“You may find that out in a frightening fashion.”
As we’re moving through these grim final weeks of Dark Shadows, I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on the spinoff media: the books and comics and audio plays and weird fan poetry that people have generated over the decades. Going into this period, I expected that I would like some of the stories and really very much not like others, but I wasn’t sure how that would play out. And now that I’m here, waist-deep in Dark Shadows apocrypha, I’m surprised to say that I’ve been looking forward to the Paperback Library posts.
I mean, Dan Ross’ Dark Shadows gothic novels are not good literature; they’re tepid, repetitive 156-page chill delivery devices with cardboard characters and nonsense plots, and there’s no good pretending that they’re anything else. They treat women as disposable objects — even the heroines, sometimes — and every character spends all of their time gossiping and complaining about everyone else.
And yet here we are, on the brink of Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers, and I am delighted. How do you account for a thing like that?
I mean, I recently had a nervous breakdown about two-thirds of the way through The Salem Branch, Lara Parker’s second Dark Shadows novel, and I’m trying to build up my courage to try the third one. The Dynamite comics made me actively angry. But there’s something about the simple-minded sincerity of the Paperback Library that makes me want to forgive all of their terrible flaws, and just enjoy the carousel ride.
For one thing, the series has started to become slightly less repetitive, breaking some of the rules that I thought were cast in stone, particularly the way that they treat Barnabas and Quentin.
For most of the series, the heroines didn’t understand what was going on with Barnabas; they just thought that he was a charming man with unusual personal habits, and when somebody said that Barnabas was a vampire, as they did every ten pages or so, the heroine would dismiss the thought from her mind and continue to live in her own dream world. But in these later books, they’ve started letting the heroine in on the secret, and now Carolyn and Barnabas have detailed strategic discussions about who he’s allowed to eat.
Quentin’s characterization has changed quite a bit over the series, starting as a pale, thin recluse in his first outing and then becoming a black magic cult leader and a Count Olaf-style cruel sadist in disguise. But in the last book that we looked at, Barnabas, Quentin and the Magic Potion, he became one of the good guys, and he was the one who saved the heroine in the final chapter.
And then there’s Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers — book #26, published in February 1971 — which takes another step forward in the treatment of Quentin, and breaks some Paperback Library rules that I didn’t realize they even knew how to break. It is also one of the silliest pieces of literature ever committed to paper and unleashed on the public.
We begin with Marjorie Gray, who leads a ridiculously charmed life.
At twenty, Marjorie had lived with her widower scientist father in three countries, was active in radical college groups in Washington, where they were presently living, and was considering marriage to one of Britain’s most popular young male singers, Jim James.
Wherever Jim James sang his romantic ballads, thousands of adoring females, old and young, flocked to hear him. His agent was kept busy declining offers from television and the films; sales of his records, it was joked, were saving the British economy. And Marjorie had his offer of marriage. It amused her that she should have so easily conquered the extremely popular young man and she was making him wait for her decision. It was at this point her father told her about the invitation they had to spend a few weeks at Collinwood.
So this is basically a study in Paperback heroine privilege, where you can be a not-very-accomplished young woman with no particular skills or interests and still manage to capture the heart of a super-famous international pop sensation without even trying.
How did Marjorie even manage to meet this dream man, who by the way is secretly Quentin Collins? The chronicles don’t address that question, no matter how interesting that might be to the readers of quickie romance novels. It also doesn’t delve into the details of how Quentin became an overnight success as a British rock star. These questions are left for the reader to puzzle out on one’s own time.
Marjorie’s father, Murdoch Gray, is also blessed by the Paperback angels with all the virtues and achievements one could ask for.
He was a good-looking, gray-haired man of erect, distinguished bearing whose sharp gray eyes hinted at the brilliant scientific mind behind them.
Gray had dedicated his brilliance to space exploration and the rocketry necessary to such projects. He had been one of the top five scientists given credit for the successful moon-landing expeditions. And rumor now had it that he was engaged in developing an even more awesome and spectacular feat.
Gray is also an old college friend of Roger Collins, who’s invited him and his daughter to visit the Collinwood estate in the quiet seaside town of Collinsport, Maine. He’s got a lot of important, top secret moon-landing type work to do, but he’s planning to do it while sitting in someone else’s mansion, for some reason.
Marjorie doesn’t want to go, because Jim has a big Northeast tour coming up, and she’d miss his concerts in New York, Boston and Washington; apparently, she has a habit of following him around from city to city without her father really being aware of it, because he’s so immersed in rocket stuff.
This first scene is basically an argument about whether Marjorie should be involved with Jim James. Gray thinks that the singer gets too much adulation and has had too many wild love affairs, which are unfortunately not described in the book. Marjorie kind of glosses over that aspect, and just says that she cares for Jim deeply, and Jim apparently feels the same, and if the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration thinks that he can stop his daughter from dating Paul McCartney then he’s going to have to learn otherwise.
By the way, the world-famous chart-buster Jim James is also secretly a werewolf, who manages to hide his supernatural affliction from the press somehow. That’s another unlikely aspect of this scenario that doesn’t really get explored. You kind of have to accept whatever premise they hand you, as a Paperback Library reader; there isn’t a phone number that you can call to complain.
So here’s the point in the post where I need to explain to you about Velva.
He made a gesture of dismissal. “I don’t want you to make a lot of it, but we have been working straight out. It’s the Velva project, of course, and the Wedross equations for negotiating the Warp.”
“Father, all I know about that is what you said in your public address televised after the last moon landing. You said that the space warp which Apollo 13 nearly ran into had been proven passable, and that Dr. Wedross had shown how the Warp could be used for us to send a mission to another solar system quicker then we could put men on Mars. You claimed Velva should be our next target for space exploration.”
Her father looked pleased. “You’ve remembered correctly. Before he collapsed from overwork, Dr. Wedross and I had pinpointed the planet Velva as the next objective of the space program. In the meantime, our unmanned rocket probes of Velva and the Warp have made an astounding discovery.”
She stared at her father. “What?”
What indeed. This is brand new for the series, having all this backstory coming straight at you from the jump. Usually by this point, the heroine has traveled somewhere and met a new, unpleasant person, making her realize that maybe this visit to wherever she’s traveled to might not be as relaxing as she’d hoped. We don’t usually make significant scientific discoveries on this kind of scale.
But here we are, just on the other side of the Warp from the mysterious planet of Velva, and Wedross has already collapsed from overwork, and we’re only on page 10.
And there are further, top secret classified developments, which Gray decides to tell his daughter because why not: they’ve received radio communications from the surface of Velva, which they interpret as evidence of intelligent life. They haven’t decoded the messages yet, but they’re working on it, so they don’t know if the Velvetians will be friendly or hostile. They’re planning to just warp over to Velva either way, and see what happens.
Marjorie was very serious now. “And even though they may resent what you’re doing, you’re going ahead anyway.”
“I think we must. We’ve spent too much on this plan to drop it. One of the things I will do during my stay at Collinwood is check and recheck all the figures concerned with the rocketry end of the project. Dr. Wedross’ breakdown was a real calamity. I want to be positive the journey to Velva is practical, that there have been no errors in our calculations.”
“You’re not sure of that yet?”
“In the field of science you learn to check over what may seem to be sure things.”
She smiled thinly. “You can’t afford even a tiny margin of error in such a complicated mission.”
“Exactly,” her father said. “So now you have an idea of the strain under which I’ve been working and why Collinwood for a few weeks looks good to me.”
So that’s the plan: grab as many top-secret calculations as he can stuff in a briefcase, hightail it to a haunted house in Maine, and look for tiny margins of error. That’s probably why Wedross had such a calamitous breakdown; he thought that he needed to sit in his office in Washington to check figures. Nobody told him that co-working from a murder mansion was an option, the poor dope, and now it’s too late.
Marjorie has to say goodbye to her pop idol boyfriend, so she calls him up.
She phoned Jim James long distance and caught him at the club in New York where he was appearing. When he learned she wasn’t remaining in Washington for his engagement there, he was upset.
So now we know something about Dan Ross: he thinks that an internationally celebrated flock-to like Jim James would be playing in a club, rather than a stadium.
Disappointed that she’s going to bury herself in some fish-factory town in Maine, Jim promises to come to Washington, to see Marjorie before she leaves.
“I’ll call you from the Shoreham as soon as I get to Washington,” the singer replied.
Jim James always played his cabaret act at the Shoreham Hotel and so he made it his headquarters when he visited Washington.
So that, I feel, is the real science fiction in this book, which is set in a parallel world where the Rolling Stones do a cabaret act. Does Ross understand how pop music works in any way?
When Marjorie meets Jim, Ross allows him at least a fleeting moment of superstardom:
The singer was a good-looking young man with large brown eyes, brown hair and sideburns, and a pleasant smile. He was standing in the lobby of the Shoreham signing autographs for a circle of young female admirers when Marjorie arrived on the scene. She went down the steps into the lobby to greet him.
Jim saw her entering the lobby. Disengaging himself from the excited teen-agers, he hurried over to her, kissed her and led her off in another direction to avoid a second encounter with the autograph hunters.
Holding her hand in his as they walked, he said, “You rescued me in just the nick of time.”
She gave him a teasing smile. “It seemed to me you were enjoying all those attractive girls.”
“I didn’t really mind until I saw you. Then I wanted to get away.”
“I never realized how great a hold your public has on you until I saw you just now,” she said. “It’s hard for you to escape them.”
So I don’t know what to do with the unruffled calm of this creature named Marjorie Gray. Nothing really fazes her, either the world-shaking discovery of intelligent life in outer space, or the celebrity lifestyle of a musical superstar. She just kind of floats through these experiences, speaking in simple declarative statements and not having an emotional reaction to anything. She’s a WASP, I guess is what I’m saying.
Once they settle down at a restaurant, Marjorie mentions that she’s going to Collinsport, and Jim reveals in quick succession a) that he’s been to Collinsport, b) that he was born in Maine, c) that he’s heard of Collinwood, d) that he knows Roger and Elizabeth, e) that Collinwood is a spooky old house, and f) that sometimes the estate is visited by Barnabas Collins, who g) he knows very well and h) she should be wary of. In other words, he’s Quentin; he might as well wear a nametag.
As per above, Marjorie receives the information that her prospective fiance is from an entirely different country than she thought he was from by saying “I had no idea, why didn’t you tell me?” He answers that he has a lot of unhappy memories. Marjorie has no further questions.
At the end of the scene, Jim slips an engagement ring on Marjorie’s finger: “a perfectly shaped wolf’s head of gold, containing two diamond eyes which seemed to gleam at her menacingly.” So that’s something of a red flag.
As I said earlier, this book violates a number of formerly inviolable rules of the series, and the first major break with tradition is that there isn’t a pearls-clutching cliffhanger at the end of chapter 1, to be instantly resolved with no real explanation at the start of chapter 2. In this book, the function of the first-chapter tension-sting is filled by the wolf’s head ring, which quietly sparkles with menace and allows us to skip to a different character’s point of view.
That’s the actual world-shaking event in this book, that the story is told from multiple points of view. Until now, each book has followed a single heroine’s experiences, even if she isn’t present at important events and has to hear about it later, as Anita did in Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse, when she fell asleep while the climax was happening somewhere else, and then people interrupted her at breakfast to tell her who died and how it all turned out.
But not anymore; all of a sudden we can tag along with anyone we please. Chapter 2 opens with Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, mistress of the great estate at Collinwood, worried that her brother Roger has been slightly more argumentative than usual lately. For one thing, he’s annoyed that their charming British cousin Barnabas Collins is making another of his visits, and staying at the Old House with his mute, hysterical servant Hare. Barnabas always causes a bit of a stir in town because he spends his time indoors during the day and then roams around at night, assaulting young women and extracting their body fluids without permission. Roger has never liked having Barnabas around, because his reckless disregard for the human rights of women tends to bring the Collins family into mild disrepute.
Elizabeth is feeling isolated, but then she gets a visit from Barnabas, which cheers her right up. As a contrast to pretty much all previous vampire fiction, here comes the friendly vampire, spreading sweetness and light with both hands.
It was with some pleasure that she spotted an erect figure in a caped coat coming toward her from the shadows. It was their cousin Barnabas. Swinging his black, silver-headed cane, he came up to her with a smile on his handsome face. “Good evening, Elizabeth.”
That’s the first mention of “handsome” in the book, on page 19, which means it’s time for the traditional counting of the handsomes. The entire purpose of the Paperback Library as an active force in the publishing world is to promote the concept that Barnabas Collins is super mega handsome, and they express that by referring to his rock-solid handsomeness as often as possible.
In Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers, Barnabas is called “handsome” 14 times, including twice on page 61. He also has deep-set eyes (9 times), his face is gaunt (7 times), and he is charming (4 times), melancholy (3 times), attractive and suave (1 each). He’s also referred to as a “Britisher” 6 times, which seems excessive but I’m not the decision maker.
This is close to his median handsomeness for the series as a whole, as you can see in the following table:
- Barnabas Collins (Nov 68): 24
- Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon (Feb 70): 18
- Barnabas, Quentin and the Scorpio Curse (Nov 70): 18
- Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock (Oct 69): 16
- Barnabas, Quentin and the Magic Potion (Jan 71): 15
- Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers (Feb 71): 14
- Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse (April 70): 11
- Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost (May 70): 8
- Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse (Aug 70): 7
This is down slightly from the previous book, but not yet a cause to worry. The Paperback Library party is still Barnabas’ party.
Meanwhile, Quentin — the swoon-worthy world-class cabaret heartbreaker — is only described as pleasant (7 times) and good-looking (6 times), with 1 measly charming. Strangely, Quentin’s main descriptor is “young”, which is used 26 times in the book, including twice on pages 5, 86, 103, 112 and 119. If you’re wondering how young Quentin is in the world of Paperback Library, then the answer is that he is very, very young.
Besides being handsome, charming, gaunt and so on, Barnabas is also an all-time champion at listening sympathetically to women with feelings; this is how he spends his evenings, when he’s not tearing through the jugulars.
And Elizabeth certainly has some interesting feelings to listen sympathetically to, starting with her fear that Roger is having a nervous breakdown.
“Perhaps you’ll think this fantastic,” she said. “But the change in him came after a night about six weeks ago when I was awakened by a weird sound. That was before you returned to Collinwood.”
“What sort of sound?”
“It wakened me from my sleep,” Elizabeth said in a serious voice. “It was a moonlit night. And there was this eerie screeching noise. I thought it was some kind of plane passing over the house at first. But as the sound faded I realized it hadn’t been that. It was something different. Something I’d never heard before.”
“Did anyone else hear it?”
“Some of the servants said they heard it as clearly as I did. Only Roger contended there had been no sound. At first I didn’t think anything of this. He likes to argue; I thought he’d heard it and wasn’t admitting it. Then when he became angry at my referring to the noise I began to have other thoughts.”
“I began to wonder if he had a very good reason for denying that he’d heard the noise.”
“What do you mean?” Barnabas asked.
Her eyes met his. “I know you’ll think I’m absolutely insane, but I’ve become obsessed with the thought that some sort of plane did land in the fields near here that night. And that there was someone on it who entered this house and took Roger captive. Then this mysterious someone had Roger sent away on that plane while he installed himself here in his place.”
Barnabas gasped. “You really think that?”
She does. And, as unlikely as it seems, that is precisely what happened, except instead of a plane, it was a transparent pink plastic spaceship carrying people made of electrified gas.
This is quite a leap forward mentally for Elizabeth, who so far in the series has tended to hover and mildly fret; we haven’t seen any evidence before of her lunatic-plot-contrivance deduction skills. Some player has clearly rolled a d20 and come up with a solid 20.
Now, the single most important problem with this book is that everyone spends 156 pages insisting that Something Is Wrong with Roger Collins, and their evidence is that he’s being critical, aggressive and argumentative. Unfortunately, those are also PBL Roger’s core personality traits; he never does anything else.
It’s especially strange that the book specifically focuses on Roger’s clear dislike of Barnabas as evidence of his personality change, because that’s the only thing that he ever talks about in the series.
For example, this is what he says about Barnabas in Chapter 3:
His face had taken on a mocking expression. “You know it is true,” he said. “You could clearly see the red marks on that girl’s throat.”
“I didn’t see them.”
“Because you didn’t want to,” Roger snapped. “They were there. It had to be Barnabas.”
“You say that because you want to blame him!” Elizabeth protested.
He shook his head. “No. I say it because it is true. The whole picture fits. I mean her fainting, and not being able to remember anything. It’s exactly the same story with the village girls whom Barnabas has attacked.”
And this is an excerpt from the previous book, BQ and the Magic Potion:
“There’s just been a report on the radio of a girl found walking in a dazed state along the beach last night. She remembers being suddenly attacked by someone, after which her mind went blank. Aside from shock, there were apparently no other injuries.” He paused and then spoke slowly so that his remaining words would be sure to sink in. “But there was an odd red mark on her throat.”
Elizabeth spoke up, “That doesn’t have to mean anything!”
Roger turned on her angrily. “Not if you want to play ostrich and stick your head in the sand and ignore the facts around you. It’s clear enough to me. Barnabas is up to his old tricks. He attacked that girl for her blood!”
Comparing those two passages, I think that Roger’s language is actually more aggressive in Magic Potion; he’s more measured and matter-of-fact in Body Snatchers. I honestly can not tell the difference between Pod-Roger’s behavior and the way he acts in the other books, but this book is full of scenes where Roger acts completely in character, and then everyone says, oh my god how is this even the same man, this must be some kind of pink transparent scheme to enslave the Earth.
By the way, the spaceship really is pink, which I love so much that I can’t resist talking about it now, even though we don’t find out about it until chapter 7.
I’m going to jump straight to page 85:
They climbed up a small rise and there, hidden from view by thick underbrush, was a spaceship. It was oval in design, about thirty feet in diameter and perhaps ten feet high at its central point, thinning out at the edges. It was of a pinkish transparent plastic material that revealed the complicated apparatus grouped around its central shaft.
I mean, how great is that? An alien invasion of Earth perpetrated by aliens who arrive in a top-secret pink transparent plastic spaceship, because our galaxy was designed by Lisa Frank.
This is what I’m saying about the Paperback Library novels: as ridiculous as they are, they do manage to deliver unexpected surprises, and that is the point of Dark Shadows. My argument about the Dynamite comics last week was that they’d had forty years to think up a new story about Barnabas and Angelique, and they came up with exactly the same thing that Return to Collinwood did, eight years earlier.
In the War for Dark Shadows — the decades-long battle to define what Dark Shadows is, and how it works — the winners will be the people who create funny, unexpected narrative-collision surprises. It may seem premature to award the top prize to Paperback Library simply on the strength of one pink plastic transparent spaceship, but honestly, can anyone else top that? I mean, sure, Big Finish probably will, but they haven’t yet.
Anyway, after a while Barnabas ankles and Roger comes along, so we can all see how mean and different he is. He opens with a sardonic expression, and then moves on to mockery, sarcasm, passive-aggressive projection and denial. He’s not everything you might wish for in a brother, but brothers can be disappointing, and it doesn’t always mean that they’ve been replaced by an alien.
But Elizabeth says that he’s become a different person, and he grasps her arm and says, “What kind of talk is that?” and then
Elizabeth found herself unable to reply. The shock of his grasping her and a certain something about him had paralyzed her. She stood there rigid and silent. It seemed to her a kind of hissing sound rang in her ears and Roger’s touch had something of an electric shock to it that numbed her body and her mind. She felt helpless, trapped by some weird reaction over which she apparently had no control.
For more than a minute they stood there; then car headlights appeared down the road and Roger let her go. The hissing sound in her ears vanished and she was able to move and speak again.
So that’s example #1 in the long list of ridiculous extraterrestrial self-owns that we’re going to witness over the course of this ridiculous book. Basically, these aliens made one good decision — choosing the color and opacity of their super sweet space rocket — and then they never made another good decision ever again.
Murdoch and Marjorie arrive at Collinwood, and after some boilerplate greeting dialogue, Liz brings Marjorie upstairs to her room. At that point, we get the remarkable moment of the point of view switching from Liz to Marjorie mid-chapter.
The passage starts with:
Elizabeth had assigned a room on the third floor overlooking the ocean to Murdoch Gray and prepared a smaller room a little distance down the hall, but with the same view, for Marjorie. Leaving Roger to take his friend to his room, she went with Marjorie.
There’s a little customary chatter, and then Liz leaves the room:
Marjorie thanked the tall, elegant woman and Elizabeth went out, leaving her alone. It had seemed to Marjorie that from the moment of their arrival Elizabeth Stoddard had been strangely nervous. She wondered if the attractive woman were ill.
And there isn’t even a line break to indicate that the point of view has shifted; Elizabeth just leaves the room, and the “camera” stays put. This is a big deal for me, because it indicates a new openness to experimentation and change in what I thought was a completely stationary genre. It’s probably not a big deal for anyone else.
Marjorie goes back downstairs, and takes a look at Barnabas’ portrait in the great hall, which is painted entirely in catnip.
Marjorie stared at the handsome countenance looking down at her from the golden frame. “He has a strong face. He must have accomplished a great deal in his life.”
Yeah, I’ll bet. I told you about the handsome; they do this all the way through the picture.
Everyone retires to the drawing room for refreshment, where we get another word picture in the “tell, don’t show” house style.
Roger Collins stood all through the serving of the sandwiches and coffee, which somehow kept the rest of them from relaxing. And not only did he take very little food, but he seemed to keep on annoying Elizabeth.
Marjorie couldn’t blame Elizabeth for her jittery state. Roger Collins was almost like a caricature of a person. He was rather unreal, Marjorie decided, and yet she couldn’t put a finger on the reason why.
So I don’t know what to do with that information at all. “He was almost like a caricature of a person.” How? Based on what? What makes someone come off as “rather unreal”?
And saying “she couldn’t put a finger on the reason why” is not sufficient; it’s just unhelpful lampshading. Then they double down on it:
Roger’s cold eyes fixed on her almost scornfully. “I suggest you query my sister on anything to do with Collinwood or the family. She is the historian with a much better memory for detail than I possess.”
Marjorie found something odd in the way he talked. It was almost as if he were a foreigner who had learned English late in life and had mastered the language with a faultless accent that was just too perfect. He spoke very differently from his sister and yet they must have both grown up together here.
“Your manner of speaking doesn’t seem to match your sister’s accent at all. Did you study at some distant college? Perhaps in a foreign land?” Marjorie inquired.
Roger Collins glared at her. “You must be imagining that.”
So at this point, it’s clear that we’re just going to have to take Ross’ word for it. There is no attempt made to demonstrate Roger’s “too perfect” way of speaking. Earlier in the chapter, Elizabeth said, “I began to wonder if he had a very good reason for denying that he’d heard the noise,” which is the same style of sentence as “She is the historian with a much better memory for detail than I possess.”
It’s an odd little mystery, why Dan Ross makes a big deal about Roger’s supposedly different style of speech, but can’t come up with a single clear example of it. I suppose the less charitable explanation would be that Ross can hardly write human dialogue in the first place, and every character in his books sounds the same. There’s probably a more charitable explanation, but I can’t think of any at the moment.
After a while, Marjorie walks outside by herself for a moment, and then she’s pounced upon by a vampire.
Then she heard a footstep to her left and turned, expecting to see Carolyn come back. Instead, a dark, blurred form came quickly toward her, sending a chill of cold fear tingling down her spine. Powerful hands seized her, and she screamed loudly, then fainted. The face looming over her was that from the portrait in the hall — the face of that handsome man who had lived and died two hundred years ago!
You see what I mean about the handsome? Even during an attack. They simply can’t help themselves.
So the question, I suppose, is: if you’re a hostile alien space presence plotting against the wretched Earth people, why would you bother going to Collinwood, where the Earth people are already spending all of their time plotting against each other?
Marjorie comes to on a divan in the drawing room, which is put there specifically for people to come to on. She can’t really explain why she suddenly screamed and lost consciousness just outside the front door, but whatever happened must have happened pretty quickly. Barnabas must have been thirsty as hell, to grab a guest right outside Collinwood when everyone is awake. Marjorie is the original thirst trap.
Carolyn takes Marjorie upstairs to her room, and along the way, Marjorie notices the portrait in the foyer with the gaunt, melancholy face, and says hey, I think that’s the guy who just bit me, which is why you shouldn’t prey on people staying at your relatives’ place. If you want to feast on the blood of the living, you need to step outside your corridor.
Back in the drawing room, Not-Roger mocks Elizabeth, saying that he could see Barnabas’ bite marks on the girl’s throat. “The whole picture fits,” he says. “I mean her fainting, and not being able to remember anything. It’s exactly the same story with the village girls whom Barnabas has attacked. That’s why it’s almost impossible to build a case against him. And if any of them do have a small memory of him, they’re too frightened or too infatuated to testify against him.”
This is exactly correct, and it’s exactly what Roger always says in this situation, which happens in every Paperback Library book in which he appears. So I have two questions: #1) Why does Elizabeth immediately say that Roger is acting like a different person, which he is clearly not, and #2) Why does the pod person care about what Barnabas does anyway?
I mean, that would be an easy and inexpensive way for Ross to demonstrate that this creature is not actually Roger: to have him not interested in the village girls, or any other local concerns. Whatever these aliens think that they’re doing, it couldn’t possibly matter to them that the Collins family name is associated with a known vampire. What are they actually trying to achieve? How does introducing unnecessary interpersonal conflict have anything to do with their mission?
So that’s a fun game to play, while we’re trying to read this bizarre booklet: figuring out all the mistakes that these idiot extraterrestrials make on every page in which they appear. For one thing, this is the third sequence in a row where someone points out to Roger that he’s not acting like himself. If this was truly intelligent life from outer space, they might want to pay attention to these reactions, and use them as helpful feedback to improve their performance. But it just makes them even more ornery.
The hard truth is that Dan Ross has apparently never written a science-fiction story before, and he doesn’t quite have the knack of it. Ross wrote about three hundred books over the course of his prolific and ridiculous career, mostly romance novels. He wrote a lot of gothic romances, mystery romances and nurse romances, which is not a genre that I was previously aware of. He also wrote a dozen or so westerns, just for variety. But as far as I know, this was his only attempt at sci-fi.
There’s an interesting dedication at the front:
For nearly a year a steady stream
of letters has crossed my desk.
For your kindness, suggestions
and inspiration, I thank you
— to all the devoted fans of
Barnabas and Quentin.
I think there are a couple innovations in this book that may have been inspired by the Dark Shadows fan letters: the inclusion of a character who we’ll meet in chapter 6 that we’ve never seen in the books before, as well as the evolution of Barnabas and Quentin’s relationship. It’s also possible that someone suggested that he try a science-fiction story, which inspired this experiment with an alien-invasion plot that I think you’ll find is not entirely successful.
Now, he’s starting with some disadvantages, right from the start, because he’s writing about a world-shattering alien invasion plan that involves infiltrating an isolated mansion in Maine. To really get a handle on invading the Earth, you typically want to be near a seat of power, in one arena or another: political, military, scientific or cultural. Failing that, you at least want to penetrate a major population center. But you don’t come all the way across the trackless deeps of space just to take over a house with four permanent residents and a handful of guests. It doesn’t get you anywhere.
It also doesn’t help that Ross is trying to do a sinister alien duplicate plot in a fictional universe where everybody already acts like sinister alien duplicates. There’s a high level of background-radiation grouchiness in the Paperback Library series that affects everyone except Barnabas and the heroines, so if you’re expecting characters to be stunned when someone acts rude and unnecessarily angry, then you’re going to have a hard time putting that across to the reader.
So if we’re making a list of things that the aliens really shouldn’t be concerning themselves with, then we can add Quentin and his heretofore unmentioned wolf ring.
The hissing electrified gas cloud currently doing business as Roger noticed that Elizabeth looked startled when she saw Marjorie wearing the ring, and he wants to know why, because the invasion plan apparently rises and falls on whether Roger understands every look that crosses Liz’s face.
“It looked like a ring which used to belong to our cousin Quentin.”
“Could it be the same one?”
“Of course not,” she replied. “She said that singer gave it to her. He must have bought it somewhere.”
There was a strange light in Roger’s eyes. “Then it could be Quentin’s ring. He could have picked it up second-hand.”
“No,” she said. “That’s not likely. As far as we know Quentin is dead and the ring is still on his hand.”
“As far as we know,” Roger Collins said in an insinuating tone as he gave his sister a grim smile.
So I don’t know what’s going on there. Why is the alien interested in Quentin? Why do they think that Quentin is dead? If the ring is one-of-a-kind and Quentin doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s in a new disguise, then why would he give the ring to Marjorie after she told him that she was going to Collinwood?
Also: how great is that first exchange? — It looks like a ring that belongs to Quentin. Quentin’s ring? Yes. — That’s how you know that you’re in the presence of a master of the literary arts.
Then we hop over to Carolyn, who walks into her bedroom, turns on the light and finds her cousin Barnabas standing quietly in the corner, as often happens.
Carolyn knows that Barnabas is a vampire at this point in the series, and that’s a plot point that Dan Ross has decided to remember correctly, so she chides him for attacking Marjorie on her first night at Collinwood and giving her a bad impression. His defense is two-fold: #1) “I did her no harm” and #2) “I have my needs.” So that’s okay then.
Barnabas asks Carolyn about the wolf’s head ring that Marjorie was wearing during the assault, because obviously you’re going to pay attention to the accessories. He says that he’s seen a ring exactly like that on the hand of Quentin Collins, and Carolyn gasps, “But isn’t Quentin dead?” I honestly don’t know where people get these ideas. Quentin was perfectly fine the last time we saw him, one book ago.
Barnabas says that he and Quentin are both living under a curse — Barnabas as a vampire, and Quentin as a werewolf. “I just don’t believe there are any such curses,” Carolyn observes. “I think you and Quentin use them as excuses for your lapses in behavior.” What? They just talked about how Barnabas bit Marjorie. Honestly, these Paperback people.
I hope you’re ready for one more entirely unlikely part of the conversation, because then they discuss Marjorie’s private affairs.
“Where do you suppose Marjorie got that ring?”
Barnabas shrugged. “To my knowledge there is only one of its kind. And Quentin owned it.”
She frowned. “Then how would this Jim James get it?”
“Have you ever seen his photo?”
“Yes — well, no. Not really. On his record jackets they never show his face; it’s sort of his trademark. A back view of him sitting on a rock above the sea, or walking down a city street. You know.”
“I wonder what he looks like,” Barnabas said quietly.
So, again: What? He’s a world-famous singer, and nobody ever prints a picture of his face? What does he do to avoid having his picture taken when he’s performing, or walking down the street getting mobbed by girls? Also: how does he get mobbed by girls, if nobody ever sees his face? Also: If you were trying to hide your identity, why would you become a world-famous singer?
Carolyn touched a hand to her lips. “You don’t think?”
“I don’t know,” Barnabas said with meaning. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if the famous Jim James turned out to have a startling resemblance to Quentin Collins.”
“It isn’t possible!”
Barnabas looked amused. “I’ve seen Quentin in a number of guises. Why not that of a recording star?”
Well, for one thing, it takes more than a month to become a recording star, especially if you have to go all the way to England to do it. What are you all talking about?
So this is what makes reading the Paperback Library gothics such a pleasantly aerobic activity for me. That is several utterly nonsensical statements and plot points, one after the other in a scene that’s a little over three pages long. You just don’t find that kind of high-quality claptrap anywhere else.
And the chapter’s not even over yet! Now we have to check in with space expert Murdoch Gray, who’s in his bedroom, looking at the secret files on Velva, and the mysterious messages that they haven’t unlocked yet.
It was a serious responsibility to have so much classified material in his possession. If he’d let the Department know what he was going to do, they’d have had a half-dozen FBI men around to guard the precious files. But he hadn’t wanted the bother or notoriety of this. It had seemed perfectly safe for him to make the vacation trip to this remote Maine coastal region on his own. But now he began to worry.
And I have to say, yeah, it’s a bad idea to take classified files and run away with them without telling anyone that you have them. That’s not rocket science, and this guy is literally a rocket scientist. So what the hell?
His pal Roger comes into the room, and they chat about how dangerous it is to have all these files around. Roger offers to put them in a safe, but Gray demurs.
“I want to have them always in my custody. But I have been worrying, and I believe that tomorrow I’ll phone the Department in Washigton and have them fly some men down here to guard me.”
So this is apparently a thing you can do if you work for the Department, just make a phone call and order some men, with free delivery. That’s quite a perk; it’s no wonder Wedross collapsed from overwork.
Finally, we get the big payoff we’ve been waiting for: an all-singing, all-dancing alien replacement scene.
Roger touched his arm and it was as if an electric shock had surged through him. Murdoch Gray was transfixed by a strange numbness. And in his ears there was a peculiar hissing sound that seemed to emanate from Roger. Horrified, he stared at his friend with mute pleading.
Roger’s eyes were cold. “You have brought this on yourself, Gray,” he said, in that peculiar, precise fashion.
Note: There is nothing about that sentence which is different from any other dialogue in the book.
Suddenly Murdoch Gray had the weird feeling that there was a third presence in the room, that they were not alone. Paralyzed as he was, he could only stand there staring, still hearing that odd hissing noise.
Then directly in front of him he was conscious of a gaseous cloud, which gradually began to condense and take shape. And from it he heard the identical hissing sound that came from Roger Collins. Feeling he might be going mad, he watched this swirling gas take on the semblance of a human form. And as it became more complete he saw that the form was his!
Okay, so here’s where we learn about what the aliens are doing, and their whole plan comes into focus.
Roger turned to the newcomer. “Excellent,” he said. “And now let us hear you speak. The voice must be right. Mine almost gave me away.” [Note: Almost?]
The spurious Murdoch Gray smiled. “I think you will have no cause to complain, Roger.”
“I will not,” Roger exclaimed, looking pleased. “You sound exactly like him. You should have no trouble deceiving the others.”
Murdoch’s double smiled at him evilly. “I know you are finding this an unpleasant experience, Gray. But speaking for the inhabitants of the planet Velva, consider how much more unpleasant it is for them to have to face an invasion of you unhappy Earth people.”
Roger Collins nodded. “We tried to send you messages to desist in your attempts to put a manned rocket on Velva, but you either ignored the messages or were too stupid to decipher them.”
Okay, so now we’re getting into Plan Nine from Outer Space territory. “We tried to send you messages,” they say. “You were too stupid to decipher them,” they say. Except here you are, right now, speaking English.
You sent messages to Earth to get them to not send a rocket, and when that didn’t stop the project, you got on a spaceship and traveled to Earth, where you could have contacted the Department and told them whatever you were trying to tell them, but instead you shut yourself up in an old mansion in Maine, and now you’re lecturing us. Roger that.
The spurious Murdoch Gray smiled nastily. “We are literally a thousand years ahead of you Earth people in culture and technology, Gray. And we do not propose to be invaded and despoiled by you. We have a different, much more sanitary life form which offers no pollution to our planet and enables us to vanish into a whiff of gas when we desire.”
Roger Collins told the still transfixed and staring Murdoch Gray, “I am no more Roger Collins than my friend here is you. But we will take your places and do our work here until we have destroyed any chances of your rocket landing on Velva.”
“In the meantime you will be a prisoner with your friend Roger Collins in our spacecraft hidden deep in the swamp,” the other Velvetian said. “Our third comrade is on guard there. He is waiting for a suitable person to exchange identity with and then he wil join us in our work.”
Roger chuckled. “You will note that you cannot speak or move, Gray. For all your learning you do not understand that power. We Velva people have many such tricks at our disposal.”
Okay, fine, you’re super advanced. Everything you do is awesome and sanitary, and everything we do is stupid, because you can vanish into a whiff of gas and we can’t. Honestly, I’m getting less interested in the idea of traveling to Velva anyway, if everyone there is like you.
Cold fear shot through Murdoch Gray. He now knew the warning of the messages they had been unable to decode.
His double explained, “As for you and Roger Collins, and whoever our third choice of identity will be, you all must die. You may consider it a high price to pay. But it is no higher than the one we ourselves must offer. All three of us must die after we return to Velva and give them the news there is no further danger. We cannot assume our old shapes again and we shall be surely contaminated with Earth germs which we cannot take back to Velva. We will briefly touch on our planet, send out messages, and then take off into space to explode our spacecraft.”
Which I don’t even know what to do with. Your planet is obviously terrible, and I don’t want to discuss it any further. But at least now we know what the aliens want, which is to steal Gray’s important papers and destroy them, so that the Earth people can’t travel to Velva.
The creature in the shape of Roger Collins smiled bleakly. “Now you have the whole story, Gray. We’ll get the briefcases from the closet and then take you the spacecraft in the swamp to join Collins as a prisoner. We are very interested in going over your figures. They’ll tell us whether your project had any chance of success.”
Sure, that sounds — wait, what? Why are you interested in going over the figures? You already know how to travel through space. What does it matter whether his project had a chance of success? All you want to do is stop it. Remember?
In the morning, Marjorie goes downstairs and what does she find but the spurious Roger, sitting at the table and eager for a conversation with her.
Roger Collins gave her a shrewd look. “No doubt your father will complete his work on the rocket flight to Velva while he is here.”
She hesitated, remembering that her father had warned her not to discuss his work with anyone. “That’s something you’ll have to ask him about.”
“I take an amateur’s interest in such things,” Roger said with a thin smile. “And of course your father keeps you up to date on his procedures.”
Roger surprised her by remaining at the breakfast table until she had finished. He asked her so many questions that she couldn’t help feeling that he was deliberately trying to draw information from her.
As she sipped her coffee, she said, “Father can provide you with most of the information you’re interested in much easier than I.”
Roger looked abashed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was being so inquisitive. I think this project to send men to Velva is the biggest scientific accomplishment of our century.”
“Not everyone feels that way.”
“No. Some members of the government feel it to be a waste of money. And a few consider it foolhardy. They have an idea there may be inhabitants of Velva who will resent our intrusion of their planet and try to prevent the mission.”
Roger Collins lifted his eyebrows. “Really?”
So you may be wondering why the aliens are trying to get information out of the top scientist’s daughter, rather than from the man himself, who is currently helpless in their own spaceship. What do they think that they’re up to?
Marjorie excuses herself, and reflects on their strange conversation.
As she went upstairs, she wondered why Roger Collins made her so uneasy. There was something about him which put her on guard. Something she didn’t understand. And she’d noticed how uneasy his sister Elizabeth had been in his presence the night of their arrival. Even Carolyn had mentioned that her uncle was behaving strangely. Could he be losing his mind?
So once again we find that the lookalikes are fooling nobody; even a stranger can tell that there’s something wrong with Roger. I tell you, that planet must be unbelievably sanitary to make them so self-assured. These creatures are idiots.
Well, you can’t hang around the house and talk to aliens all day, so Marjorie meets up with Carolyn and they head down to the docks to meet Carolyn’s friend Don Ardell, a blond, muscular youth who Elizabeth describes as “a millionaire’s playboy son”. He apparently wrecks a lot of boats, and Liz doesn’t want Carolyn to go sailing with him.
They walked out onto the dock and Don said pleasantly, “Howdy!”
“It’s no good, Don, I can’t go out in the boat,” Carolyn said at once. “Mother won’t let me!”
“No kidding?” Don looked surprised.
“She’s in one of her moods,” Carolyn said. “I think it’s because she’s upset over the way Uncle Roger has been acting. I want to introduce you to a guest, Marjorie Gray.”
“Hi, Marjorie.” The young man smiled, taking her hand. “I hope you’re able to enjoy a boat ride.”
“Not unless her father says so,” Carolyn said quickly. “Otherwise I’d feel responsible. Maybe we can both go later.”
Don looked gloomy. “That means I’ll have to go out by myself for the morning.”
“It won’t kill you,” Carolyn told him.
And then Don sails away on his boat, I guess, and he’s not in the scene anymore. You may be wondering what Don has to do with the rest of the story. The answer is that I don’t know.
Carolyn and Marjorie swim for a bit, and then they wander around as Carolyn points out interesting tourist attractions, like the Old House and the cemetery. As they’re returning to Collinwood, they see the spurious Roger and the spurious Gray walking toward the swamp, carrying all of Gray’s briefcases. The pair stops, and they seem to carry on a conversation with a third person who isn’t there. The girls walk up to them and ask politely what the hell they’re doing, and the aliens explain that they were just taking the briefcases outside for a bit of fresh air.
Roger says that he wants to show Gray the swamp, which was never mentioned on the show but is regularly featured in these Paperback Library books. And apparently that’s going to happen while they’re both carrying briefcases full of classified material. Carolyn and Marjorie are suspicious for some reason, and they briefly discuss following the guys into the swamp, but then there’s a hissing sound and they can’t move for a while until Roger and Gray are out of sight. The aliens are one thousand years more advanced than Earth people, and this is how they behave.
So Carolyn and Marjorie speculate about the guys for a while, and then they go back to Collinwood and talk to Elizabeth about it, and then Roger calls and says that they decided to bring the briefcases to Bangor and put them in a bank vault, so okay.
Not much really happens for a few pages, and then Marjorie goes outside and she meets Barnabas, hooray! Obviously, she recognizes him as the guy who attacked her, but he says “I hate to disagree with you, but I must,” and that’s the end of that.
Spotting the ring on her finger, he gives her a friendly warning.
“You seem a very nice person, but I fear you are too trusting. You could be hurt. Badly!”
She waited a moment in the darkness, then asked, “How could I be hurt?”
“Has Jim James told you he’ll marry you?”
“That doesn’t concern you,” she replied defiantly.
“You’re wearing his ring,” he pointed out. “That very special ring. A ring with a meaning you do not understand.”
“What meaning could it have?”
Barnabas said, “You may find that out in a frightening fashion.”
That’s what I’ll miss, really, when the blog is done and I’m not doing Paperback Library posts anymore — crazy ass lines like that, which you just don’t find anywhere else in fiction.
Then he kisses her, which she kind of just allows him to do.
“Why did you do that?” she asked him. She felt she should be angry.
“Because I like you,” Barnabas said. “Forgive an impulsive act.”
“I’m going back to the house.”
Barnabas nodded. “You shouldn’t wander the grounds alone at night. I’ll escort you back.”
As they walked toward Collinwood, she said quietly, “You’re a strange person. I can’t decide about you. You’re a mixture of good and evil.”
You know, they make a big deal about the way that the aliens talk, but honestly, the humans are just as bad. I don’t know how anybody can tell the difference.
Back at the house, the spurious Murdoch Gray is still emitting strange messages which cannot be decoded.
Her father moved close to her again and she was aware of that oddness about him.
“I know I’ve behaved strangely.”
“But there is a reason. I’m very worried about my calculations concerning the rocket flight. They all need to be proven. My mind is on them.”
Her eyes met his and held them. “Then why did you take the files to that Bangor bank before you’d finished with them?”
Her father hesitated, then he said, “I was afraid for their safety.”
“So you won’t be working on them here?”
“No. But I am worried about them. I’m anxious to return to checking the figures.”
It didn’t make much sense to her. She said, “I’m baffled.”
Yeah, me too. What do you think we should do about it?
That night, Marjorie wakes up as she hears a strange, shrill sound which gradually rises to a terrifying screaming clamor before it fades away to nothingness. Apparently nobody else wakes up with all this weird racket outside, but she gets out of bed to investigate.
Pulling aside the drape, she gazed out into the darkness and it was then she saw the distant pink glow. It was an eerie light extending far up into the sky and it seemed to come from the area behind the woods. Carolyn had referred to a swamp there — a primeval, menacing section of ponds, thick brush and quicksands on the outer fringe of Collinwood.
As she watched the pink light, which seemed to be hovering over the swamp, it suddenly vanished. There was just the darkness again. Marjorie remained at the window for a moment with a puzzled expression on her pretty face.
Yeah, my pretty face has a puzzled expression too. Why did these pink whiffs of gas need to take the spaceship out for a spin at night, so that Marjorie could see them land again in the swamp? Plus, then she wonders if Roger and her father brought the briefcases into the swamp to give them to a third party. It’s amazing how bad these guys are at covering their tracks; everyone they come into contact with knows all of their secrets instantly. Sometimes I wonder if maybe they’re only ahead of us by nine hundred years.
Everyone scatters in the morning, so Marjorie walks down to the docks and renews her acquaintance with Carolyn’s playboy friend Don Ardell.
“Hello!” the curly-headed young man said. “Taking a walk in the fog?”
She nodded. “I sort of like it. It gives everything an air of mystery.”
“Where’s Carolyn?” he said with a smile.
“She’s away for the day with her mother.”
“Bad luck!” Don said. “I was hoping to see her.”
“I’ll tell her you were here.”
“Thanks,” the young man said in his friendly way. “It’s good to see you again. Do you like it here?”
So I hope that playboy Don Ardell is super hot, because he’s not much of a conversationalist. But then the subject turns to her weird vision last night, and he gets more informative.
Don was staring at her speculatively. “That strange noise and then the pink glow would bother anyone. Did you know that some UFOs have been seen here?”
“UFOs?” she echoed, not understanding.
“Sure,” he said. “Unidentified flying objects. Like from Mars or some place. The people who follow those things up have been down here asking a lot of questions and making investigations. What you saw last night could have been another one of them. And from what you say it might have landed in the swamp.”
She was listening to him with growing tension. Everything seemed to indicate that the swamp was the headquarters for some kind of alien activity.
And you know, I’m not familiar with the concept of extraterrestrial swamp headquarters; this might be a step forward in UFO fiction.
Distressed, Marjorie goes back to Collinwood and gets even more distressed when she hears someone bumping around in her bedroom. Looking through the keyhole, she sees her spurious father standing by her dresser, reading her diary. This is how advanced the alien operation is; they’re reading girls’ diaries now.
Worried, she decides to go to the Old House to get some comfort from Barnabas, but Carolyn warned her that Barnabas’ savage servant, Hare, would keep her away during the day. With a PBL heroine’s usual disregard for the rule of law, Marjorie decides to break into the Old House, which she accomplishes by forcing the same old busted cellar door that Carolyn busted into in the last book.
Just like Carolyn did, Marjorie walks through some basement tunnels and then finds Barnabas in his coffin, surrounded by lit candles and utterly dead. She realizes that Barnabas must be a vampire, but she’s not too freaked out about it, because she already has camp aliens to worry about.
Grabbing a lit candle that Barnabas was probably hoping to keep for himself, Marjorie heads back through the tunnels — and finds Roger, who followed her and is utterly furious that she came here, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the aliens’ plan.
Marjorie felt trapped and desperate. She was still clutching the candle, and instinctively she thrust it out toward Roger’s face so that its small, flickering flame almost touched him. It was a feeble, hopeless gesture and yet it had startling results.
Roger Collins looked at the flame stupidly for a second and then actually staggered back. “You little fool!” he cried. “Be careful of that flame!”
His reaction was so exaggerated she couldn’t understand it. She only knew she should be grateful for it. Still clutching the candle, she said, “Let me out of here.”
Roger went on blocking the doorway. “Put down that candle first,” he ordered her.
“No,” she told him. She had little on her side and she wasn’t going to abandon even the small advantage the burning candle had offered.
So that is where we are, halfway through a book that features an invasion by an alien species that’s afraid of candles. Well, I’m sure it won’t come up again.
Worried about Roger, Elizabeth goes to the distant village of Wyncliff to consult with a doctor, and guess who it is, it’s Julia Hoffman!
Elizabeth flipped through the pages of a popular magazine as she waited for the famous specialist to appear. When she had phoned her ahead to be sure Dr. Hoffman was at the hospital and would have time to see her, she had told her to come along. Now that Elizabeth was there, she hardly knew how to begin explaining the latest problem of Collinwood to the doctor.
She recalled the brave fight Julia Hoffman had made to cure Barnabas of his vampire curse. She had almost met with success in her experiments and then had a last-minute failure, mostly through Barnabas’ impatience and reluctance to cooperate fully with the specialist. This had been a sad blow to Julia’s professional pride — and more than that, for Julia had fallen in love with Barnabas. Perhaps the saddest thing of all was the fact that the romance was a one-sided affair. Barnabas liked Julia but had never been in love with her.
So that steady stream of letters that crossed Dan Ross’ desk were apparently informative, and here — by popular demand — Julia Hoffman is introduced to the Paperback Library Cinematic Universe. It’s actually not a bad summary of the storyline, for someone who’s never watched the television show. Ross thinks that Julia lives in the distant village of Wyncliff, but besides that, he’s got the main points correct.
Julia studied her from behind the desk. “I’ve been wondering how you were making out at Collinwood. I have heard that Barnabas is back.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “He is back. But it is not about him that I have come to talk to you.”
“I’m surprised,” she said frankly. “I had expected that it would be. How is he?”
“About the same,” Elizabeth said quietly, studying her folded hands in her lap.
“Having the same trouble?”
“It’s very sad,” Julia sighed. “To think he might have been saved. Do you suppose he’s ready to accept treatment again?”
“I don’t know. He hasn’t mentioned it.”
“I wish you’d speak to him. I have been making new experiments and I have improved the serum we tried before. I think this time I might be able to effect a cure.”
Elizabeth smiled wanly at her. “It would be wonderful for him. Barnabas is a fine person. It is hideous for him to go on as he is now.”
So that’s where we’re arrived with this series, and there’s been real development. This book has demonstrated a lot of advances in Paperback science — multiple points of view, trying out a narrative collision with a new genre, and introducing actual television characters in a way that’s remarkably on point — but the biggest change that we’re seeing is the level of knowledge and acceptance that the characters have about Barnabas being a vampire.
Carolyn started figuring things out back in book #17, BQ and the Avenging Ghost, and she confirmed that Barnabas was a vampire in #25, BQ and the Magic Potion. But now, one book later, Elizabeth understands the entire history of Julia’s attempts to cure Barnabas, which is a level of comfort with alternative lifestyles that you wouldn’t expect in 1971.
There’s not actually that much to the scene — Liz tells Julia about Roger’s behavior, and Julia instantly says that Roger is probably insane, which you could say about anybody in these books. But Liz invites Julia to come to Collinwood soon, and Julia agrees that she will, and we’ll see more of her later.
So now we come to the point where the spurious Roger and Gray walk out to the swamp to visit their transparent pink plastic spaceship, hidden from view by thick underbrush. The real Roger and Gray are stashed in a nearby cave, bound and gagged, with haunted eyes that tell of their feelings more vividly than any words could.
I don’t really have anything to say about it; I just wanted to mention the spaceship again because it makes me happy.
There are several pages about Jim James trying to get a room at the Collinsport Inn, but the desk clerk recognizes him as Quentin and says there are no vacancies. Jim ends up renting a room at a boarding house, if you’re interested.
Then Marjorie and Carolyn have a heart to heart about everything Marjorie witnessed today.
Carolyn sighed. “I was afraid of what your reaction might be. Barnabas is really a fine person in spite of the horrible shadow which hangs over him.”
Marjorie accepted this soberly. “I’m ready to believe that.”
“What you saw today didn’t repulse you?”
“Knowing what Barnabas is like made it less difficult,” she said. “Discovering my father spying on me and having Roger behave so badly really shocked me more.”
So that’s a particular way to respond to the world: the existence of the living dead can be shrugged off; the real problem is your dad reading your diary.
There’s dinner and more gloomy conversation, and then Jim calls up Marjorie and asks her to meet him: he’ll drive up to the house, and meet her out on the driveway. When she hangs up, she has another needlessly unpleasant conversation.
Murdoch Gray demanded, “Who was that?”
“I don’t have to tell you,” she retorted.
He loomed above her in an almost menacing manner. “You had better,” he said. “It was Jim James, wasn’t it? That cheap young singer?”
“Jim is not cheap,” she said, defending the young man she loved. “He’s successful and very nice. You’ve always been unfair to him!”
“I don’t want him around you,” her father said angrily.
So, again: why? I don’t understand why the real Murdoch Gray’s concerns about his daughter’s love life has anything to do with the alien who’s pretending to be Gray. l suppose the real Murdoch sitting in the damp cave would be a little bit cheered to know that his duplicate is still looking out for his interests.
Then there’s a weird sequence where Marjorie goes outside to meet Jim, but she feels her hand tingle as if some unseen strong ray had crossed it and robbed it of strength, and then she finds that she can’t move, and she becomes convinced that an unseen phantom is nearby, and it’s utterly evil, and then Jim drives up, and she tries to call out, “Jim! Help!” and then Jim sees her on the lawn and jumps out of his car, but then he also gets the sense of a powerful unseen phantom, and then his features gradually distort before her eyes into the face of an animal! And that’s the only werewolf scene in the whole book.
Marjorie faints, of course, and when she regains consciousness there’s her boyfriend Jim, asking her whatever could have happened to make her faint?
Paperback Library heroines are particularly susceptible to gaslight; most of the time, they turn on the gas themselves. So once Jim gets her into his car and drives her someplace quiet, it’s not hard to lure her into an utterly baffling conversation.
“Several of the people at Collinwood have noticed my ring and asked me about it,” she said. “Seeing it seemed to upset them.”
He smiled bitterly. “I can imagine why.”
“The ring once belonged to a member of the Collins family.”
“What Collins did it belong to?”
He hesitated slightly, then said, “Quentin Collins. He had the ring designed especially for him.”
“Why did he give it to you?”
“That’s too long a story to tell now.”
“But you know him.”
“What is he like?”
“An average sort. Why?”
She frowned. “All the family talk about him in subdued tones, as if he brought some dreadful disgrace on them. Do you know the story?”
“It’s something I’d rather not discuss, since I’m inclined to be on Quentin’s side.”
“Why don’t you want to meet any of the family here?”
“They might ask questions about Quentin,” he said. “Questions I would prefer not to answer.”
She stared at him. “You’re a strange person.”
And then they start talking about something else.
Well, finally it’s time for Don’s big speedboat race, and if you weren’t aware that a big speedboat race was coming up then that’s on you, everyone’s been talking about it nonstop for the entire book. Also, Don is the guy who crashes boats, although today he says that he probably won’t.
Carolyn and Marjorie show up to spectate, and Don says there won’t be any danger at all, just clear, deep water, except for one little place where there’s a rock ridge that you’d have to be a real knucklehead to crash into and make your boat explode.
They start the race, and the powerful speedboats churn through the water, engines throbbing and whatever, and everything’s fine except for uh oh
As the race went on, two figures stood watching in an isolated spot far from the village. They were completely alone in the remote cove but they had a clear view of the finish line of the reaces. They were watching with a curious grim intensity. The spurious Roger Collins and Murdoch Gray had an interest in the race far beyond the normal. And close by them was that third evil presence which had not yet taken on a human appearance.
So there’s poor little playboy Don Ardell, showing off his speedboat, and the aliens take control of him with their strong invisible ray of holding, which keeps him from turning at the crucial moment, and the boat explodes.
Carolyn screams in horror, and Marjorie comforts her as the boat and the boyfriend go up in flames. Meanwhile, the impostors from Velva watch the scene from high above, and find it mildly interesting.
“Will they find a body?” Roger worried. “That would complicate things.”
“Not likely,” Gray said. “The chances are all against it.”
“We should have more influence once today’s work is accomplished.”
Murdoch Gray looked worried. “The major problem concerns the plans. We cannot complete our mission and leave until the plans are found and checked.”
“And the files we took from Gray are not complete?”
“No. There are three vital pages missing. He denies this but I know he is lying. You cannot verify his mathematics without those missing pages.”
“He’d not come here to work without them,” Roger insisted.
“No.” Gray’s face shadowed. “That is why I’m sure the girl must have them.”
“But you searched her things and found nothing.”
“They must still be at Collinwood somewhere,” the fake Murdoch Gray said grimly. “Last night’s message from Velva made it clear that we will be held in disgrace if we do not complete this mission successfully.”
And you know, I might hold them in disgrace either way. This mission has never really made sense to me, and this new “three vital pages” problem seems to me like shilly-shallying. They want to stop the rocket project, so they’ve kidnapped the lead scientist and stolen his files; the rocket project is now stopped. But now they’ve decided there are vital missing pages, so they exploded a speedboat.
Anyone close enough to overhear this conversation would not have heard it in ordinary conversational English. Instead, they would have heard a baffling series of hissing and Morse code-type sounds, the language of Velva.
A moment later there under the blazing sunlight the figure of a young man gradually formed from nothingness until it seemed as normal as the other two. It was Don Ardell, miraculously unharmed. The other two watched him with admiration.
“Excellent,” Roger said.
So great, now we have a new playboy to hiss and click at. This is going to cheer up the boys on Velva no end.
The spurious Don goes and lies down halfway up the beach from the boat wreck, making like someone who’s been miraculously thrown from his boat just before it combusted, and after a while somebody phones Carolyn and gives her the good news that Don is alive after all.
“That was his friend Bob on the phone,” she said. “He thinks that Don was lucky enough to have been thrown free before the boat exploded.”
“Luck which he didn’t deserve!” Roger Collins stood at the doorway of the drawing room, with Murdoch Gray at his side.
Carolyn gave him a reproachful look. “Uncle Roger, how can you say such a terrible thing!”
“It’s true!” Roger Collins said. “I saw him at the race and he was taking wild chances. He deserved whatever happened. And he’s mighty fortunate to be alive now.”
Elizabeth said, “You’re talking about a life, Roger. I think you should remember that.”
“I’m speaking facts.” Roger turned to Gray. “Don’t you agree?”
Marjorie was startled to hear her father say, “I have to. I think young Ardell not only endangered his own life today, but also those of the others in the race.”
So once again, I have to ask the aliens: how does your unstoppable social aggression help you in your mission to gain the trust of these simple Earth people? Would it be that hard to say, wow, what an amazing turn of events, and then go about your business? I swear, sometimes I think I will never understand Velvetians.
And finally, the moment that we’ve been waiting eleven books for: Barnabas and Quentin, monster bros.
Barnabas wakes up in the evening in his coffin, and finds that the sanctuary of his dank basement crypt has been invaded by reclusive pop superstar Jim James, who’s entered via the broken cellar door that Barnabas’ squat servant Hare really should take a look at one of these days.
When Hare sees Jim, he snarls and advances on the intruder, waving his fists around as bits of straw and eggshell fall out of his immense shaggy gray beard, but Barnabas pats his servant’s arm and says don’t worry about it, so Hare slinks out of the room and vanishes into the darkness.
By the way, every time Hare is mentioned in these Paperback Library gothics, I always picture Ole Man Mose from Li’l Abner, but really grouchy and violent. I believe that there are not enough people who appreciate Hare as a figure in American literature.
So here we are, the two kaiju meeting as equals for the first time.
Barnabas stood there with the flickering candlelight making strange patterns on his melancholy features. The casket served as a backdrop for his erect, courtly figure. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Quentin?”
“I’m not sure either of us can look on this meeting as a pleasure, but I felt it necessary. And I would prefer that you call me by the name I’m using at the moment, rather than Quentin.”
The man in the caped coat regarded him with grim amusement. “Does a name make so much difference to you, Quentin?”
“It’s more convenient for me to remain Jim James.”
“Very good. I may say you’ve done very well with your singing career. You should be congratulated. I had no idea you were so gifted.”
“More expedience than talent.” He felt that Barnabas was still wary of him. “I’m here as a friend. Please believe that.”
And there you are, the most obvious thing in the world, happening about a year and a half after the show figured out that their two most popular guys should team up and fight crime together. I imagine that this was also the result of the stream of fan letters crossing Ross’ desk.
As we’ve discussed before, the three steps to getting the audience to like a character is “make a friend, make a joke, make a plot point”. The plot point gives the character a reason to be on stage, and the joke demonstrates that the author understands that it’s their job to entertain you.
But making a friend is the most important part, the one thing that will kill your story, or save it. A narrative environment where everyone just grouses and snaps at each other makes the audience feel uncomfortable. A friendship establishes the character’s value and worth in the story. The turning point in the 1897 storyline was the day three months into the story when Quentin discovered Barnabas’ secret and still asked for his help, establishing an equal partnership that made it okay for Quentin to stay on the show forever.
On the other hand, in Lara Parker’s novels, Barnabas hates Quentin, and comes to hate Julia, and that is a big reason why I’m stuck halfway through chapter 4 of Wolf Moon Rising, and struggling to make any progress.
Barnabas and Quentin proceed to demonstrate the incredible things that a character can accomplish, as long as they’ve got a friend to back them up.
“You know about the boating accident which happened today?”
“Vaguely,” Barnabas said.
“I know all about it. I was there watching,” Quentin said. “Don Ardell was surely killed in the accident. But now the word is being given out that he is alive.”
“Another phantom for Collinwood?” Barnabas asked with a sad light in his deep-set eyes.
“Not quite. Don is to be restored to us in the person of an impostor. A visitor from another planet. I think you have an idea of the invasion from Velva that has taken place at Collinwood.”
“I’ve been observing certain facts,” Barnabas agreed.
“Then you must know what I say is true.”
“It would seem so,” Barnabas said carefully.
Quentin frowned, “Elizabeth and the others don’t realize it, but Roger and Murdoch have been spirited away somewhere and impostors from Velva are installed at Collinwood in their places. There is no telling what evil they may be up to.”
Barnabas was studying him with new interest. “You have been here a relatively short time and yet you’ve discovered all this.”
He smiled grimly. “Like yourself, I have certain advantages. We who live twilight lives occasionally derive special benefits from our unfortunate condition.”
And yeah, it is true, especially if their unfortunate condition is being the most charismatic guys on the show. I don’t believe that there is any scene in the book so far that would give Quentin any of the information that he just spouted. The duplicate Don hasn’t even shown up yet; the only characters who know that he exists are the other two aliens. I’m not even sure how Quentin knows the name Velva.
But it’s a lot easier to handwave when you’ve got four hands to wave, so Quentin just says the entire plot of the book out loud, and Barnabas agrees, which makes it true and don’t worry about it.
At this point, you need to demonstrate that Barnabas knows stuff too, so he says that he’s seen the pink plastic spaceship in the swamp from the air, and he knows that Roger and Gray are hidden in a cave.
Quentin frowned. “Why have you kept silent and not warned Elizabeth and the girls?”
“I hadn’t enough information before,” Barnabas said. “And it is difficult for me to take action alone.”
“That is why I have come to join you,” he said evenly. “I think in this we should work jointly. We must try to rid Collinwood of this threat.”
Barnabas smiled ruefully. “We shall make strange allies.”
“Are you willing?”
He seemed reluctant to reply. Then he shrugged again. “Why not?”
Isn’t that exciting? Monster bros, on the case!
So Barnabas and Quentin set off on an adventure, crossing the swamp to find the cave, and free the two prisoners. They find the cave, but it’s empty, so they hunt around until they find the spaceship. There’s not a lot worth mentioning here, except for this sentence:
In the pink glow that emanated from the spaceship, Quentin’s face was a study in eagerness.
Which is almost worth writing a whole book for. The heroes can see Roger and Gray through the walls of the pink transparent star vessel, but they can’t find the door, and they don’t know how to get in. Quentin says maybe I’ll try smashing into it with a big rock, and Barnabas says I don’t think that’ll work, and Quentin says well I’m going to try anyway, and Barnabas says fine, knock yourself out, and then Quentin goes and finds a big rock and tries to smash into the spaceship, but the rock just bounces off the hull and Barnabas shakes his head and says yeah, it’s a spaceship that can travel between worlds so it’s probably not something you can break with a rock, so maybe we should head back to Collinwood and make a different plan, which they do, and it is entirely adorable.
Meanwhile, the extra-terrestrials put the next step of their plan into motion. The duplicate Roger can’t get information about the missing pages out of Gray, and the duplicate Gray can’t get information about them from Marjorie, who might have spoken about them with Gray, and now the duplicate Don is going to try to get information about them from Carolyn, who might have spoken about them with Marjorie. These guys are getting farther and farther away from the information that they’re looking for, and for some reason they regard it as progress.
Don takes a walk with Carolyn, and she mentions that she’s worried about Roger and Mr. Gray. Observe the spurious Don’s technique:
“I believe they are worried about something. Something to do with that space flight Gray is directing to the planet Velva.”
“Why should Uncle Roger be concerned about that?”
“I have an idea some papers are missing,” Don Ardell said. “That they were lost here. Did you ever hear Marjorie say anything to indicate that?”
“I’ve only heard her worry about how her father has changed since the night she came here.”
“That probably was when he discovered the loss or theft of some material from his files. And your uncle may feel responsible, since the loss was discovered here at Collinwood. They are both deeply concerned and attempting to hide the facts from everyone else.”
Carolyn listened with interest. “That could be an explanation.” She thought it was far-fetched, but so was the behavior of the two men.
“So you shouldn’t judge them or dwell on the change in Roger and Gray until you know the facts.”
So how is it possible that these creatures aren’t ruling the Earth already? Look how devious they are!
Quentin meets up with Marjorie, to explain basically everything that’s happening. He’s Quentin, he’s working with Barnabas to fight the aliens, he’s a werewolf, he’s doomed to be a wanderer, he’s breaking up with her, he knows all about Velva, her father and Roger have been replaced by lookalikes, the duplicates are looking for her father’s missing pages, Don is actually dead and he’s now an alien too, and Barnabas wants them to throw a patio party lit by tiki torches.
That’s a lot of information for to take in at once — so much that she hardly notices that he broke up with her in the middle of the conversation. Now we’re talking about tiki torches.
“Barnabas wants you to arrange a patio party in honor of Don Ardell’s escape from death,” Quentin told her. “He wants you to feature a cookout and have a great array of burning torches to mark out the area, rather than a string of electric bulbs or floodlights.”
Marjorie said, “But there are lights on the patio. What excuse can we give for not using them?”
“Say you prefer the torches for atmosphere,” he suggested.
“And how many people do you want us to invite?” Marjorie asked.
“Just the family and Don Ardell,” he said. “Be sure that Roger and your father are there — that is, the impostors pretending to be them. That is most important.”
So there you have it, Dan Ross setting up the perfect full-cast climax for a science-fiction story. If you want to write a story about a vampire and a werewolf fighting alien invaders for possession of three pieces of paper, then the best way to wrap it up is a patio party. Now you know.
Entering the house, Marjorie discovers that her bedroom has been thoroughly rummaged through, leaving it in complete disarray. Even the linings of her bags have been slit open and searched. I would take it personally, if I were her.
But ha ha, back at the spaceship, the aliens have triumphed.
Roger Collins, the impostor, held out three typed sheets of paper. “Here they are,” he said with triumph on his face. “Your search wasn’t good enough. I found these hidden under the lining of the girl’s traveling bag.”
The spurious Murdoch Gray studied the pages. “At least we have them now.”
The Don Ardell agent asked, “So what do we do next?”
Roger scowled. “I’m not able to decipher the mathematical formula even with the complete text. I’ll have to try and get this Murdoch Gray to give us the key.”
“He won’t do that,” the spurious Murdoch said.
“We still have the girl as a trump card,” his chief reminded him. “I think we can bring him to the point of compromise.”
Wait, what? I call no way. First they wanted the files, and they got them. Then they wanted the three vital pages, and now they have those too. But now they need something else, which only Gray can give them? This is just moving the goalposts. When are these guys going to take our stuff, fly into the air, and explode like they promised they would?
So they have a long conversation with the actual Murdoch Gray, who refuses to give them the pointless information that they think they need, and then they have a discussion about morality, and why the aliens are threatening Marjorie and Roger when they have nothing to do with the rocket mission. It goes something like this:
The agent from Velva studied him coldly. “You earthlings are not satisfied with having despoiled this world of yours; you wish to invade our planet and infect it.”
“We planned the project in a desire to extend our limits,” Murdoch Gray said weakly. “Man is never content to accept boundaries in anything. We must reach out to new frontiers.”
“And abandon the progress you have made in other directions,” the agent from Velva said with disgust. “We have studied you from afar. We know your restlessness, your warlike natures, your short life spans and your inability to learn from the past. We consider you objectionable failures. You would overrun our planet and despoil it. All our inhabitants would die. That is why your project must not be completed.”
Murdoch Gray indicated the hapless Roger Collins, tied and gagged beside him. “Why should he suffer?”
“He was part of our plan to lure you to Collinwood.”
“He is not to blame for the project.”
The Velvetian smiled thinly. “A life of an earthling is unimportant to us.”
“Then you are guilty of the injustice and cruelty you accuse us of, even though you have the benefits of a superior intelligence,” Murdoch Gray said accusingly. “It would seem the stars hold no perfection of species, only limited creatures intent on protecting themselves.”
“Your opinions do not interest me.”
So there you go, Earth’s reputation is defended against these snooty space rangers.
The real question at this point is why Gray doesn’t just give them the key to figuring out the calculations. The aliens aren’t planning to use their findings to hurt Earth; they just want to make sure that Earth isn’t going to hurt Velva. But Gray is acting like it’s heroic to withhold the missing secrets from them, when all they want to do is leave.
Honestly, they should have just done that from the beginning, just said to Gray, Hi, we’re the Velvetians, we don’t want you to come to our planet, but we want to understand your point of view as well, so let’s all sit down and have some coffee or whatever electrified balls of gas drink, and figure this out. But they just can’t stop shitposting.
“What about these figures?” the agent from Velva demanded as he held up the missing pages impatiently.
“They are not important.”
“I will tell you a secret known only to myself, the President of this country and several of his closest advisers,” Murdoch Gray said. “In spite of the huge investment we have made in it, the space trip to Velva will not take place.”
The agent scowled. “What are you saying?”
Murdoch Gray spoke calmly. “There were several serious miscalculations in the mathematics. I knew before I arrived at Collinwood the project was a failure. I had already notified Washington. I came here with the idea of avoiding publicity and checking to discover where the error was.”
“And then you would have corrected it and the space project to Velva would have been revived,” the agent said, glaring down at him. “Be truthful, if you escaped now you would repair your efforts if possible and try again.”
“No,” the scientist said. “I realize now that at our present stage of development we cannot successfully attempt a landing on Velva. The moon was a comparatively easy target. Mars might eventually be possible. But I was too ambitious in picking Velva as a planet to reach. The Wedross equation contained a basic fallacy.”
“Then why have you been going over the figures?”
Yeah, good question. What the fuck have you all been doing this whole time?
The stupid aliens aren’t totally sure that Gray is telling the truth, so they decide to send a message to their stupid mastermind on the planet Velva asking for instructions, which if they can do that, then why do they have to fly all the way back to Velva and touch down on the planet in order to deliver messages? Gentlemen, what is the purpose of all this blundering?
“And just to be on the safe side we will carry on with our alternate plan. We will bring Marjorie Gray here. That should soften him up.”
Wait, what? Gray has just explained why your plan is utterly pointless, and you still want to soften him up? What use would you have for a softer Gray? Honestly, I can’t even help Velvetians at this point. They are beyond hope.
So it’s finally time for the moment that this entire show has been building up to since Victoria Winters stepped aboard that train: the vampire/alien secret murder tiki patio party!
There’s a half dozen flaming torches ringing the perimeter of the Collinwood patio, there’s a servant ready to prepare steaks for the guests, and Carolyn’s providing music via her portable tape player. We thought there’d only be the family and Don Ardell, but someone else has showed up — Dr. Julia Hoffman, making her return engagement.
Elizabeth took Julia aside in the study and discussed the evening with her.
“I feel it will give you an excellent chance to observe Roger and see if you notice any true signs of mental illness,” she told the attractive doctor.
“At least I’ll have a chance to chat with him,” Julia said. She was wearing a black pants dress of some shining material and looked exquisitely lovely. “What was it Barnabas had in mind in requesting this party?”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth confessed.
“He must have a reason. If I get the opportunity, I’ll ask him directly.”
Elizabeth gave her a wan smile. “And he wouldn’t mind your doing it. He is so fond of you.”
“Not fond enough, I fear,” Julia said with a sigh. Changing the subject, she said, “You look so beautiful in your white-linen gown.”
Elizabeth looked pleased. “Not as mod as your pants dress, but I feel comfortable in it.”
“You should. It’s perfect on you.” And they both strolled out to the patio.
So that’s a brand new perspective on the story, that Dr. Julia Hoffman is an exquisitely lovely mod fashionista, which can only come from a writer who has never watched Dark Shadows and is piecing together clues from random fan letters. And I have to say, as much as I adore Julia on the show, I think this might even be an improvement. This is what we’ve needed all along, Grayson Hall in a shining black pants dress. Why did nobody else think of it?
The aliens aren’t so thrilled about the evening’s events; Fake Don complains to Carolyn about the tiki torches, and Fake Roger objects when Jim James shows up on Marjorie’s arm. There’s a bit of a tussle about whether he’s Quentin or not, and meanwhile the doctor is monitoring the Roger situation.
Roger fascinated her. She now knew what Elizabeth had meant when she claimed her brother had changed. He looked and sounded like Roger but yet there was something lacking. And as she stood with him she was conscious of a low hissing sound near them.
“Do you hear that?” she asked him.
Roger frowned. “What?”
“A kind of low hissing,” she said, her eyes questioning.
“I hear nothing,” he said. “It could be from the grill. Or perhaps it is those burning torches. I can’t imagine why Elizabeth used them. There are floodlights for out here.”
“They make us all look more romantic,” the woman doctor suggested.
“Confounded nonsense,” Roger snapped.
Julia turned to Murdoch Gray with a smile. “I don’t think Roger is nearly as bad-tempered as he tries to appear, do you?”
Gray smiled thinly in return. “I must agree with him in saying I’d prefer floodlights to these rather primitive torches.”
“How interesting,” Julia Hoffman said vaguely, having spied Barnabas. “Please excuse me,” she apologized. “I see a friend I must talk with.”
She’s just great, isn’t she? I’ve never been so happy with a post-DS Julia. Big Finish brought the character back successfully in Bloodline, but even they didn’t come up with the idea of Julia as a fashionable society diva. Normally in my Paperback posts, I would be pretty much skating over chapter 12, saying something like “Barnabas and Quentin kill two of the aliens with tiki torches, and then they chase the third one through the woods until they find the spaceship, and then Sue Agatha the three-thousand-year-old poisonous Egyptian lizard drops out of a tree right on top of the final alien, destroying him utterly and sending the planet of Velva into a much-needed cultural tailspin,” but I’m enjoying Paperback Julia so much that I can’t help indulging in the moment.
So here’s the Barnabas/Julia encounter.
Barnabas saw her coming toward him and stretched out his hands. “Julia, what a delightful surprise! I didn’t know you were in Collinsport.”
“Only overnight,” she said, gazing at him fondly. “I’ve been hoping you’d come to Wyncliffe. I’ve been doing some interesting work at the clinic.”
Barnabas showed a look of melancholy amusement. “Perhaps I’ll do that one day.”
She looked deep into his eyes and sighed. “You don’t even try to sound convincing, do you?”
He laughed lightly. “Now, I’m not all that devious,” he protested.
Julia said, “I like whatever you choose to be.”
“And I’m still one of your staunchest admirers,” he assured her.
She glanced back at the others in the party and in a low voice asked, “What does it mean? Why did you arrange this event?”
He showed no expression. “Don’t you approve of social gatherings?”
“I’m positive there is a special reason for this one.”
Barnabas smiled. “You are a most suspicious person, Julia. Does it come from your being a doctor?”
“It comes from my understanding you.”
Barnabas said, “We can talk more later. Right now I think we should mix a little, don’t you?” And he led her back to the others.
Super cute, right? Julia appears in a couple more Paperback titles, too; I don’t know if they’re worth looking at, but I’ll find out.
But all good things must end, so Barnabas grabs a flaming torch and thrusts it at Roger, saying, “All right! The masquerade is over! I want you to lead us to the spacecraft and free those two or take the consequences!” And Quentin grabs another torch and says, “The same goes for you, Gray!” And then they notice that Don is gone, and he’s taken Marjorie.
To everyone’s delighted surprise, Barnabas plunges his torch into the fake Roger, who gives a loud terrified shriek and then puffs away into smoke. The aliens are just obnoxious balls of flammable gas, so a quick poke with an open flame kills them in an instant. These guys are super easy to kill, so I don’t know why they act like such pompous jerks; you’d think that natural selection would benefit the members of the population who don’t antagonize everyone they meet into killing them with fire. I vote that we take that rocket trip to Velva, and teach them a few lessons about diplomacy.
Quentin quick-fries Gray as well, and then there’s the terrifying plunge into the nighttime swamp. Carolyn grabs a torch and comes along with the boys, and she saves Quentin from drowning when fake Don manages to get the drop on him. They manage to get hold of the captives, but Don jumps in the ship and flies away, to report back and then explode, at his leisure.
You know, it’s possible that these three were the biggest assholes on Velva, and the Velvetian mastermind sent them to Earth in order to get rid of them. They don’t really care about Earth germs coming back to the planet — their civilization is super sanitary — but they’ve told the three agents that even if they make it back alive, they’ll have to blow themselves up before they set foot on the planet again. So this turned out to be a successful mission, after all.
Tomorrow: The Room Where It Happens.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Morgan tells Catherine, “I’m going to take you away from Collinmoog.”
Morgan says, “He knew nothing about that — about the legend.”
Julia tells Daphne, “But I feel that you should know that Catherine drew the… losing.”
Daphne tells Catherine, “You do fit in well with this family. Your pride is just as unsufferable as theirs!”
Catherine tells Bramwell, “I never would have dreamed when we met before that church so long ago that we would ever be forced to meet together like this.”
Morgan tells Julia, “I don’t think I could dread going with her, taking her down that corridor.”
Tomorrow: The Room Where It Happens.
— Danny Horn
20 thoughts on “Episode 1221: The Snatch”
I think Ross learned about more of the characters after he wrote the HODS novelization. Characters like Willie, Stokes, Carolyn, and Julia start showing up in the last several books published post-1970.
I’ve come to love the PBL posts because they take several days to read. Here until the blog reaches its natural conclusion.
When I read this novel in 1971, I, too, was delighted that an omniscient narrator had replaced the usual third-person narrative style of the earlier novels. This novel was also where I learned the word ‘spurious.’
What a bunch of hypocrites. The Velveetas made fun of Earthlings for being too stupid to decipher the messages sent from Velva to Earth. Fake Roger must be embarrassed that he can’t decipher an Earth formula.
Oh, no. It was bad enough when he was Jim James. If he’s Jim Jones now, too, I hope no one at the tiki party drinks from the punch bowl he brought
Thanks, Danny. This will take several days to finish, but I enjoy reading some of your DS comments on the recliner, before drifting off.
This should cover me for most of the week.
Carolyn and Barnabas are defining the limits on his eating frenzies? Together?
How seriously can you take a planet that sounds like it’s made out of processed cheese? 😀
Picture me with a big silly grin on my face–I’ve been waiting for you to recap this Paperback Library book, and, oh boy, has it been worth the wait! This sounds like a book which has everything: pink transparent spaceships, Barnabas and Quentin team-ups, and Julia in a shiny black pants dress.
(Also you’ve used screencaps of “Teenagers from Outer Space” to illustrate your recap. That’s one of my favourite “bad movies”, so bonus kudos for that!)
I think when messages they couldn’t decode from planet Velva was mentioned , everyone immediately thought, “It’s a cookbook!”
You know, sometime during the 1980’s-1990’s, a lot of the regular soaps experimented with some pretty far-out fantasy storylines. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing an ad for General Hospital from the late 80’s or early 90’s with a scene of an UFO landing. I know One Life did some weird stuff with characters becoming mind-control robots, all the characters being locked inside a mountain and meeting the Sleestacks from Land of the Lost, Viki going to heaven, or even different time travel stuff going on, going back to the Old West or the 60’s or something like that. I think even As The World Turns in the 80’s had some weird midget villain on a deserted island or something like that, as a sort of homage to Indiana Jones… I know GH even had some villain who wanted to freeze over the whole earth around the time of Luke and Laura’s big wedding.
If regular soaps could go so far out, you’d think regular DS when it was on the air could have gone far out too if they wanted to. Maybe the writers could have come up with a reason why aliens would want to start their invasion by practicing on the Collinses.
Somewhere I always had a fantasy about regular DS doing a mummy storyline or some kind of UFO/alien invasion back when it was on air. Certainly, there were plenty of low-budget B-movie science fiction films from the late 50’s which could have maybe provided some interesting plot twist ideas for the DS writers, even twists to the “Body Snatcher” theme. I’ve never read this PBL book, but now am curious.
Marlena Evans, the main character on Days of Our Lives, got possessed by the devil in the 90’s. Her Priest-lover John Black performed the exorcism. That show usually had at least one bizarre storyline going on, mostly courtesy of fabulous villain Stefano DiMeara. He orchestrated a “pregnant Kristen lookalike to pretend she was carrying John Black’s baby in order to keep him from leaving Kristen to return to Marlena. The lookalike, Susan, believed Stefano was a vampire. She had the baby and named him Elvis. Damn, that was a FUN show.
“Dark Shadows Every Day” Occasionally
Commenting on a blog about the 1960s vampire soap opera, one episode at a time when Danny has time to blog about it…
Episode 1221: Two Beavers are better than one
Danny’s Tony Dow obsession progresses apace (“The Dreamboat Curse” as DSED fans refer to this period of his blog), and I’ll get to that below. But first, the literary masterpiece that is Barnabas, Quentin, and the Body Snatchers:
” I recently had a nervous breakdown about two-thirds of the way through The Salem Branch…” Something it looks like you missed due to the mental collapse (I stumbled across it while verifying that Julia’s double-wide wasn’t the same coffin as the one in the Old House basement) is that the explanation presented for the daughter is that she was born while the mother was tripping on LSD, and Parker ties this to the theory attributing the Salem witch panic to bread made from ergot-infested rye. Just thought I’d mention that.
“For most of the series, the heroines didn’t understand what was going on with Barnabas…” Actually, that’s not the case. The early Barnabas books tend to be either period pieces or for some reason the 60’s family is off-stage, and the heroine tends to find out sooner or later. She’s either convinced her love can save him and/or is helping him pursue a potential cure, and at the end when the villain(s) have been thwarted she goes to the Old House to look for him, only to find that he’s taken off, leaving her to hook up with the Nice Guy character she’s ignored as a potential love interest for the entire book.
“‘At twenty, Marjorie had lived with her widower scientist father in three countries, was active in radical college groups in Washington, where they were presently living, and was considering marriage to one of Britain’s most popular young male singers, Jim James.'” So, her father is doing highly classified work for NASA. They’ve lived in multiple foreign countries, she undoubtedly has a thick FBI COINTELPRO file thanks to her involvement in “radical college groups”, and she’s thinking of marrying a womanizing British pop-star lycanthrope whose background is paper-thin and probably wouldn’t stand up to examination by the tabloids, let alone the government. Just sayin’, there are other suspension of disbelief problems beyond Quentin’s cabaret act…
“‘It amused her that she should have so easily conquered the extremely popular young man and she was making him wait for her decision. ‘” Given our level of tele-MarilynRoss-visual literacy, the reader knows that it would amuse Quentin to no end (a) that any woman he was dating believed that, and (b) to allow her to do so.
“How did Marjorie even manage to meet this dream man, who by the way is secretly Quentin Collins? … It also doesn’t delve into the details of how Quentin became an overnight success as a British rock star. These questions are left for the reader to puzzle out on one’s own time.” All is answered in my Marilyn Ross Dark Shadows fanfic, Barnabas, Quentin, and the British Invasion, a gripping tales spanning the 1770’s and 1960’s, in which Nicholas Blair invokes the spirit of the Mad King George III into John Lennon as part of a plan to reunite the US and UK.
“Marjorie’s father, Murdoch Gray, is also blessed by the Paperback angels with all the virtues and achievements one could ask for.” But is he handsome?
“…if the head of [NASA] thinks that he can stop his daughter from dating Paul McCartney…” Do you really think that’s the answer Quentin would get if he took one of those “Which Beatle are you?” quizzes?
“‘…Dr. Wedross had shown how the Warp could be used for us to send a mission to another solar system quicker then we could put men on Mars. You claimed Velva should be our next target for space exploration.'” OMG. Interstellar ripped off a Marilyn Ross Dark Shadows book.
“‘The singer…was standing in the lobby of the Shoreham signing autographs for a circle of young female admirers when Marjorie arrived on the scene …. Disengaging himself from the excited teen-agers, he hurried over to her, kissed her and led her off in another direction to avoid a second encounter with the autograph hunters.” Did anyone get lost in the hotel lobby when he was mobbed by autograph seekers?
“In the War for Dark Shadows … the winners will be the people who create funny, unexpected narrative-collision surprises. It may seem premature to award the top prize to Paperback Library simply on the strength of one pink plastic transparent spaceship, but honestly, can anyone else top that?” How quickly you forget the Zozos.
“Now, he’s starting with some disadvantages, right from the start, because he’s writing about a world-shattering alien invasion plan that involves infiltrating an isolated mansion in Maine.” Without jumping ahead to spoilers, you’re not being fair here. There’s a very good reason they’ve come to Collinsport. You quote it in detail when describing Chapter 4. Just ’cause you don’t like their plan doesn’t mean they don’t have one.
And now the Tony Dow-ing starts. I tried to warn Danny. Danny, should you hear a female voice quietly whispering, “Ward, I think you were a little rough on the Beaver last night…”, you must immediately perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. After that, begin chanting “Owah…tahgoo…siam” — at first slowly, then more rapidly. Then contact me so that I can reach out to Miranda Mapes-Stokes, an expert in this area of the supernatural.
“Carolyn started figuring things out back in book #17, BQ and the Avenging Ghost, and she confirmed that Barnabas was a vampire in #25, BQ and the Magic Potion. But now, one book later, Elizabeth understands the entire history of Julia’s attempts to cure Barnabas, which is a level of comfort with alternative lifestyles that you wouldn’t expect in 1971.” By book 11, BQ & the Mummy, it is explicit that Roger knows (and acts like the real problem is less the lack of consent on the part of the bitten and more the potential embarrassment to the family if B. is caught).
“I’m not even sure how Quentin knows the name Velva.” Umm…he’s dating the daughter of the guy planning the mission to go there? They must talk about something.
“You know, it’s possible that these three were the biggest assholes on the entire planet, and the Velvetian mastermind sent them to Earth in order to get rid of them.” Ah. So your theory is that the pink plastic spaceship is the MR DS equivalent of the Golgafrincham ‘B’ Ark from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
Having Quentin and a NASA scientist in the same story created a missed opportunity. What would happen if a werewolf were on board one of the Apollo flights to the Moon?
As the capsule approached the Moon would Quentin turn into his wolf form? Would he stay in wolf form his entire time on the Moon?
On the return flight home, how close to Earth would the werewolf have to be before reverting to human form?
There was already a Collins on the Apollo 11 flight. Murdoch Gray should have lobbied to get Quentin assigned to a lunar mission.
As Tony Dow has been used as the heartthrob-cum-alien, can he now be considered “Velva-teen”?
It sounds like Danny is really jonesing for Legal Wally. In fact, you could say there has been an enormous rise in his Dow Jones Index.
There’s an interesting soap connection to the real-life Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins. His daughter is Kate Collins, who played Natalie and her evil sister Janet (not twin, but looked enough alike that Janet took over Natalie’s identity) on “All My Children.” (Kate was so out-going as an 10 year old in 1969 that she hosted press conferences on her front lawn during Apollo 11, where she told the press that NASA needed to hire more women astronaujts!)
In my own fanfic radio soap spoof (based loosely on DS), which I created when I was in 10th grade – “Krenshaw Castle” – I had a character who was a combination werewolf-vampire who was an astronaut, but had been somehow lost on the moon for the past umpteen-years, only to return after having been declared “legally dead” and his wife has married someone else. Typical soap stuff …
Natalie and Janet on AMC were indeed twins, with both of them being played by Kate Collins until murderous Janet was sent to prison for murder. A few years later, after Natalie was killed and Kate Collins left the show, the character of Janet was brought back, this time played by Robin Mattson. (The explanation for her change in looks and release from prison was that she had volunteered for an experimental facial surgery.)
Again, a few years later, after Mattson had been let go, Kate Collins returned the role of Janet, this time with no explanation of how she got her old face back.
Since I’m not embarrassed to know non-DARK SHADOWS soap operas, I’m glad that I can give her nickname, “Janet From Another Planet” (given her by the smart-alecky Trevor character).
When I saw the title of this post, I mistakenly thought Danny was venturing into the dark world of Gothic Porn. Whew.
And yet here we are, on the brink of “Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers”, and I am delighted. How do you account for a thing like that?
I’m sure I don’t know, Danny – – in fact, if I remember correctly, BQ&TBS was the novel that broke the spell for me. I quit the Dark Shadows books and returned to buying science fiction novels and occasional comic books.
Not that I haven’t enjoyed the other paperback breakdowns, but I think the aliens inhabited my person for a minute making this a more engaging storyline.
Tops as always, Danny.
Barnabas and Quentin staring salaciously at each other in screencap also never hurts.
Danny – I just spent $18 on a musty-smelling old original copy of “Barnabus, Quentin and the Body Snatchers” from PBL. I found the book on Amazon and it just came in yesterday..I was inspired to read the book first and then go back and read your blog in detail.
i never saw the original 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and found it (for free – YouTube charges for it) on Internet Archive or archive.org (one of my favorite sites). Archive.org often has full movies, when YouTube has short clips or charges for its movies. I was just able to watch it.
I did see the 1978 Donald Sutherland-Leonard Nimoy remake version in-theater way back in the day, and the 1956 version is far superior.
As we face the prospect of Trumpist tyranny, those 1950’s classic science fiction films – and their allegorical angst are very relevant to our current times.
Archive.org even has “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” one of the few films in which our Russell Johnson (the Professor from “Gilligan’s Island”) got to play the hero.
This post also inspired me to buy a PBL book. The nearest used book store to our house has most of them, though not Barnabas, Quentin, and the Body Snatchers. The one I most wanted was The Curse of Collinwood, which I was sold on because one of the frequent commenters on here has been extolling it for a while. They did have that one. When I brought it to the counter, the shop owner got excited- he’s a big fan, and we talked about the show for an hour or so.