Not by design, but just in time, anyway, this has become A Very Gothic Week here at Sweet Rocket. Yesterday was a review of the fabulous new gothic novel Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees. Today is Dark Shadows day.
Unfortunately, today’s post was inspired by the passing of Dark Shadows legend Jonathan Frid, who portrayed Barnabas Collins, arguably the most revolutionary vampire of the 20th century, on the gothic soap during Dark Shadows’ original late 1960s-early 1970s run. Dark Shadows, and Frid’s characterization of Barnabas Collins in particular, transformed the popular notion of the vampire, turning vampires into romantic, heroic characters rather than horror movie monsters along the lines of Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde.
Dark Shadows did more than just turn Frid’s vampire and co-star David Selby’s werewolf Quentin Collins into sexy romantic leads. Despite its inauspicious beginnings as a half-hour afternoon soap, Dark Shadows became a cottage industry and a cultural force, inspiring movies, comic books, records, and an entire genre of books, the Gothic novel.
One of the most popular and enduring of the cottage industries that sprung up around Dark Shadows’ characters was a series of Gothic paperback novels. According to Paperback Library, 33 Dark Shadows books were published between 1966 and 1973. All were authored by Canadian Dan Ross, but published under the pen name Marilyn Ross. Aside from House of Dark Shadows, which was a novelization of the movie of the same name, the Dark Shadows books were a series which featured an alternate storyline/history to that portrayed on the television show.
Like the show, the Dark Shadows books were written in the Gothic vein, although they did not always hew to the conventions of the Gothic style, which usually features first person narration and a tight focus on the main character/narrator. More Gothic mystery than Gothic romance, the books fell into two categories: the early books that featured a mystery centered on a different Dark Shadows character with each volume, and the later books, which focused on Barnabas Collins and Quentin Collins as a sort-of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, solving paranormal and/or evil villian mysteries.
It’s not pure conjecture to state that Dark Shadows brought the Gothic novel back into vogue. During the height of Dark Shadows’ success, publishers began to buying up Gothic stories in droves. Many paperback publishers created lines especially for Gothics (including Paperback Library, which published the Dark Shadows novels). Authors such as Virginia Holt, Virginia Coffman, Joan Aiken and Jane Blackmore suddenly found a wide audience for their Gothic novels as Dark Shadows made this genre, which had been falling in and out of fashion since the late 1700s, hip again.
Gothics were so popular during this period that the genre actually featured sub-genres, including historical Gothics, contemporary Gothics, paranormal Gothics, romantic Gothics and Gothic mysteries. While Gothic novels throughout history had always featured a variety of storylines incorporating all these genres, it’s interesting to note that Dark Shadows covered much of the same territory as the Gothic books published during (and after) its run, featuring mystery storylines, historical storylines set in the Victorian and Colonial periods and romantic storylines in addition to the show’s contemporary paranormal storyline. How influenced authors of Gothics were by Dark Shadows’ storylines is anyone’s guess, but it’s only deductive to conclude that Dark Shadows and the movies and books based on its characters inspired the popularity of Gothic fiction in the 1960s and 1970s.
Even Dan Ross – writing as Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross and Ann Gilmer, amongst other pseudonyms – benefitted from the Dark Shadows-inspired Gothic revival; under his various pseudonyms, Ross published over 300 books (including the Dark Shadows books), many of them Gothics, during the 1960s and 1970s.
But as Dark Shadows’ fortunes went, so did the popularity of Gothic romances. After the cancellation of Dark Shadows in 1971, Gothics managed to hang on to their foothold in the paperback market for several years, but by the end of the 1970s, publication of Gothics had dwindled dramatically, supplanted by the surge in popularity of historical romance, especially that unique 1970s-1980s sub-genre of historical romance, the bodice-ripper. Many authors who’d first found success writing Gothic novels, including Barbara Michaels and Anne Stuart, moved on to subvert Gothic themes into romantic suspense or standard mysteries, while others, such as Mary Kay Simmons, moved on to bodice-rippers or other romance genres. Others simply drifted away.
The current popularity of paranormal romance (for which we have the Twilight series, for better or worse, to thank) would seem to create the perfect atmosphere for another Gothic revival, but so far, Gothics are still few and far between. The one publisher that consistently published Gothics through the 1990s-2000s, Dorchester (under the Love Spell and Candleglow imprints), closed its physical doors in March of this year, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive as an electronic publisher.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, as Amanda DeWees’ wonderful Sea of Secrets has proven. Enduring Gothic classics, such as those by Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, remain in print. E-books and self-publishing have revived many long-dead genres and writers who’d been unable to find a home with publishers. There’s also hope that many of the 1960s-1970s Gothics may be republished as e-books; perhaps Gothics will experience the same e-book renaissance as older uber-traditional Regencies, which had slowly been phased out by publishers looking for books with more graphic sexuality and third-person narration, and are now re-emerging in e-book format. Belgrave House, which sprung up just to republish out-of-print books in e-book format, has done a wonderful job of bringing traditional Regencies back, and is beginning to add a few Gothics, as well.
If nothing else, maybe the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Dark Shadows reboot due out later this year will give new life to this sadly neglected genre. Long live Gothics!