually been transferred to him by the one who originally turned him from human to Vampire. Unlike most of his breed, he hardly needed to sleep in a coffin by day. In fact, being able to show himself in full daylight allowed him to maintain a lifestyle that placed him virtually above suspicion.

Oh, right, the lifestyle. I need to tell you about the lifestyle.

To maintain his mundane presence, he had, over the years, acquired a respectable degree of wealth, through various enterprises in which he’d had the foresight to involve himself. Shortly after his Rebirth, he had settled in Atlanta. Before long, he invested in numerous ventures that would grow on their own.

As time went by he participated in industries — virtually always as an absentee partner — that promised future prosperity, such as telephones, electronics, and now mass media publications.

So yes, he’s Ted Turner, with an Atlanta-based media empire, which he’s built without ever actually showing up for work.

He lived, not in some dark, forbidding manse, but in an opulent suite, designed to suit his own special needs, in one of Atlanta’s premier downtown hotels — of which he was part owner.

Of course he was. There is seriously nothing about Thomas Rathburn that is not awesome. He probably owns the train, too.

So it is time for us to speak of Mary Sue, a cautionary tale of fan fiction hubris.

In 1973, Paula Smith wrote a brief story called “A Trekkie’s Tale” for her Star Trek fanzine, Menagerie. The spoof featured Lieutenant Mary Sue, the youngest lieutenant in Starfleet history, who is beautiful and talented in every way — saving the main cast of the show from certain death, winning the heart of Captain Kirk, and successfully running the Enterprise while the chief officers are all out sick. She dies at the end, and the final sentence is “Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday on the Enterprise.”

A few years later, Menagerie expanded on the definition of the Mary Sue story:

The adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.

The important and embarrassing truth about a Mary Sue is that she’s transparently the author’s personal fantasy-figure. If you daydream, as normal people do, that you are a new guest at Collinwood, let’s say somebody’s nephew, who gradually wins the heart of Quentin Collins as he realizes that he’s never met anyone who understands him the way that you do, and you save him and all the characters that you like from some existential threat with your special powers, and then fall into his arms as he promises that he loves you more deeply than anyone else he’s ever known and he’s never really been that interested in girls anyway, then you know what a thrilling and emotionally sustaining thing that kind of story can be, in your daily life.

It is also deeply personal, and should never be shared outside your own head under any circumstances. It exposes all of your self-esteem issues and disquieting rape fantasies, and if you’re not careful, someone will make it into a movie starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.

And that’s the explanation for the finely engraved Thomas Rathburn, tall and broad-shouldered and relentlessly seductive, world-famous both as an entrepreneur and as a supernatural serial killer, who will instantly and irreparably win the heart of his chosen fantasy-metaphor life mate, Victoria Winters. He even dies at the end of the story, having saved her and Barnabas and everyone at Collinwood from certain destruction. I bet he’d be great on the Enterprise.

Still, why would this magical man take time off from his fantastic train-setting lifestyle to visit a backwater like Collinsport, Maine? To explain that, we’re going to need to sit through a couple of visions.

Outside the train windows, darkness had fallen complete. His eyes, however, could see distant points of light, warm auras, subtle nuances of shadow that no mortal eye could ever discern.

Of course he can. I bet you didn’t even realize that looking at nuances of shadow was a competition.

A town lay not far ahead, he knew, and something in his blood began to warm, to insinuate that his journey might be drawing to an end. Suddenly, as had happened so many times over the course of the last few days, his vision changed, and in a rapid-fire burst of intermingled images, he saw:

A dark-haired, willowy young woman standing in the midst of tall trees bearing the red leaves of autumn.

A sprawling mansion atop cliffs that overlooked a raging, storm-racked ocean.

A faceless man in a cape, holding a cane with a silver handle in the shape of a wolf’s head.

And then, strangely, he caught the scent of lilac, like a sweet perfume; a distinctly feminine fragrance, obviously not from within the train car, but from somewhere out there.

From the same source as the visions themselves?

So it turns out that somebody (Angelique) has been reaching out through strands of power that run like conduits through a many-spoked mandala to contact a darkness within darkness, hearing the fuguelike music emanating from its onyx heart, and this right here is what all of that malarkey accomplished.

Dear Mr. Rathburn: Vicki, Collinwood, Barnabas, lilacs. That is what Angelique has successfully communicated.

Second vision: a trio of Union soldiers broke into his house and killed his family, while he was out fighting for the Confederacy.

Oh, right, that’s another thing about Rathburn; he was an officer in the Confederate Army. So file that away in your “facts that I know about Thomas Rathburn” folder.

His beautiful young wife, Elaine, screaming in terror as a trio of blue-coated figures burst through the door of her home, each wielding muskets or machetes. Their two-year-old son, Michael, running and screaming in terror as the men grabbed his mother and threw her brutally against a wall, knocking her senseless.

As so often happens, the heartless Union soldiers shot the boy in the head, took turns raping Elaine, killed her with a bayonet, and then stole a bunch of stuff, including her wedding ring and some corn. They even slammed the door on their way out. Union soldiers are dicks; everyone knows that.

So that’s why Rathburn’s on his way to Collinsport. He tried at the time to figure out who murdered his family, unsuccessfully, so now he’s tattooed JOHN G. RAPED AND MURDERED MY WIFE on his chest, and he’s decided that following the lilac vision will finally deliver the guilty parties, or their descendants, for the purposes of long-sought, gruesome vengeance. The fact that he rapes and murders people all the time does not seem to trouble him; irony is not a factor in the outlook of the revenge vampire.

Chapter 3

The air inside the Blue Whale was warm and thick with the smells of fried fish and spilled beer.

In case you were wondering. We switch back to Vicki’s point of view now — we’re going to do this, every other chapter — and it’s not any more fun that it was before. She’s gone out with Carolyn to a local nightspot, and she’s not enjoying herself.

Carolyn picked up a sticky, laminated drink menu from between the salt and pepper shakers, then crammed it back. “I know what I want,” she said. “How about you?”

“Oh, I think I’ll have a white wine,” Victoria replied. “And perhaps a slice of pumpkin pie.”

Carolyn put her chin in her hand. “You look good in that sweater,” she said matter-of-factly. “Sexy. You’re going to attract attention.”

Victoria looked down at herself. Sexy? She hadn’t thought she looked sexy.

Hey, there’s nothing sexier than a glass of wine and some pumpkin pie. Am I right? Two girls on the town.

Carolyn talks about men for a minute, and then Chris Jennings stops by their table to say hi. Don’t worry about it; it’s irrelevant fanservice and it’s just something to do while we’re waiting for the pie.

Peggy brought the glasses of wine, a bowl full of fat, salted pretzels, and a large slice of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream. Victoria cut off the tip of the pie and put it in her mouth. It was warm and sweet, and she let it dissolve on her tongue, savoring the flavor.

“Good?” Carolyn asked.

“Wonderful,” Victoria said. She took another bite, closing her eyes and chewing slowly. At last, she began to feel more relaxed. The anxiety that had become so much a part of her existence began to loosen and flow away.

Man, talk about horror. A bowl full of fat? What the hell is that about? Well, never mind; I’m just glad that somebody finally has the courage to tell the truth about the healing properties of a good piece of pumpkin pie.

And then who should walk in but the hottest man in any room?

Victoria looked over. The man, who was perusing the drink menu at the table not five feet away, was clearly a newcomer to Collinsport. He was striking, with locks of hair pouring from beneath a wide-brimmed western hat, a long gray duster that reminded Victoria of something from the Civil War, and a pair of dark glasses. He put the menu down, removed his hat and then his glasses, placed them on the chair next to him, and then turned slowly to stare directly at her.

Oh, my God.

I know, right? It’s a big deal, getting your first look at a five-alarm Mary Sue. Turns out Vicki’s really liked hats all this time, and she had no idea. A Mary Sue will do that to you. You should hear what Angel, Oliver Queen, Diego Hargreeves and Patrick from Schitt’s Creek thought of me, the first time they saw me.

Thomas Rathburn stood but did not join Carolyn on the bench. Instead, he pulled his chair to the end of the booth. He sat back and folded his hands on the tabletop. “I suspect you don’t usually have a stranger sitting down to have a bite to eat with you. Do you recommend the pumpkin pie, Miss Winters?” He was staring directly at her again, without hesitation.

Oh my God, he even likes pumpkin pie. Could they be any more perfect for each other?

Chapter 4

Victoria Winters.

Without question she had been the one in his visions. Even before he allowed her and her companion to perceive his presence in the bar, he had begun exploring her psychic vibrations, and like a raiment, she wore the aura of having been brushed by the supernatural in the past.

So add that to the list of things that Thomas Rathburn can do, exploring people’s psychic vibrations to check out the aura of things that they’ve been brushed by. In Vicki’s case, it’s the supernatural, but it could be anything; people get brushed a lot, way more than you think.

And he knew, too, that he would enjoy delving deeper into her heart and soul. A fascinating and most appetizing creature, young Victoria.

Okay, great. So then he goes outside and looks for somebody to drink.

Now he could feel his eyes radiating the fire of his pain, and his retractable fangs had fully extended of their own accord.

Oh God.

He was completely in the grip of the blood lust; there could be no disguising it.

God almighty, this is hell. Perhaps he should have risked draining the woman in the train after all. For the moment, he had to recover himself before he could venture into the night again without risk of exposure. This far gone, it was hard. Too damned hard.

He slid to the brine-stained plank floor amid a number of bundled fishing nets, seeking desperately to regain mastery of his body.

So honestly, I don’t know why vampires brag so much about being immortal and super strong, when talking to a girl in a bar gives them such a blood boner that they get caught in fishing nets that are just lying around on the ground. Who even needs a hammer and stake, when you’ve got a governess and a fishing net? I hope his media empire doesn’t find out about this.

Then there’s a long flashback of how Rathburn got turned into a vampire, after being shot by Yankees at the battle of something or other in Virginia. His friend and lieutenant and possible man-crush made Rathburn drink the blood of a vanquished enemy, and said a bunch of magic words. Later on, Rathburn killed his friend. It doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that Thomas Rathburn is a super cool dude who bravely fought to defend the institution of slavery.

Then he kills a random fisherman, and dumps him off the pier. I bet that guy’s husband is about to embark on a vengeance spree now, too. I don’t know what TV show continuity he’ll barge into; I wonder if Once Upon a Time has an opening.

Chapter 5

Naturally, Carolyn has invited Rathburn to stay in the caretaker’s cottage on the Collinwood estate, because it’s Dark Shadows and you need to get all the important characters on-property. The audience demands characters within easy walking distance; the one thing that’s sure to kill melodrama is a commute.

Carolyn came around the boxwood hedge, her face lit up and flushed. “I told Uncle Roger about Thomas Rathburn. I asked him if we could offer the man the cottage for his stay.”

“And he said no,” Victoria said. “I could have told you that. I gave it a lot of thought last night after we got home. We don’t know the man at all, Carolyn, only that he looks good and seems nice enough. There isn’t a women’s magazine on earth that would advise you to offer an invitation to a stranger that would allow him to take up residence on your property.”

“You’re wrong, Uncle Roger didn’t say no,” Carolyn said with pursed lips. “He said he wanted to meet Thomas and then decide.”

Victoria heart jumped with unexpected excitement. She said, “Your uncle doesn’t read many women’s magazines, does he?”

I’m highlighting that as the only joke in the book; it’s not a laugh riot, but it exists and at least there’s one.

So it turns out this story is from the Paperback Library after all; the gothics focus almost exclusively on how awful it is when guests arrive at a spooky old castle. Some are told from the perspective of a nice person arriving at a castle owned by terrible people; some from the perspective of a nice person living in a castle that is afflicted with terrible guests. The innovation here is that Dreams of the Dark is told from both perspectives at the same time; Rathburn is the dreadful intruder coming to stay, and Vicki is the dreadful employee welcoming that guest.

Vicki is treated here like a proper gothic heroine, which is to say that she has no redeeming features. She’s timid, passive, virginal, subject to unrealistic frights, judgmental and easily persuadable; the best that you can say is that she’s comely, and she doesn’t even like it when you say that. And yet the supernatural has marked her as essential, in a way that makes no real sense except that she’s the heroine of a gothic novel.

It makes sense that Rainey and Massie would write a paperback gothic, given the original inspiration for the show, but the problem is that gothic romances aren’t any good, and we don’t need more of them. If HarperCollins’ ambition for this book line is to publish a new set of Paperback Library novels, then it’s a waste of time, because that is not the Dark Shadows that people actually like.

Then the book says, “Carolyn picked up the flower Victoria had dropped and rolled it between her hands. Petals fell like rain.” Really? Because rain falls from the fucking sky.

Chapter 6

Sorry, I’m letting this book get to me; I should be more professional. There’s several more pages of fanservice, with Mr. Wells at the Collinsport Inn and Sheriff Patterson wanting to, but not actually, questioning Rathburn about the mysterious death of that fisherman, a mystery which Patterson will never solve.

And then the chauffeur, Jake Stiles, as played by James Storm, shows up to drive Rathburn to Collinwood. The book says that “the driver was a coarse-looking young man with longish auburn hair, thick lips, and narrow eyes,” which is cute. He doesn’t do anything. There are other little callouts to Dark Shadows cast and crew throughout the book — the waitress was named Peggy Kaplan after director Henry Kaplan, Liz goes to see a lawyer named DiCenzo after the assistant producer of House of Dark Shadows, there’s a Braithwaite Road and so on. Stiles’ tour through cinema Collinwood goes past the old swimming pool and the abandoned greenhouse, too. It doesn’t make me like the book any better.

They arrive at the house, where Rathburn does a quick check of the set: high ceiling, chandelier, coatrack by the entry, table, grandfather clock, stairs to the right, stained-glass window over the balcony, all present and correct. Then he starts in on the family.

As he drank he let his hypersensitive receptors absorb the psychic emanations from Roger Collins, who would be quite unaware he was being so thoroughly scrutinized. Rathburn quickly decided that this man had no close involvement with any supernatural force, at least not that might concern him.

But Elizabeth… she contained many secrets; deep and puzzling ones. It would take more than a cursory exploration of the reverberations from her psyche to determine whether she might be connected to his visions. She presented herself as confident, but there was great insecurity lurking behind the forced facade.

As we know, Thomas Rathburn has all the superpowers, now including the ability to take soundings of people that he meets via their emanations, using some kind of bat-related echolocation of the soul.

And what of Victoria? He hoped she would appear soon, for she certainly was the most enigmatic, most alluring, creature he’d encountered in a long, long time.

Which I don’t even know what to say about that. I mean, Vicki’s fine, but I’m not sure I’d drive all the way up from Atlanta to explore her reverberations. But Rathburn is super into her.

Vicki looked radiant in a black, low-cut dress, her dark hair cascading elegantly over her slim shoulders, her face bearing only the faintest traces of makeup to highlight her natural beauty.

Christ. He had seen beautiful women, fed on beautiful women countless times over countless years, yet nothing and no one had moved him as this one did. Perhaps it was having seen her in visions long before actually meeting her, intensified by some effect worked by the unknown sender. Or perhaps the mystery behind the psychic waves she exuded lent an attraction to which he was entirely unaccustomed in a mortal.

So, I don’t know. My tastes run more towards the Gerards and Quentins, so I can’t speak for how realistic this evaluation is. But I’m sure there are people who dig Vicki in some kind of pivotal governess fantasy way, and if so then this book should speak to their depths like nothing before. There is a lot of this.

Then we’ve got about ten pages of Rathburn having dinner with the Collins family, where everyone acts according to stereotype. Carolyn is smarting over Rathburn choosing Vicki, and she’s a little catty. David teases Carolyn. Roger is impressed by rich dudes, and Liz is restrained. None of these people have stories of their own. Rathburn goes to the bathroom to regurgitate everything that he ate, and also at one point he thinks that children are howling monkeys and he’s glad that he kills them sometimes.

Chapter 7

Back to Vicki’s point of view, as she takes an evening stroll up to the cottage with Rathburn.

I think Thomas likes me, she thought. This is incredible. I think he likes me, but I’m trembling like a leaf. Get hold of yourself, Vicki. All you need is just a fraction of Elizabeth’s or Carolyn’s self-confidence.

“The estate has quite a history,” she said, breaking the silence.

So that’s how that goes. She takes him up to Widows’ Hill, and then becomes agitated about it.

“I’ve had hallucinations, strange memories, of having been here at Collinwood in the distant past.” She broke away, moving back several feet. This was all too intense, too intimate.

But he stepped up to her and touched her shoulder. “Yes?”

She had no choice but to continue. “I don’t mean dreams, mind you, but recollections so real that sometimes I remember a taste, a smell, a touch as if it were happening again. They are frightening memories and they are sad. If they are even memories.”

That’s the big reveal about where we are in the show’s history. She doesn’t say anything about Peter, or any specific person, just that she knew people of the past. He tells her, “in all my life experiences, I’ve never found reason to rule out the extraordinary.” And then it just trails off and they talk about something else.

The scene also establishes a crucial element of the Mary Sue genre: that Vicki has never felt this way before.

Why did she feel so strange around this man? Why did she feel wonderful and nervous at the same time? Was this what it felt like to fall in love? She couldn’t remember ever truly falling in love before. There was one man, Burke Devlin, whom she’d known for a while when she first arrived in Collinsport. Had she loved him, and he her? She thought maybe they would have come to that had he not been killed in a plane crash.

So the fact that Burke and Vicki said that they loved each other and were planning to get married two weeks ago in story time is I guess just dropped down the memory hole. This comes up a lot in my personal Mary Sue fantasies, too; you wouldn’t believe how many fictional guys have confessed that they have never actually experienced love, until they met me. It’s like an epidemic or something. Also, they’re usually cool with a three-way.

They walked back to the lane, through a narrow line of trees and onto the wet grass of a vast, sloping stretch of lawn.

“There are no snakes this time of year,” Victoria said. “Don’t worry, they should be hibernating by now, not out on the prowl looking for ankles to bite or pant legs to run up.”

Thomas laughed. “I’m not worried.”

Vicki thinks that at certain times of the year, snakes look for pant legs to run up. And now you know what Victoria Winters believes about snakes.

Chapter 8

Rathburn and Vicki walk back to the great house, and Rathburn has his first direct encounter with Barnabas Collins. It goes pretty much how you’d think, with some vague “I never drink… wine” moments like

“I see,” Barnabas replied, a flicker of wariness in his eyes. “There isn’t much in Collinsport to occupy a young man such as yourself, I wouldn’t think.”

“I keep hearing that. But believe me, it may be just the change I am looking for. I’m not as young as I look.”

and

“I’m sure you have many interesting tales to tell. About life in the South.”

“Yes, I’m sure we could learn a lot from each other. Until another time, then.”

We make it through that sequence more or less unscathed, and then Rathburn goes into the cottage for the first time, and we get some more bulletins from the press office.

He took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the almost total darkness, his supersensitive night vision beginning to take in his surroundings with a clarity that in some ways surpassed his eyesight in the light. Augmented by his keen hearing, his perception of distance became more acute, with objects assuming crystalline shadow patterns that defined space as clearly as if under direct sunlight.

And okay fine we get it, being a vampire is super cool and Rathburn is the coolest of all. They don’t say anything about being a race car driver or how much wood he can chop, but they’re probably working up to it.

Chapter 9

It’s date night, and Rathburn takes Vicki out to the Pennock Supper Club, nudge nudge.

I wish the girls who grew up with me could see me now, she thought as Rathburn pulled out her chair. They would never believe little Vicki Winters was out for the evening with this handsome man. I hardly believe it myself.

So that’s where Rathburn gets his “handsome”, tying with Barnabas at 1-1. It’s all been finely engraved features up to this point, but now it’s on.

They talk about Atlanta and riding horses, and she thinks about the hair on his chest for a while. Then he asks about her background, and she says that she’s like Jane Eyre but less exciting. She really does; it’s one of the purest moments of metafictional lampshading that I’ve ever experienced.

He asks her why the Collins family chose her as governess, all the way from New York, and nothing really happens, but I’m mentioning it because it pokes at the never-resolved question of Vicki’s parentage, and that’s going to come up again later.

She touches his hand, and then has an upsetting 1795 flashback-fugue that embarrasses her in the middle of dinner, and he takes her home and kisses her good night, and there’s a bat flying around.

Chapter 10

Rathburn’s pretty happy with their date, but he tries to stay focused on his mission of vengeance, and finding the Union soldiers who killed his wife and son. He considers killing everybody in Collinwood and taking Vicki as his bloodmate, but decides it would be too messy and he should wait and see what happens.

Then he sees Barnabas in the night, staring up at Vicki’s window, so Rathburn turns into a wolf and they have a fight about it. Barnabas smacks the snarling wolf with his silver cane, which hurts, and then Jake Stiles comes along and wants to know what’s going on, so Barnabas turns into a bat and Rathburn turns into a mist, and they all go home and that’s it for now.

Chapter 11

The next day, Barnabas sends Willie to prowl around the cottage while he thinks that Rathburn’s asleep in his coffin, but as we all know Rathburn can get up during the day because of how great he is, so he catches Willie and he’s pissed off about it. Willie says that he just came to invite Rathburn to come to the Old House for drinks tonight, and Rathburn snarls and that night he comes to the Old House for drinks. I don’t know who’s on the menu, probably Willie.

Rathburn asks about the house, so Barnabas talks about the original Barnabas Collins and how sad he was about losing Josette. Then they start measuring fangs.

Barnabas turned to look at him now, his cordial smile gone, his eyes blazing at Rathburn as they had during their duel the previous night. “I see Victoria Winters as being much like Josette,” he said softly. “Young. Innocent. And strong. But not strong enough to face the kind of terrors that have visited this place before, and that surely will again. I will not let any harm come to her, Rathburn. I hope that has been made quite clear to you.”

“Victoria?” Rathburn shrugged. “I’ve become very fond of her. You don’t think I mean to harm her, do you?”

Barnabas said in a low voice, “I don’t know who or what you are, Rathburn, or why you have come to Collinwood. But I assure you, it is within my power to find out. And I intend to.”

So, my question is: is that the single most obvious and boring way that you could possibly write that confrontation scene, or could it be worse? I guess Rathburn could have said, “I’ve become fond of her — very fond of her,” but that’s all I can think of.

Then Barnabas takes Rathburn on a tour of the house, and basically tells the guy absolutely everything about himself, including his love triangle with Josette and Angelique, that Vicki was drawn back in time to 1795, that he’s the original Barnabas Collins, and that they keep the hammers, stakes and silver bullets on the top shelf of the cupboard in the drawing room.

“Now it is your turn,” Barnabas said ominously. “I have laid my cards on the table, perhaps more than I should consider wise. You will now tell me why you are here.”

“To answer that, I must ask you one more question,” Rathburn said icily. “Since you have seen fit to reveal your true identity, I want to know this: where were you during the War Between the States?”

“What do you mean?”

“Specifically, in the fall of 1864.”

Well, as we know, Barnabas was nowhere near the War Between the States in 1864, fall or otherwise, because he was chained in his coffin at the time. This deflates the situation to a not inconsiderable degree.

Rathburn gazed at his kindred with a new, building sense of horror. He had been certain that the sequence of events would lead to the revelation that, indeed, Barnabas Collins bore responsibility for the slaughter of his family. Yet, if his story were true, then he was quite innocent of that monstrous crime. Barnabas obviously knew nothing of his quest, and therefore had no compulsion to lie to him.

Why, then? Why have I been drawn to this place?

Yeah, good question. Can we go?

Chapter 12

This is pretty much a Vicki one-hander, as she finishes up a lesson with David and then thinks for a while about how bored she is. She walks out to the cottage to see if Rathburn’s around, but he’s not because he’s with Barnabas right now, so then she thinks about Thomas and Barnabas and Burke, and then she walks by a tree and has a vision of somebody tying her to it. She runs away, up to Widows’ Hill, and Angelique laughs at her, and she thinks that maybe she should just jump and end it all, and Angelique agrees that that would probably be a good idea.

Chapter 13

Barnabas decides to end his evening with Rathburn by holding up his cane and releasing the twelve-inch-long, gleaming steel blade from its end, its deadly point aimed directly at Rathburn’s heart. This really is the Paperback Library, after all; PBL Barnabas is always threatening people with his sword cane. It doesn’t make much of a difference.

Then Willie holds up a mirror and Barnabas can see that Rathburn isn’t in it, so now he knows for sure that the guy’s a vampire, but with extra Mary Sue abilities including a sunroof and halogen fog lights. They kind of snarl at each other and Rathburn leaves, and he’s taking yet another walk across the moors when suddenly he sees somebody at the cliff’s edge and it’s Vicki!!!

Chapter 14

So now it’s time for the thrilling vampire sex chapter, which begins with Thomas Rathburn finding the woman that he loves standing at the edge of a cliff and freaking the hell out. The spirit of Angelique is trying to get her to jump, but Rathburn disagrees, and he roughly pulls her away from the precipice. He hurts her arm, pulling her back like that, but then he strokes it and the pain magically disappears. Is there anything that this man can’t do? Well, I guess we’ll find out in a minute or two.

They walk back to the mansion, and she feels the stirring of passion, and she thinks that if he reached for her, she would let him make love to her. And you’ll never guess what happens next.

As they reached the mansion’s driveway, Victoria took several steps toward the front door, but Thomas did not move. Still holding his arm, she stopped short.

“What?” she asked quietly, her brows furrowed.

He said nothing, but inclined his head. Come, his gesture said.

She knew what he wanted. Yes, her nod replied.

She went with him, around the corner of the great house and into the shadows behind it.

Desire returned, more intense now than before. It burned her fingertips and her lips. She could barely walk, but he held her firmly. Then he released her, removing his coat and laying it on the ground, seemingly oblivious to the chill. And turning to her, he lifted her effortlessly, laying her down upon the long, leather duster that smelled so sweetly of him.

Oh, yes, she thought.

He has a cottage with a bed in it about a five minute walk away, and also this is basically right outside her office, but hey, the heart wants what it wants. It’s too bad the snakes are hibernating right now, cause this would be a damn good time to run up a pant leg or two.

So I’m just going to scan through this sequence quickly, and see if there’s anything worth remarking on. The feel of his torso, experiencing every moment, her forehead, the small of her neck, the buttons of her coat, caressed her breasts, her nipples hardened, guided his hand, touch was electric, ready to burst, breath was rapid, Thomas, I love you, a sound in his throat, a pain in her neck, every nerve in her body, as if her very spirit were flowing out of her, trembled, shook, then exploded, the most beautiful sensations, kissed her deeply, aware of nothing, her lips, her neck, cold October air, the damp earth, as if she were floating, time held no meaning, space had no sense.

Nope, that all seems pretty standard for a pointlessly public blood slave deflowering. Nothing much to see here. It’s too bad; seems like you could have had a pretty cool sex scene, what with him being a vampire and all. Angel does way crazier shit than that to me, and I don’t even try to publish it.

Chapter 15

When Rathburn gets back to the cottage, he finds that someone’s nailed a silver cross to it. Naturally, he’s already trained himself to be immune to crosses; that’s why they call it cross training.

But he’s pissed, obviously. He finds Willie, who’s still hanging around nailing up more crosses on things. So Rathburn does the following.

He began to concentrate on the silver piece in his hand, focusing his will on its metal surface. “You want to know what it’s like for some of us, Willie? Is this what you and Barnabas hoped would happen to me?” He then unleashed a burst of psychic energy, channeling it through his arm like an electrical conduit. The cross suddenly burst into golden radiance, a flare of white fire spewing from beneath Rathburn’s palm.

Willie Loomis screamed in agony as the crucifix burned through the fabric of his sweater and found vulnerable flesh.

That goes on for more than two pages, because, as you know, Loomis abuse is funny and everyone enjoys it.

And then guess who shows up!

There. At the far corner of the room a faint, luminous shape was emerging into the air, a silvery mist that swirled steadily toward him, finally coming to rest at the foot of the cot. Abruptly, the air went frigid, much as it had when he saw the ghostly figure the other night at Collinwood. The shape now rose over him, seemingly cognizant of him, studying him, as if seeking a means of entering him.

Yeah, that’s Angelique, all right; the lady likes to make an entrance.

So there she is, hovering in the upper atmosphere, smelling of lilacs, and communicating to him through words that form in his mind from somewhere beyond the barrier of death.

Thomas, let me help you. And in doing so you may help me. Don’t you see he has lied to you, that you have fallen for his trickery? You came here for a reason. You must trust your feelings.

Why would you come to me?

Because of the great power you possess, you alone can help me achieve what I desire. Tomorrow night, the veil between worlds grows thin. You must help me come through. I am the dream to be made flesh. Help me. And then deliver him into my hands. Give him to me, and I will see that you have the revenge you desire.

He doesn’t trust her, of course, and why should he? The veil between worlds indeed. If she wants an invite to Collinwood, then she needs to go out and get a black wig, and marry Roger, like a regular person. What kind of joint are we running around here, anyway?

Vicki finds Rathburn the next afternoon, and it’s the day after their hookup. Naturally, she’s all over him, and he needs his space. He’s got important things to do; there’s this other chick who keeps calling and bothering him, and he needs to figure out what’s going on there, and then he’s totally going to come back. Look, it’s not a big deal, okay? He’s got to go. He’ll see her again soon. He’ll text her. Okay bye.

He shakes her off, then he goes straight to the Old House. Of course, Willie doesn’t want to let him in, it’s not sundown yet, but nobody keeps Thomas Rathburn on the other side of a door. “Don’t worry, Willie,” he says. “Perhaps I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“About what, Mr. Rathburn?” says Barnabas, who steps out of the shadows. He was probably standing there for ten minutes, just waiting for his cue.

“Finishing last night’s business is indeed in order,” Barnabas said, stalking forward with eyes glowing furiously. “You ignored my warning and went to Victoria. Well, Rathburn, that was a grave mistake. And it was the last one you will ever make.”

Except not really. There’s still eight more chapters, that’s plenty of time to make a bunch of mistakes. Barnabas is an optimist.

Chapter 16

Vicki’s upset, because the guy with the electric touch who made her nipples harden last night is being a total jerk today. She decides to take it out on Elizabeth, who’s her employer and also the only entrant on the list of possible mothers in the Clear Up Vicki’s Past sweepstakes. Remember I said we were coming back to this? This is when we come back to it.

First Vicki says “I should know some of life’s secrets,” and then she says “Everything is a secret, isn’t it? What is there of life that is not some dark, unspeakable secret?” and then she says “Tell me about you and your husband,” and then she says “Did you look elsewhere for love, for solace?” and then she says “What about while you were still married to him?” and then she says “Even before Carolyn was born, maybe three years or so before,” and then she says “Does love ever last, Mrs. Stoddard?” and then she says “I have no mother,” and then she says “Who else can I talk to about such things? Who else will explain it?” All Liz did was ask if she was feeling okay.

Once that’s over, David comes in and reminds her that she promised to help him make a Halloween costume. She says she doesn’t really feel like it, and he gets upset, and then one thing follows another, and she ends up slapping him so hard he falls down. Wham!

So he runs to his room and locks the door, and when she says she’s sorry, he says, “I hate you.” That’s why I keep telling people, you have got to stop having sex with Vicki. It’s not good for her, and it doesn’t help anything.

Chapter 17

Okay, back to Rathburn and Barnabas, who have an actual swordfight, which is the first of two actual cool things that happen in the book. It lasts for three pages and is not worth it.

Rathburn tries to tell Barnabas what he’s learned about Angelique, and that he thinks they could work together against her, but Barnabas says, screw it, you messed with Vicki and you’re not even on the show, so out comes the sword cane. Rathburn grabs a poker and there’s a couple times when he gets stabbed and he heals himself during the fight, and he thinks about turning into mist but figures that would be lame. Finally, Rathburn grabs the blade of the sword and just twists it until it breaks off, and if that makes his hand hurt for a minute, then fine, he’s made of magic and who even cares.

Then he grabs a cross and pushes it at Barnabas, who cowers while Rathburn says dude, just chill for a minute.

“I believe the timing of my coming here is important. Tomorrow is Halloween. As trite as it may sound, in the old days, the devil’s night was looked upon as a significant, fateful time, when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes thin. When Angelique visited me this morning, I felt as if she were trying to enter me, somehow. At least that was her intention. I was able to ward her off. But what she revealed to me is important. To both of us.

“I believe that on All Hallows Eve she intends to try to come forth into this world — with my assistance.”

So: really? Halloween? This just came up last week; the 2004 WB pilot took place on Halloween too. Dark Shadows ran for five years without ever mentioning Halloween once, except when Barnabas went to Tricia Nixon’s Halloween party at the White House, and that wasn’t actually on the show. Dark Shadows has no need for Halloween; it’s bigger and more permanent than that.

Thus begins an incredibly confusing triple-cross that Rathburn decides to concoct for no particular reason. He tells Barnabas that his plan is to go through with the All Hallows Eve thing with Barnabas, in order to trick Angelique into thinking that she’s coming through, and then lock the portal doors between their worlds so that she can’t actually come through. But in his head, he’s thinking that he’s using Barnabas, and he’s going to actually let Angelique come through and grab Barnabas, except then she’ll probably come for him too, so he’ll have to destroy her anyway. Or something.

Rathburn could not suppress a shiver of cold dread. Playing Angelique and Barnabas against each other posed risks to him that he could not foresee. Yet it was the only way to resolve the problems at hand.

Yes, Angelique, I will help bring you forth. You may have your precious Barnabas. But then we shall see what happens to you as well.

Honestly, there is no reason for Rathburn to still be standing in the Old House drawing room at this point. He could just wait until morning, and tell Vicki to pack her bags and come back to Atlanta with him. Or turn into mist and get sucked into a dehumidifier. I don’t really care what Rathburn does.

But no, he’s got this dumb plan, so now we have to go book-shopping. There’s a whole thing about Barnabas leading Rathburn from the Old House basement through a series of tunnels and caverns and crawlspaces until they get to the basement at Collinwood, and then through a secret passage up a bunch of stairs to a room with shelves of occult books. But that’s not the actual secret book room, because Barnabas releases a hidden catch that opens a tunnel to an even more secret book room.

Rathburn could scarcely refrain from gasping at the sight of this hidden “library”. Several shelves of ancient tomes lined one wall, while another cabinet contained rows of glass vials and flasks, some stained by the mud-colored residue of various unknown substances.

Studying the titles of the ancient books on the shelves, Rathburn could hardly repress a shudder. The most innocuous of them were a John Dee translation of The Key of Solomon, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a collection of anonymous writings on West Indian Voudoun, and, interestingly, a number of journals by Cotton Mather, the infamous seventeenth century witch hunter.

But prominent among the dread works was a thick, leather-bound volume entitled Al Azif, by one Abd al-Azhred; a rotting copy of Olaus Wormius’s Malleus Maleficarum; and a painstakingly handwritten transcript — probably by Angelique herself — of le Comte d’Arsenault’s Les Cults des Morts Vivants. Rathburn had never been certain that some of these truly existed. They seemed to exude pure, odious power that dared him to so much as peer at their contents.

So great, now we’re in my brother’s room, circa high school. I don’t know when Angelique was supposed to collect all these treasures; she was a servant in an enormous mansion, and in the 1790s, servants didn’t get a lot of flex time. Also, she was only around for a few months, and she didn’t live in Collinwood, and why would Joshua and Jeremiah build a house with a double-secret panic room library for witches? And on top of that, seriously, you guys, you have to stop picking on West Indian Voudoun, which is an actual religion practiced by perfectly nice people, and at some point we just have to let Black people have religions if they want them. Yours is just as stupid as theirs, so cut it out.

Carefully removing one of the books from the shelf, Rathburn opened it and studied the contents. Latin. Another was in French. Yet others in Arabic, some Hebraic. But in examining a number of the charts, symbols and English notes on some of the spells, he knew that these were indeed the keys he would need to engage the spirit of the long-dead witch.

“My Latin is rather rusty,” Rathburn said. “A lexicon wouldn’t hurt.”

“In the cabinet room,” Barnabas replied. “I think you will find what you need in there.”

Okay, so raise your hand if you’re surprised that Rathburn can read Latin. I guess he doesn’t need a Hebraic dictionary because he’s been practicing on Duolingo, in between his rape-murders.

But the real point of this section is that Rathburn goes through a drawer looking for the Latin book, and then

And then his eye was drawn like a magnet to it: an ancient, yellowed envelope addressed to a Mr. Edward Collins, lying atop others in the bottom drawer.

The postmark read: December 1864.

And guess what’s in it! It’s a letter from Edward’s uncle Gordon Collins, telling him that Gordon’s son Andrew Collins was recently court-martialed and executed for raping and murdering a young Virginia woman and her son.

“Oh, my God. My God,” Rathburn whispered. Here it was: the proof of the Collins family’s involvement in the murder of his wife and child. The proof he had hoped to find from the moment he arrived here.

But for one thing.

It was not Barnabas.

The implications were staggering, shocking. Barnabas Collins, innocent of those murders; yet Angelique had without hesitation placed the blame on him.

Simply to ensure his own cooperation?

She had lied to him. What else might she be lying about?

But he had already assumed she could not be trusted.

This must change nothing.

So yeah, no problem there. This is a TV tie-in book, changing nothing is pretty much the point.

Chapter 18

Chapter 18 goes on for a very long time and I just do not want to even discuss it.

Chapter 19

Barnabas and Rathburn go out into the graveyard to find Angelique’s grave. Rathburn has written out all of the complex incantations that they have to say, and he has incense and some orange powder that he uses to draw a big circle of protection that they’ll need to stand inside while they enact their gruesome ritual.

At one point, it says

Rathburn, guided by Angelique’s grimoires, poured more of the orange powder around the perimeter of the circle in the shapes of intricate magical symbols

and if you can picture someone pouring powder in the shape of an intricate magical symbol, then you have a better imagination than I do. It just looks like he’s making a mess to me.

Rathburn intones something to the Guardians of the watchtowers of the East, and then Barnabas follows up by calling the Guardians of the watchtowers of the West, and then Rathburn attracts the attention of the Guardians of the watchtowers of the North, and Barnabas acknowledges the contributions of the Guardians of the watchtowers of the South, and that concludes the public radio underwriting portion of the evening.

But here’s the second of the two cool things that I like in this book. The first was the swordfight, and the second is a Lovecraft reference.

Now, Rathburn called out, “Iä! In nomine domini nostri Azahoth magnus, patris et materum et daemonus sancu, santa trinitas et inseparabilis unitas te inuoco, ut sis mitu salus et defensio, et protetio miyoris meae!”

Barnabas then changed, “Iä! Dans l’appelle de la chèvre noire du forêt avec les milles jeunes.”

The reason why that’s cool is because Barnabas’ incantation is French for “in the name of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!” and that’s a Lovecraft reference that I used a bunch of times during the Leviathan storyline.

Technically, that’s not so much a cool thing about the book as it is a cool thing about me, and I’m only telling you about it because I want you to know that I can read French and I know a lot of Lovecraft stuff, so look how clever I am, noticing how clever that is. All I can say is that there’s a little bit of Rathburn in all of us.

Chapter 20

At this point, Vicki’s just wandering around in the woods looking for David, who ran away back in chapter 18, because she’s a girl and doesn’t really have much to offer in the way of plot resolution. But she smells lilacs and brimstone, and she hears people shouting, so even if she can’t actually be part of the climax then at least she can be somewhere nearby.

Chapter 21

So I’m just going to go ahead and admit that there’s a lot that I don’t understand about chapter 21. They manage to summon Angelique, and Rathburn falls in love with her and thinks about offering himself to her, but then he shakes it off and just pushes Barnabas outside the protection circle.

Barnabas regained his balance and spun to face Rathburn with eyes glowing red and his fangs exposed. “You!” he growled with the sound of an angry wolf. “You’ve betrayed me!”

Somewhere deep inside, he heard his own voice.

Barnabas was not the killer.
But it was a Collins.
Barnabas is innocent.
No. He is dead.

“Vengeance is mine,” Rathburn said, turning to face the eyes of the regal, floating figure that had now turned to gaze at him.

So that’s great, but then he has to do more incantations, this time in the secret language of the underworld, which involves a lot of consonants and apostrophes — n’gar, f’taghn, vraig’yim, that sort of thing — and then Angelique says, “Vengeance, however, will not be yours. It will be mine.” And she tells Barnabas to break the circle with his cane, which he does, now putting Rathburn in danger.

No! I cannot let this happen! thinks Rathburn, but Angelique tells him that it’s only because he’s so strong and masculine and awesome that she brought him here, and now she’s going to drain all the tendrils of his life force and he’s going to pull her through the veil so that she can become the ultimate fighting robot of the undead.

She says rise and take my hand, and he

feels his limbs begin to

move, though he does not

will it and then Vicki

is there, screaming, which is super

distracting, and Rathburn

summons all of his remaining

energy and screams, “Now,

Barnabas. Throw it now!”

Chapter 22

And do I even have to spell it out, at this point? Vicki dies, and Angelique fails, and as Angelique is sucked back to hell with Diabolos she pulls Rathburn’s soul with her or something, and Rathburn gives the remainder of his life force to heroically bring Vicki back to life, and he frees her from being his bloodmate, and then he dies forever.

Chapter 23

And even to this day, his birthday is a national holiday on the Enterprise. The end.

Tomorrow: Communication with the Dead.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, Trask wonders if Barnabas is dead behind the wall yet, but decides that it’s too soon. In yesterday’s episode, Julia said that Barnabas has been missing for a week, and a person without water or food would definitely die sooner than a week. He used to be a vampire, which might have some residual effects, but Trask doesn’t know that.

In act 1, when Gerard suggests Quentin get a postponement for the trial, someone in the studio coughs.

Quentin fluffs a word: “Everybody in this court knows that — that Silas Graham is incompetent, and he has a notorious reppat-ation!”

A breathless Gerard tells Quentin, “Yes, I was, I worked constantly, as hard as I could, the last time we talked! I did everything in my power, to — to try to find a man for the right — for the case!”

There’s another cough in act 3, when Gerard says, “You know you’re as innocent as anything!”

Gerard says, “I can’t wait for the court to convene, at one o’clock!” The clock directly behind him already says one o’clock.

When Dawson tells the judges he wants to introduce the pagan symbol, the boom mic can be seen overhead.

A stray music cue starts up as Dawson asks, “Have you ever seen this mark again, after having seen it for the first time on Lorna Bell’s forehead?” It’s just one strong note, which instantly fades out again.

During the credits, you can see a studio light sitting at the bottom left.

Tomorrow: Communication with the Dead.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

37 thoughts on “Episode 1178: The Mary Sue

  1. Oh, I’ll linger all right! I don’t even have to be chained behind a wall. I haven’t laughed that hard in months. Thank you!

  2. his kind sought to stake a claim in his territory,

    Ouch. A vampire pun.

    Dark Shadows ran for five years without ever mentioning Halloween once,

    Amy Jennings does mention Halloween in one episode.

    1. So does Liz in a very early episode, but Halloween is basically ignored on the show, as are all other holidays.

  3. so i’ve come to the conclusion you could lead us anywhere, Mr. Horn. why, i believe i’d even find myself following along, if’n you read us the latest statest propaganda they call “the news.” this was absolutely adorable, and funny doesn’t even begin to cover it. thank you, dear heart Danny, randy dandy though you might just be.

  4. I’m in May 1968 now. While I’m glad none of this was in there, I can’t say the Dream Curse, Dr Lang, and the ballad of Vicki and Jeff are all that much better!

  5. Okay, I’ll be the dissenting voice here. I’d much rather have seen an adaptation of this story (with a few changes) than what happened after 1897 and especially after 1970 parallel time. If it had played out on television, I think Maggie could have replaced Vicki, and the references to 1795 could be dropped. Of course, we’d still need Julia in the story.

    Having a former Confederate soldier as one of the main characters is politically incorrect these days, but who is to say that had the character not died at the end that he could have been redeemed.

    Just my opinion.

  6. I’ll begin, as our host did, with the episode.
    Three hours to find legal assistance, from inside a jail cell?! Of all the things Judge Bobblehead has put out into his court, this may be the most idiotic.
    And is it bugging the daylights out of anyone else the way Dawson is pronouncing “defend-aount”? Worse, he’s not even doing it consistently!
    Did we miss something there at the end? How does Quentin know that his lawyer has arrived? Nobody passed him a note, Paul Drake didn’t sidle up next to him and whisper in his ear (a la Perry Mason); but what the heck, it made for a good cliffhanger – – that bugeyed Trask look was worth sitting through this whole stupid trial.

    Now the Dreams:
    Sure, okay whatever, new vampire, worldwide sensation greatest bloodsucking undead guy on the planet, crossed over to be immortal and get some reee-venge. And the Collins family (naturally) are the object of this vendetta, because they’ve put their fingers in a lot of pies throughout the centuries. And somehow can’t catch on that Angelique is using him?
    But this ‘acclimation to daylight’ thing; I won’t pretend I know all about vampires, I just want to know how a vampire goes about accomplishing it since every single one of them flakes into ashes at the dawn if they’re outside their coffin. Did he leave the lid up just a bit? And vampires have to sleep in the day so they can be up all night. No, I can’t buy that nonsense. By definition he is not a vampire, he’s some kind of zombie with fangs and a blood fetish, certainly supernatural, nearly a vampire, but not quite. Unless he’s only fought against all the standard perils so that he can once again enjoy garlic breadsticks. In that case I have complete empathy.
    But who cares about all the tripe the readers have to swallow – – Victoria Winters gets laid! Okay, he dumped her the next day and he’s a total prick but she got some baw-chica-waw! Wham bam, thank you vam(pire). That needs to count for something. Now they can do a sequel where she has her half-vampire love child (different from the rest).

    1. If memory serves, when vampires became popular in the early 1990’s, someone invented vampire clans, one of which were more resistant to sunlight or someone declared that happened to very old ones (like thousands of years).

      1. Dracula was actually able to move out and about in the daytime. Apparently it was not a comfortable thing and it was best if it were cloudy.

        Anyway we’re talking about a fictional life-form that can change shape and mass, which implies they’ve got at least some control over whether they are exist in a state of matter or energy. Seems to me they can eventually get enough control to build up some resistance to things that might initially have been a problem. It would also be likely that if they believe they’re going to catch fire then they will. Since the sixties. the vampire mythology has pretty much dropped the susceptibility to religious symbols unless the vampire believes in them. It’s gone from being an external force of purchase power and goodness to an internal psychological hang-up of the individual vampire.

        1. Now that’s interesting my auto correct turned the word righteous into purchase. How fitting for this era.

        2. You make me sad.
          Does Dr. Van Helsing know about this?
          I suppose some enterprising bloodsucker could have found out about sunscreen, but this does remove some of the old charm of the classic vampires. Those weaknesses were all the ‘good guys’ had to fight with. Just hate to think that all those Transylvanian peasants were decorating with ropes of garlic and crucifixes to no avail. I suppose the modern vampire can also have a reflection, cross running water, and cross a threshold without being invited. (The water thing always seemed irrelevant anyway; couldn’t the vampire turn into a bat and fly over?) All that’s left is the ol’ wooden stake… what a world, what a world!

          1. I remember a vampire movie (I think David Carradine was in it) about a small town of them in the west who were always slathered in sunscreen…

            Someone told me the mirror (and photography) trick no longer works because they used to coat mirrors with silver, which for alchemical reasons doesn’t register soulless beings.

            1. Well, I always wondered why it was garlic particularly, why not onions or curry or rutabagas? Parsnips? Lemons? Cucumbers?
              And are vampires susceptible to things like poison ivy or dandruff? These kinds of things keep me awake at night sometimes.

              1. I think they found that the chemical from garlic gets into the blood. It causes an odor and may have anti-viral properties. So maybe it smells bad and or tastes bad to vampires. I’ve heard it will repel mosquitoes.

                Goes back to some very old folklore though. Back to when they thought disease was caused by bad smells and the right ambient odors were thought to combat disease

              2. According to Google, people with rabies (who were mistaken to have vampirism) are hypersensitive to light and smells.

          2. The water thing … well, here I go trying to find scientifically plausible explanations for a bunch of moldy old myths dipped into the fondue pot of modern storytelling.

            Flowing water produces a weak electrical current. I suppose vampires might be able to sense it.

            In some situations, I suppose a vampire might be surprised/distracted enough by flowing water to allow the prey to get away. Said prey would then tell everyone how their escapes were facilitated by crossing a bridge. We are probably talking about very new vampires in such cases. They wouldn’t be used to their new senses. Clearly they are dumb/inexperienced enough to have let their prey know they are being chased by vampires. Vampires with any age or wisdom would not be so blatant and they probably wouldn’t be stopped by running water either.

            Or it could be that the vampire is in such a heightened sensory state that at that moment the electrical field of the water is a distraction — perhaps even confusing the inner predator which could be focused on and tracking the energy (including the electrical fields) of the prey. If the inner human mind is buried under the hunting impulses, the vampire might be running solely on predator/prey programming without much higher brain function.

            This hypothesis of vampires sensing electrical fields does work in the context of what we see Barnabas doing. He goes out and about in the modern world full of human harnessed electricity (lights, phone lines, cars, appliances etc.) and running water (indoor plumbing, town water, and sewer lines). He uses cars, phones, and lights. I don’t recall if he is ever shown using a sink … but for the sake of fitting in, I imagine he would if the social situation called for it.

            However, when it comes to the Old House he won’t allow indoor plumbing, electricity, or phones. It’s just too much for him. He needs the calm of his personal retreat. Think introverts or even autistic individuals who can only take so much of the noise “outside”. The modern wired world must be sensory hell for vampires until they do what humans do and learn to selectively block out most of the inputs. It might be the equivalent of one of us spending every waking moment in a rave. You might learn to endure it but getting some rest away from it all would be a necessity.

              1. Your comment made me realize I haven’t stumbled across much info in regards to the historical perspective of rabies. It’s a horrible disease. Now that I took a quick look, I really wish I had time to dive into the 380+ pages of this online book,

                Historical Perspective of Rabies in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin
                A testament to rabies by Dr Arthur A. King

                Anyway, when I was an undergraduate, the professor I worked for was researching porphyrins. Porphyria is a condition that might be tied to stories of vampires and werewolves.

                https://vector.childrenshospital.org/2017/09/gene-protoporphyria-blood-disorder/

                As a blood specialist, Julia Hoffman would have been familiar with porphyria and she might even had it linked in her thoughts to vampirism. Still, she would have had to have been a very literal thinker to so quickly accept the possibility that vamperism complete with “supernatural” attributes might exist and be treatable. …or perhaps her life before Collinsport had already taken her down dark and shadowy paths.

                1. This is a better link. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/born-to-the-purple-the-st/

                  It includes this:

                  Methods of Treatment

                  In most cases of porphyria, blood or heme transfusions can supply some relief from the symptoms, and this is still the mainstay of treatment. Interestingly, the heme pigment is robust enough to survive digestion, and is absorbed from the intestine (even though the protein parts of hemoglobin are broken down). This means that, in principle, it is possible to relieve the symptoms of porphyria by drinking blood–another possible link with the vampire stories.

  7. Mary Sue gets everywhere, doesn’t s/she? Thanks for reading that, Danny, so I don’t have to. 🙂

    It’s depressing to contemplate what the 1840 storyline became because it started off so well–I mean they absolutely nailed the soap opera side of the narrative and gave us some new characters to care about. Then it all sort of fizzled out into this bad cover version of 1795.

  8. I’m doing the Tim Burton movie in a couple days

    I was in the opening-weekend audience out of totally morbid curiosity and was completely expecting to be disappointed (and was) but … could I actually be curious to see what Danny has to say? Why yes, I am. Possibly on tenterhooks, even.

      1. I’ll echo what the guy in front of me at the movie theater said as he got up to leave. “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

        I’m not saying it was good, but I was expecting worse. Michelle Pfeiffer was the high point, with the set design for Collinwood being second.

    1. I remember watching it on TV around Halloween once. My initial thought afterwards was “Wow, I would have been totally pissed off if I had paid to watch this!”.

      1. That’s EXACTLY what I was thinking! It’s been on the DVR along with HoDS & NoDS, I just hadn’t watched it until I knew Danny was going to review. Not as awful as I thought (except the awful parts), but I didn’t have to go to the multiplex and pay to see it and pay for a bucket of popcorn and a box of Good & Plenty and some Red Vines and a giant frozen Coke and Butterfinger Bites! AND I could pause for bathroom breaks. Or to make popcorn or get a box of Good & Plenty and some Twizzlers and… well, you know.

        1. Oh by the way, when I said a couple of days that was clearly optimistic. I forgot that when you write about a 113 minute movie it takes several days just to take all the screenshots! But I’m working on it, coming soon, gonna be fun.

          1. A couple of days is as many as you decide it is. Gives us time to study for the test… 🙃
            Personally, I’m just trying to recover from the “Top Of The World” montage. What year was this movie set in? ‘The Seventies’ is NOT a year.

      2. Well, I shall confess. We knew that it wasn’t going to be good. We put on matching vampire themed t-shirts and went to the cheaper matinee time to give ourselves the impression of it being a better value. And I will also confesse something my husband doesn’t know. One weekend when he was not around I went to the cheap theaters and saw it again. (I’m so ashamed, but you know … DS and vampire fangirl.)

        … the t-shirt=

        https://shirt.woot.com/offers/vampires?gclid=Cj0KCQjwhb36BRCfARIsAKcXh6FYGk3DyY8YOU4hc9W8d1bbEejB8UDdzxXJmlluZnPR_lt6Nq9n6LMaAr9qEALw_wcB

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