Thursday, September 15, 2016

Barnabas Collins

"Marilyn Ross" (a pseudonym for Canadian author Dan Ross) wrote thirty-two DARK SHADOWS tie-in paperback novels, all published in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The sixth, BARNABAS COLLINS (1968), was the first to feature the iconic vampire. Every subsequent book in this series included his name in the title. The Barnabas paperbacks were original stories, not adaptations of TV episodes. In BARNABAS COLLINS, he still plays the role of villain or at best antihero, only becoming the "good guy vampire" we know and love in later books. After a framing prologue that consists of a conversation between Victoria Winters and Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, in which Elizabeth reminisces about her grandmother Margaret Collins, the main story takes place in the early twentieth century with Margaret as protagonist.

While her slightly older and rather stern husband, Jonas, immerses himself in the family's struggling shipping business, Margaret strives to keep the household functioning with a small staff and devotes herself to her sheltered daughter, Greta. Beautiful except for her "malformed" legs, the result of a birth defect, Greta is confined to a wheelchair. When "Cousin Barnabas" rents the Old House, she is instantly fascinated by his kindness and gallant manners. Barnabas, of course, visits only after dark, claiming to be busy with "experiments" during the day. He tells Margaret and her family the tragic history of his "ancestor" and the doomed Josette, and as he does with Maggie in the TV series, he becomes fixated on a supposed resemblance between Josette and Greta. We later learn that he indulges his obsession by hypnotizing one of the maids to play-act the role of his lost love. Jonas resents his daughter's idolization of Barnabas, but at first Margaret approves of the seemingly innocent happiness their broodingly handsome "cousin" gives her. Margaret of course has no reason to connect Barnabas with a large bat that invades her bedroom, although the reader can easily guess its true identity. The maids grow weak, get strange marks on their necks, and wander in the night without remembering they've left their beds. In short, the characters find themselves in a typical Gothic vampire novel.

Several years pass, while Greta's health declines even as she becomes more enchanted with Barnabas, and Margaret slowly comes to realize the truth about him. This novel portrays him as a Byronic villain-hero, charming and seductive but still ruthless in the pursuit of his desires. He has no compunctions about killing victims who hold no significance for him. For Greta, on the other hand, he seems to feel genuine love, or at least what passes for love in his mind at this point in his existence. Although we know he won't get destroyed, because he has to survive and show up at Collinwood as another "Cousin Barnabas" in the 1960s, the story offers plenty of suspense along the way.

Granted that this book and the others in the series are far from deathless (unlike their immortal vampire hero) literature, most fans of DARK SHADOWS would find them to be fun, nostalgic reads.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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