Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell (1986)

The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell (1986): Real-world fears of nuclear apocalypse made the late 1970's and 1980's the high point for certain types of horror novels, including ones in which a town or village was threatened by evil that, while coming from outside, would take root in some way in the town itself, in the souls of its citizens. Reagan and Thatcher, nuclear war and the war on the poor, the era of greed and the era of Christian fundamentalism. Come to think of it, it was a lot like now.

The three high points of this particular sub-genre in the 1980's are T.E.D. Klein's The Ceremonies, Stephen King's It, and Ramsey Campbell's The Hungry Moon. All came out within 18 months of one another in the mid-1980's. All feature physically or metaphorically isolated pockets of humanity threatened by a terrible, cosmic creature from Outside that has nonetheless come Inside, to increasingly dire result. Campbell's novel most overtly deals with Thatcherism, Reaganism, and nuclear fears; it's also the most succinct of the three, though it's by no means short.

The small English Peaks District town of Moonwell has annually celebrated the coming of Spring with a flower-laying ritual around the entrance to a cave that gives the town its name. Once upon a time, something was vanquished there, though no one knows what, or if the story derives from a real-life event dating back to the Roman Occupation.

But then an American evangelist comes to town, vowing to descend into the cave to demonstrate that pagan rites have no place in Christianity, no matter how distanced they've become from their origins. As the evangelist prepares, the town begins to sink deeper and deeper into fundamentalist Christian hysteria.

As with It, The Hungry Moon posits a place subtly compromised over the centuries by a hidden heart of evil, gradually growing. And as in both of the other novels mentioned above, only outsiders to the place, either metaphorically or literally, are uncompromised enough to see the growing horror and act against it.

Campbell weaves together Lovecraftian cosmicism, English and Roman history, and the sort of real-world cultural artifacts that seem improbable but are actually real -- the songs about "Harry (or Hairy) Moony" are derived from real, traditional, disturbing songs. The Romans did indeed get completely freaked out by ceremonies of the people we (incorrectly) call in their totality the Druids, eliminating many of the people and most historical records of whatever it was that the Druids were doing that could disturb those hard-case, conquering Romans, who were no strangers to human sacrifice themselves. And there were indeed major protests in the 1980's about nuclear missiles on British soil: in this case, some of that soil is uncomfortably close to Moonwell, though most of the residents welcome the new base as a bulwark against godless Communism.

This isn't a perfect novel, though I think many of its faults are due to a need for a bit more length (though not It-level giganticism). The deliberate pacing and gradual introduction of horror give way to a mad rush at the end. But its depiction of evil and weakness in a variety of linked, interdependent forms is terrifically well-thought-out, as is the central monster. It's a humdinger. Highly recommended.

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