Weird Roots: Ralph Adams Cram

Lately I’ve been reading Black Spirits & White: a Book of Ghost Stories, by Ralph Adams Cram. I don’t recall having heard of Cram until Scott Nicolay named Cram’s “The Dead Valley” among his “Five Favorite Weird Tales” last month over at The Lovecraft eZine. I have been jumping around in the book (no mean feat, given how short it is), and I read “The Dead Valley” this morning. The others have indeed been some-guys-stay-overnight-in-a-haunted-mansion-sing-tally-ho kind of stories, but “The Dead Valley” is different. It’s a Weird story, for sure, and I would say that it has a distinctly Algernon Blackwood feel to it, but a quick look at some bibliographies wound indicate that Cram is more likely to have influenced Blackwood than the other way ’round, to go by publication dates. “The Dead Valley” is also an elegant turn of sorts on what’s become a familiar trope, which I’ll leave you to discover on your own.

Given my interest in how writers incorporate detail and research into their work, I was struck by the fact that the twelve-year-old protagonist set off into the wild in possession of a rifle. This isn’t at all unusual for the period or its literature, of course, and it’s a truism that people tend to have to grow up more quickly in the country, coming into their responsibilities in their teens, instead of at the quarter-century mark or later. Yet, how many writers today would insert that detail without special explanation or excessive detail? Plenty, I’m sure, but it does require some awareness of setting to do so.

I’ll note in closing that Cram was aware of his roots, as reflected in the book’s postscript. I know nothing of the man’s character, and his sentiments may have been more obligatory than heartfelt, but we could probably all do worse than to be a little more humble about our work…

Postscript to Cram's Black Spirits & White

Postscript to Cram’s Black Spirits & White