If you haven’t already heard, Ramsey Campbell will this year receive a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Sheri S. Tepper. Phrases like “this award is long overdue” are overused, but I’m very glad to see an author often regarded variously as the greatest living writer of weird fiction or the greatest living writer of horror fiction receive this honor. For my money, his Midnight Sun is among the great novel-length achievements in the tradition of the Weird, and I’ve re-read both it and The Hungry Moon many times.
Where I first encountered Campbell’s work, I don’t know, but the first of his books I remember reading was The Hungry Moon, either in ’86 or ’87. Strange to think, but I read Campbell before Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, etc. The first weird fiction I encountered was Stephen King’s “The Mist,” and it opened the door, but Hungry Moon was a longer, slower meditation on darkness, mobs, religion, and the horrors of the English village, and the author’s ability to maintain a mood of subtle, strange dread over the length of a novel was a revelation. Midnight Sun came out in the U.S. in 1991, and it was another revelation for me, drawing as heavily as it did on atmospheric effects and nature to tell the story. It’s a novel-length exploration of the kind of terror of nature that previous authors like Algernon Blackwood had deployed in “The Willows,” “The Wendigo,” etc., or Ralph Adams Cram in “The Dead Valley.”
While I don’t generally like litmus tests, Ramsey Campbell’s work is one such for me when talking with fellow readers. His work looms large in and is essential to discussion of the field of weird fiction, but I do think his novels serve as a useful A|B test. Must atmospheric work be short story-length, or can a reader appreciate it at novel length? I feel that Campbell carefully builds a mood of the brooding and numinous, sustaining every story I’ve read by him at whatever length he chose to write. The term “master” is as overused for authors as “overdue” is when applied to awards, but in this case I feel both terms are apt.
Congratulations, Ramsey Campbell, and thanks for the terrors.