Monday, January 21, 2013

A Review of "Shadowland" by Peter Straub

In his first post-Ghost Story novel, Peter Straub turned almost wholly away from the horror genre, and instead published Shadowland, a fantasy novel that is deeply informed by fairy tale and myth.  It is a deeply frustrating novel, but not an uninteresting one.  Definitely not.

I read this novel once before, in high school, but when I reread it recently, I found that I remembered literally none of it.  Nothing.  That's happened before with books I've not read in years, and my assumption in each case has been that I simply didn't respond to the book the first time, not even in a particularly negative manner.

In rereading the book for this blog, I read through the novel once the old-fashioned way, and then gave it a second go-round via audiobook.  And here is where something curious happened: I enjoyed the novel while reading it, but detested it when listening to it.

How to explain this?

I've written before about my feelings on the differences between reading a book and "reading" it via audiobook; I don't see much point in rehashing that argument, except to point out that I have no inherent disdain for listening to a book.  I simply feel that if you read it, as opposed to having it read to you, it gives you a very different relationship to the material.  You are required to give things your own emphasis, rather than having the emphases placed for you by proxy.

The audio version of Shadowland is read by William Dufris, a highly capable reader who brings a lot of personality to the tale.  And in some cases, I think he overdoes things significantly.  This is a problem I have with audiobook readers from time to time; I cringe, for example, any time I see that Craig Wasson is reading a new King book, because I intensely dislike his style of delivering dialogue.  So it is with Dufris here.  One character, Coleman Collins, sounds almost exactly like a caricature of George Takei; his voices for the child characters are realistic, but annoying; and if I never have to hear him enact a makeout scene between two teenagers again, I'll be richer for it.

My point in bringing this up initially is to point out that since I listened to the book more recently than I read it, I'm a bit concerned that my disenjoyment of the experience is going to unfairly color my opinions on the novel itself.  If so, well ... so be it.  I'll do my best to set it aside, but no promises.


Shadowland is the story of Tom Flanagan, a prep school student in Arizona who befriends a classmate, Del Nightingale, with whom he bonds over a shared interest in performing magic tricks.  The two also bond over their hatred for Steve "Skeleton" Ridpath, an older student who bullies freshmen in general, and Flanagan and Nightingale in particular.  The contentious relationship between these three eventually results in dire events at the school.

Halfway through, the novel changes settings, following Tom and Del on a trip to Shadowland, the home of Del's uncle, Coleman Collins, who is a retired stage magician.  He's also a very powerful magician, meaning that he can actually do magic, as opposed to magic tricks.  Collins is, to put it mildly, not a very nice person, and it turns out that his motivations for bringing the two boys for a visit might not be the most admirable.

In writing that brief summary of the novel's setup, it sounds like a good, interesting idea for a book, and as I was reading it, I was indeed interested throughout.  As it ended, though, I found myself wondering if the novel had actually been substantive and involving, or if it merely possessed the illusion of those qualities.  I then found myself wondering if possessing the illusion of those qualities is actually the same as possessing those qualities.  
I'm reminded of something Edward James Olmos (as Adama) says about love on an episode of Battlestar Galactica.  He's talking to Chief Tyrol about the Chief's relationship with Boomer, the former fighter pilot who is later revealed to be a Cylon agent (i.e., a robot).  "Did you love her?" Adama asks.  "Thought I did," replies Tyrol.  "Well," replies Adama, "when you think you love somebody, you love them.  That's what love is: thoughts."

The revamped Battlestar Galactica is a pretty great show, and wisdom can be found there without a heck of a lot of effort.  That exchange is one of many that have stuck with me, and in contemplating after the fact whether Shadowland is a substantive novel or a novel with the illusion of substance, I find myself wondering if the distinction makes any difference.  Is it even a distinction?

Maybe, but if so, I think it's an unimportant one.  The bottom line is that if a book actively spurs me to deeper contemplation of the very process of deeper contemplation, then by default, it must be doing something substantive.  Boomer might've been a Cylon, but the Chief loved her, whether he wants to admit it or not.  By the same token, Shadowland is a substantive novel, regardless of whether the substance amounts to a heck of a lot in the final analysis.  This blog's jury is still out on that one, but hopes to have a verdict by the time this post reaches its conclusion; so stay tuned, y'all.

Now, I realize that for vast swathes of the public -- even those who find themselves reading a blog like this one -- conversations of this variety are immensely boring.  I can practically hear people asking me, "Who gives a shit whether a novel is substantive or not?  The better question is whether it's entertaining?"  And I don't disagree with that idea, frankly.  Despite that, if you're going to talk about art of any kind, you're eventually going to contemplate what makes it all tick.  Otherwise, here's what your book reviews would sound like.

I read Shadowland by Peter Straub.  It was long, and nothing really happened, except when the school caught on fire and the guy was crucified and Bugs Bunny showed up.  I thought I liked the book while I was reading it, but then I got to the end and thought maybe I didn't like it that much.

And that's fine.  To be honest, that's a neat summary of my opinion of Shadowland.  Do you need to know more than that?  Probably not.  Do I need to say more than that?  For your purposes, no; for my purposes, yes, because at this point in my life, I'm less interested in whether I like a book or not than I am in why I like it, or why I dislike it, or why I am conflicted about it.

I take it as a given that most people are not interested even in why they react a certain way to specific pieces of art, and that makes it doubly a given that those people will not be interested in why I react in whatever manner I react.  This is fine by me, provided nobody tries to argue with me by means of the old "you're overthinking" gambit.  That's when I lose my cool and turn into a Flame War soldier.

I'm in danger of digressing severely; let's get this ramble back on-course, and try to figure out why, exactly, I am conflicted about Shadowland.

Part of it, I think, has to do with the choice Straub made in terms of how he presents the narrative.  The novel is told in a first-person perspective, by an unnamed narrator who was a classmate of Tom and Del's.  He's heard bits and pieces of the Shadowland story from Tom over the years, and has decided -- possibly at Tom's passive suggestion -- to write a book about the incidents that he's heard about.  We learn very little about this writer through whose perspective we are learning about what happened to Tom and Del; he takes place in virtually none of the events that comprise what most readers will think of as the story of the novel.  And yet, because the entire thing is filtered through his consciousness, it would be an absolute failure on our part, as readers, to dismiss this unnamed man's importance as a character.

Are you annoyed yet?  If so, join the club.  I'm not a fan of the "unreliable narrator" technique in fiction, and here is a prime example of one.  While reading the novel, I kept assuming that the narrator would eventually become more prominent, and that Straub's choice of him as a narrator would therefore gain context.  With context would come meaning, and with meaning would come appreciation.  I was convinced this would be the case right up until the final paragraph, but it never happened.  The only significance the narrator has is that he is the vehicle by which the story is delivered to us.

In retrospect, I find myself wondering why Straub did not merely use a traditional omniscient point of view.  After all, using the method he settled on, we cannot actually assume that any of the events of the novel -- except for the few brief scenes we get involving the narrator talking to various people -- actually occurred.  Tom and Del may never have gone to Shadowland at all.

For all we know, Shadowland does not exist.

Here's the rub: this, obviously was not lost on Peter Straub.  As a writer, you don't make a decision like that one lightly, or accidentally.  So, that means that Straub must have felt that the narrative had something to gain by being presented as possibly never having actually existed.  Straub wants us to think about whether Shadowland existed; he wants us to think about whether our narrator is making the entire story up, or whether he is faithfully reporting a pack of lies told to him by Tom Flanagan.  Or, perhaps, Tom has been truthful, and the narrator has truthfully reported the entire thing.  Who's to say?

Every reader will have to answer that question for himself, or herself, or perhaps throw the book across the room and, by telling it go to fuck itself, dodge the question altogether.

Thing is, you can't dodge the question.  Whether you realize it or not, you're answering it -- or some version of it -- every single time you read a work of fiction.  After all, it's fiction; it's a pack of lies, all strung together into a format that presents the illusion of truth.  You've decided as a reader to accept the lie that "this all happened," but that doesn't make it less of a lie.  So why, then, should it be inherently less interesting, or less valid, for the author to put that idea front and center of a novel?

It's a good question.  I don't immediately have an answer for it, except to point out that this very blog post is an attempt to answer it.  Or, failing that, it's an attempt to at least point out the necessity for the question.  It's worth pointing out that the title I eventually settled on for this blog is "The Truth Inside The Lie."  That title comes from the dedication to Stephen King's It, which posits the idea that fiction is the truth inside the lie, and that the truth of that particular fiction was this: the magic is real.

It and Shadowland have very little in common, but examining Shadowland through the prism of It's dedication is awfully tempting.  It's even more tempting considering that the dedication struck enough of a nerve with so as to cause me to, years later, name a blog after it.  In that dedication -- which, for the record, was addressed to King's three children -- King is making a persuasive argument: that storytelling is a powerful form of magic.

That very idea forms the core of Straub's Shadowland, and without accepting that idea, the reader is apt to feel lost, confused, and annoyed.

Perhaps this helps to explain the reaction I had to the audiobook.  While reading Straub's novel for myself, I was able to buy into the idea that what I was reading was a sort of magic trick; while it was being read to me, I was not able to buy into that idea.  In the end, I think it is as simple as that.  While reading, I am able to focus on the thing that Straub wants me to focus on; while listening, I am distracted by the -- to my ears misplaced -- emphasis the reader puts on certain things, and therefore unable to concentrate on the substance of the text.  Which, in this case, is the subtext, moreso than the text itself.

Let's have a look at a bit from Shadowland itself.  A magician is telling two boys a story:

"Cats remind me of a true story," he said to the mesmerized boys, speaking as if he were merely yarning, as if nothing but entertainment was on his mind.  "It's an old story, but the truest stories are very often the oldest ones.  This was told by Sir Walter Scott to Washington Irving, and by Monk Lewis to the poet Shelley -- and to me by a friend of mine who actually saw it happen.

"A traveler, in other words my friend, was journeying on foot to the house of a companion -- not me -- where he was going to spend the night.  He had been walking all day, and even though it was already late and night was coming on, he was tired enough to rest his feet when he came to a ruined abbey.  He sat down, took off his boots, leaned against an iron fence, and began to rub his feet.  An odd series of noises made him turn around and peer through the bars of the fence.

"Down below him, on the grassy floor of the old abbey, he saw a procession of cats.  They were formed into two long equal lines, and were marching forward very slowly.  Now, of course he had never seen anything like that before, and he bent forward to look more closely.  It was then that he saw that the cats at the head of the procession were carrying a little coffin on their backs, and were making for, were slowly approaching, a small open grave.  When my friend had seen the grave, he looked horrified back at the coffin borne by the lead cats, and noticed that on it sat a crown.  As he watched, the lead cats began to lower the coffin into the grave.

"After that he was so frightened that he could not stay in that place a moment longer, and he thrust his feet into his boots and rushed on to the house of his friend.  During dinner, he found that he could not keep from telling his friend what he had witnessed.

"He had scarcely finished when his friend's cat, which had been dozing in front of the fire, leaped up and cried, 'Then I am the King of the Cats!' and disappeared in a flash up the chimney.  It happened, my friends -- yes, it happened, my charming little birds."

-- from "Note: Tom in the Zanzibar," p. 9 (original hardback edition) of Shadowland

There is plenty to say about this section.  Firstly, that's a grand folk tale, and I'd never heard it before encountering it in Shadowland.  
Secondly, and more interestingly, as I think about the tale as Straub uses it here, I continually come back to the idea of the friend whom the traveler is visiting.  Think of this man: his friend shows up, and begins telling this wild and unbelievable tale about a procession of cats carrying a coffin to an unmarked grave.  Ludicrous, right?  But then, the man's cat jumps up, verifies the truth of the tale by speaking, and then disappears up the chimney!  It's one thing to be the traveler, who has seen some wild things that day; but by that point in the story, the traveler is at least somewhat accommodated to seeing the bizarre.  His friend, on the other hand, has had the bizarre thrust upon him explicitly during the midst of a tale he is probably already writing off as some sort of tomfoolery on the part of his wandering friend.  How amazing, how terrifying, that moment must be!

Ah, but we come back, now, to the question that has been dogging us in one way or another for the entirety of this post: did the traveler and the traveler's friend ever even exist?  Or are they mere creations of Coleman Collins, who is telling this story to Tom and Del?

It's a deeper question that that, for we are not hearing the story from Coleman Collins himself.  We are hearing it from the unnamed narrator of the novel, who has told us that he is "going to put it in the context in which Tom first heard it."

So, what we have is this: we are being told a story by a narrator, to whom it was (allegedly) told by Tom Flanagan, to whom it was (allegedly) told by Coleman Collin, to whom it was (allegedly) told by a friend of his, to whom it (allegedly) actually happened.  This despite the fact that Collins -- again, allegedly -- has admitted to Tom that the tale was one handed down by a series of writers one to the next, including Washington Irving and Sir Walter Scott.  This is one lie stacked on top of another on top of another.

And yet ... there is unquestionably a form of emotional truth at the center of the entire thing.  Did the traveler's friend -- whose cat suddenly discovered himself to be the new King of the Cats -- ever exist?  Possibly not.  However, anyone hearing the story for the first time would be in something similar to the same emotional position that friend would have been in: hearing a ludicrous story that has a plot twist at the end, a plot twist that suddenly cats the entire story in a different light.  There is no cat, but if you believe -- even if only with a small part of your mind -- that there is, then there IS a cat.  If, then, that hypothetical cat -- by virtue of your surprise at the plot twist -- leaps up and speaks, then the entire story is true, if only for a fraction of a second and if only in some part of your mind.

Now, friends, if that ain't magic, I don't know what is.

Those ideas have tremendous resonance within the plot of the novel itself, but also within the scope of a reader's relationship with the novel.  If you find ideas like this interesting, then the odds are decent that you will enjoy the novel; if you find them anathema, then you are well advised to give Shadowland a big ole skip.

I'd planned to say more about the novel, but to be honest, I think I've said approximately all that needs to be said, at least within the confines of this particular blog.  It's a fascinating novel; it's a novel that undoubtedly has genius behind and at the heart of it.  I enjoyed reading it, and there is a lot more that could be said about it.  Ultimately, I think I'd say it is a great novel.  It is, however, a frustrating one, because it is determined to go in directions other than the ones it seems like it ought to go in.  It's a novel that I both love and hate, which is surely not an experience I'd want from every novel I read; but I'm okay with it having been my reaction to this novel, because it somehow seems appropriate.


Before I got, I do have a few other notes to make, if only so I have them written down someplace for future reference:

  • A younger version of Miles Teagarden, the protagonist of If You Could See Me Now, makes an appearance.  I thought that was pretty cool.
  • One of the major elements of the novel includes "The Collector," which is a magical device Coleman Collins uses to do his dirty work.  By this, I mean that he exerts magical control over certain people, whom he then uses to steal things, or to kill other people.  Or, perhaps, simply to control them for the sake of controlling them.  Going back to the idea of our unreliable and unnamed narrator, I am strongly tempted to assume that the reason he is so interested in Tom's story, and so determined to write it down, is because Tom has "Collected" him, and is using him for his own purposes.  There is no direct evidence of this being the case, but it's an interesting idea.
  • Given the private-school setting and the idea of magic, not to mention the plot point involving a train journey, I was utterly unable to not think about Harry Potter while reading this novel.  Despite those surface similarities, Shadowland has about as much to do with Harry Potter as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has to do with A Farewell to Arms.  Not much.
  • I'm not a fan of the way Straub writes characters he wants us to dislike.  He has them shout and holler and gnash their teeth, and may as well have had them grow mustaches to twirl.  Skeleton Ridpath is a particularly annoying character of this type.
  • This will, I believe, be the final time I listen to an audiobook as a means of preparing to write a post about a book.  I firmly believe the two are separate entities, though (obviously) related, and it probably makes a lot of sense for me to only treat audiobooks as audiobooks.

Thanks for reading!  I'll be back again at some point soon, with one of two things: either a review of the Robert McCammon novel The Night Boat or a review of Owen King's collection We're All In This Together.  I'm leaning toward the King review, but am as yet undecided.

Before either of those two things happens, though, I'm going to work on a review of Octopussy for You Only Blog Twice, my James Bond blog.  I hope to see you there, and if not there, then here.

Either way, TTFN!


  1. I read this book about 25 years ago while serving as a night watchman while in college. I had the same conflicting opinions about it that you do.

    I read it and loved the set up. As I continued reading, I kept thinking a plot set up as well as this ought to be better. Surely it will develop into something mind blowing.

    It did come together nicely. But, I thought that a writer as capable and accomplished as Straub could have and should have done more.

    Of course, I was looking at it as a horror novel which it was not. I need to reread it now I'm much better read in a number of genres and ascertain whether or not I missed something that made you feel as if it was a great novel.

    1. I'd definitely be curious to see what you made of it now, coming back to it.

      It's a curious case, that's for sure. In the end, I think I probably admire the novel more than I actually like it. It purposely puts you at a distance, which is a valid and interesting literary technique; but one not necessarily conducive to telling a good story.

  2. For me, the novel is an idea that has promise, yet is never allowed to deliver on it, and I'm afraid the reason, for me, is Straub himself.

    Here's a quote from Straub about the next novel he wrote after Shadowland that I believe has bearing on it.

    "I had decided to take my leave of all this dear, goofy imagery by wrapping it all together in one gigantic package and then… blowing it up! Anything like restraint or good taste was verboten; the aesthetic was grounded in a single principle, that of excess. As a narrative rooted in the principle of excess, Floating Dragon proceeds through a series of sustained, escalating set pieces toward a climactic moment of outright lunacy."

    I believe that "Principle of Excess" can also be applied to Shadowland.

    The problem is, excess doesn't guarantee art. Excess, by its nature, is overkill more often than not and stories require more order than I found in Shadowland.

    Granted people like Tarantino utilize excess to good effect, Straub I'm afraid isn't Tarantino, and I don't a story like Django Unchained would work as a novel. It'd be laughed out of the publishers office.

    To be Continued.


    1. Continued from 1

      Going back to an earlier post, I've said my conviction is stories are archetypes, and in that sense Straub does one other thing in common with King in It. He juggles several archetypes into one overarching narrative. However, because of his "Principle of Excess" Straub handles his material less skillfully than King in my opinion. In fact, I wonder if it might have hurt his style a bit.

      For instance, his style in the telling of the King of Cats seems, to me, clumsy and little clunky, like he's trying to analyze a story as he's telling it.

      Analyzing a story is far from an ignoble idea, though it may look weird to people who don't read. Nonetheless, I think Straub has demonstrated that a proper story should be told first and analyzed afterwards and not during the course of the action.

      Straub is an English teacher so in a way what he does makes a kind of sense, if only to prove that examining a story while writing it is unfeasible.

      To be concluded.


    2. Continued from 2

      So, all in all I think it's story that was never allowed to develop naturally. King once called the book "A clever excavation of the horror tale." In all due respect, however, I think King did it better with Wind Through the Keyhole. The basic idea seeming to be that horror tales are fairy tales with the focus more on the trolls and ghouls.

      As it turns out, I'd heard King of the Cats before Straubs retelling in an old book of folktales.

      Originally it was either a chuch sexton or maybe it was a Parson who told the story to his wife, only to have his cat verify to story and leave.

      The thing is, I one day thought back on that story, and in my mind I saw the Parson's wife turn to him and go "What are you just sitting there for? Go and bring him (the cat) back!"

      That was all, although I could imagine this old man who looks something like Father Callahan trudging through the snow on a windy night looking for the cat, and there are THINGS on the road after dark.

      I said stories were archetypes


  3. That Tarantino comparison is an apt one, I'd say. I'm a big fan of his; he has yet to direct a movie that I don't love. One thing I'd say about him is that he possesses a nearly flawless understanding of what makes cinema tick. In other words, he's making MOVIES; he's not making a novel in movie form, or a stage play in movie form.

    Straub, in "Shadowland," seems to be making a critical essay in novel form. Since I respond to a lot of what he's talking about, I find that I can enjoy the novel by engaging with it on that level. However, in this regard I am not typical of the general reading public. I've got an English lit degree, so I can easily imagine a room full of a dozen people or so, sitting around drinking coffee and talking about the issues presented in "Shadowland" and having a grand old time.

    But rooms like that are populated by people who have interests not shared by the general populace. That's okay; not every writer needs to be a populist, like King is. Of the two approaches, I definitely prefer King's, but there is definitely that part of me that digs what Straub is doing, as well. Like you, though, I wish he was doing so with a better-tended-to sense of story.

    "Floating Dragon" will be the next one of his that I tackle, but it's going to be a while before I get to it.

  4. Way off target, but hopefully of interest is this Popmatters article dealing with, as it's article says, "Horror, Pro Wrestling and Batman, Revisited."

    Here's a part of the article that I swearbrings up something either you or Bryan M. said about the Joker as a villain and unnecessary extremes or something like that.

    Ironically enough it also brings up ideas discussed by King.

    "The Joker, as written by Snyder, is much more of a horror character. His methods and mayhem far more influenced by recent horror movies than his previous pulp villain roots. It’s a trend. A trend that as Batman #16 illustrates, shows a “torture porn” influence that we’ve seen in the Saw movies and other imitators.

    "This is certainly within current popculture trends. As we can observe, horror is the genre du jour for TV, movies and books. Comics as well, which began embracing a darker tone as early as the late 1980s, have seemingly defaulted to horror influenced material, reflecting a troubling but reasonable trend."

    Here's the link, hope this is helpful:


  5. As I've mentioned, I'm not a fan of The Joker in that "Saw"-esque guise. I just don't need mainstream superhero comics to go to places like that. In fact, I need them NOT to go to places like that. It's fine for creator-owned titles, but DC and Marvel, in my opinion, ought to be more kid-friendly.

    That said, I've enjoyed the vast majority of what Snyder has done on Batman, because whereas it doesn't necessarily fit my idea of what Batman comics should be, it is nevertheless good drama. And Snyder, after all, is stuck with the continuity that DC has imposed on him.

  6. I just finished Shadowland, and enjoyed it. It made me feel like I was reading Lovecraft, how the story creates an imaginary world that makes you feel a certain creepy way. Peter Straub is able to do the same.

    1. Hmm... that's an interesting comparison. I can see it!

      Glad you liked the novel; as my review indicates, I've got problems with it, but there's plenty there to love.

  7. One of the greatest books I ever read.I love the way the book builds up to a great climax.So awesome how Collins is dispatched into the Collector.I soooo wish they'd make a proper movie of this book!

    1. They'd sell me a ticket to that, for sure.

      (Which is a complete lie: I work at a movie theatre, so I see everything I want to see free. But you know what I mean!)

      I've got to get back on reading my way through Straub's work at some point soon. "Floating Dragon" is the next one up, I believe, and I remember liking that one a lot.

    2. When I read the book, I kept thinking that Vincent Price would have been great as Collins. Or maybe Christopher Lee.

    3. Hmm...of those two, I think I'd probably give the edge to Christopher Lee. Either would have been great, though.

      Nowadays, I'd probably cast Jared Harris.

    4. Robert Preston I think would have been great. Unfortunately, he is gone. Christopher Lloyd might pull it off too.

    5. Robert Preston! I like that. Fritz Weaver comes to mind, too (probably because I literally just finished watching "Creepshow").

  8. All I can say is, I read it twenty years ago, and I still think about it today. I'll probably read it again soon. I think the magic was bound up in danger hiding behind banality. In the sense that oh, this is just a dream, and then...wait a this is real! And with soul-rending consequences.

    1. Straub's work does seem designed to endure, doesn't it?

    2. I read this in college and it stuck with me all these years.
      It's not horror, it's fantasy. It's about illusion, reality and Straub, a friend and sometimes collaborator of King's nibbles at a couple of King's best lines.
      As a trial lawyer, specializing in murder, I tell true stories to a captive audience I seek to persuade. I have faith that the truth will out. But unlike writers like King and Straib, it "is the tale, not he who tells it."

      Of course whether it's Shadowlands or The Dark Tower, it is very much the teller of the tale, and not merely the story.

      The veil of the story within the story and the fact that you're never sure whether it really happened or if it's just the story is what makes it magical, which of course is exactly what Straub intends.

      Your point about audiobooks is well taken and it is for that reason I avoid them like the plague.

    3. "As a trial lawyer, specializing in murder, I tell true stories to a captive audience I seek to persuade. I have faith that the truth will out. But unlike writers like King and Straib, it "is the tale, not he who tells it." Of course whether it's Shadowlands or The Dark Tower, it is very much the teller of the tale, and not merely the story." -- That's a great quote from King, but I've never agreed with it. I think that in many -- maybe even most -- cases, the story and the teller are one and the same thing. This is bound to especially be true when it comes to telling a story as an orator, as you yourself do.

      A fascinating perspective!

  9. I read this in 1980 when I was 18 years old and remembered most of it. Then again, I remember most everything. I read it again a few years ago and being a magician myself, I think this book is brilliantly written.

    I think that JK Rowling might have read a copy of this before creating the HP series, but who really knows. Back to the book ---- Shadowland -----, don't take someone else's word............. read it yourself and make your own judgement.

    Master Magician, David Evangelista (VISUAL MAGIC)

    1. Very cool! Did this book have a role to play in your becoming a magician? If so, that's an awesome result.

      I would not be surprised if Rowling had read "Shadowland." I don't think there's much Harry Potter prefiguring in "Shadowland," but there's just enough to make one wonder.

      It's a novel that is well worth reading, that's for sure.

      Thanks for stopping by, David! Come back any time.

    2. I read my Dad's copy of Shadowland in 1990 or 1991, about a year after highschool. I loved the book because I so strongly identified with the boys... My father was a Soldier with a psych degree, an amature magician, and (like many of the men in our community) had seen the horrors of fighting. I learned my first magic trick (by accident) in the third grade. As a young Soldier, Shadowland inspired me to perform a few paid shows. As a father and mentor, I have used magic to teach... and sometimes the darker morals werent revealed until decades after the kids enjoyed the tricks. I also see the apeal of selecting a worthy successor, leading them to believe you are more powerful than you are, and inspiring them to surpass your accomplishments.
      I will read it again, this week.
      That said, I haven't found another of his books I could like.

    3. I'm sure a lot of people have that experience; "Shadowland" does seem like a singular work, and there's certainly no guarantee that someone who likes it will like other Straub novels. It feels like the same thing would likely be true of "Ghost Story" and "Floating Dragon," as well.

      I'd love to see some statistics on the number of readers who become devoted readers of an author's entire body of work versus the number who enjoy one or two of his/her books but no more than that. I suspect the latter is probably the bigger percentage by far.

      I enjoyed reading your comments about how the book resonates with your own history. Thanks for sharing them!

  10. To mention "Harry Potter" and "Shadowland" in the same breath seems, to me, blasphemous (even with your Honey Boo Boo disclaimer). It's a shame that series has cast such a long shadow across the fantasy landscape (Potter, not Boo Boo). I feel bad that you were unable to come to the book fresh and free of Rowling.

    I have never forgotten the denouement of "Shadowland," when Tom and Rose are on that spit of land on the lonely lake, powerless to save their friend. It has haunted me for 30 years.

    1. "Blasphemous" seems perhaps a bit strong; but it's a valid point.

      And yet, it's a point that works both ways: I'm likely, after this reread, to think of "Shadowland" anytime I reread the Potter books. I don't see that as a negative at all.

  11. For whatever reason I love Shadowland and none of King's horror. King seems two dimensional. The only film treatment of his horror that I have solidly liked is The Shining (Kubrick). Shadowland must be made into a film!!

    1. King loathes that movie with good reason.
      The TV miniseries that King help underwrite years later was far truer to the spirit of the book then Kubrick's overwrought production

    2. Well, we'll have to parts ways on both of those scores, sadly! I'm a huge Kubrick fan in general, and of "The Shining" particularly. And while I'm also (obviously) a huge King fan, I think his taste in cinema is often pretty poor. I rarely trust him when he's opining on movies or television.

      The TV version of "The Shining" is truer to the spirit of the story of the book; yes, I'd agree with that for sure. But films don't live and die on story. Films also live on skill of performance, camerawork, editing, music, etc., and there is literally no aspect of that side of filmmaking in which the TV version is not outclassed by Kubrick's.

      Not merely outclassed, either; the two may as well exist on separate planes of quality, such that a comparison is arguably a bit unfair. It's like watching the Patriots play a high-school team and then criticizing the loser -- which assuredly is going to be the high-school team -- for having a poor offensive plan.

      Even so, I don't think the TV version is particularly good as its own thing. It's got no soul; it makes feints toward emotion, but they all feel very hollow. Kubrick's movie is cold, but it's purposefully cold; the resultant void allows -- challenges -- the viewer to bring their own emotions to the proceedings. It's an approach Kubrick used throughout the vast majority of his career, and it certainly doesn't work on all audiences.

      I'd love to see a new remake, one that adapts the novel as faithfully as the TV version did but also has a lot of artistry and excellence as a piece of filmmaking. I don't know who I'd nominate to make such a thing, but there's no reason why it couldn't happen.

      And I'd still like to see a top-notch movie or TV version of "Shadowland," too. It'd be tricky, but I'm sure somebody, somewhere is up to the task.

  12. The "trick" about Shadowland is that while it is superficially about the theatricality and psychology of stage magic, it is more rooted in the archetypes of Magick, that is, the Western Mystery Tradition, as Straub references in the novel in mentions of Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, Gurdijieff, etc.

    1. I'd love to know what Alan Moore thinks about the novel. I believe he's dabbled in those waters a bit himself.

  13. Today I randomly thought of the story of the cats, and searched for it, and because you posted it, your blog came up.

    I've read Shadowland three times, and may again. It's one of my favorite novels. I would say the key to enjoying it is to remember it, because Straub sprinkles in details that don't become apparent until further readings.

    For instance, when the narrator meets Tom at the Zanzibar within the first couple of pages, they shake hands, and the narrator remarks of the rough scar tissue on Tom's palm. It is only at the end of the novel we find out the origin of that scarring.

    It's clear to me that there is no mystery of who the narrator is: the narrator is Peter Straub. That's the puzzle piece that falls into place. And, like any good storyteller, he isn't showing his hand.

    1. I can't roll with the idea that Straub is the narrator. I mean, sure, I know that he IS the narrator, but in order for this novel to work for me as a piece of fiction, he can't be.

      That's just me, though.

      I definitely believe that this novel -- and probably all of Straub's novels (if not ANY good novel) -- benefits from repeat reading. I'd love to reread it again, now that you mention it.