Our Lady of Darkness
First published as Pale Brown Thing a 2 part serial in Fantasy & Science Fiction (issues 1,2/77). Our Lady of Darkness was his last novel, and undoubtedly one of his very best (in my humble opinion)….A must! In fact it’s currently available (in the States) as a TOR double with Conjure Wife, definitely a ‘recommended’ purchase..
Our Lady of Darkness: A Jamesian Classic:
Annotations on Our Lady of Darkness at ‘Walden East’
Mike Humbert’s Our Lady of Darkness tour of San Francisco
Our Lady of Darkness Review by Bryce Wilson
Our Lady of Darkness Review at Crown and Bones
Our Lady of Darkness Review at NetMassimo
Our Lady of Darkness Review by Espana Sheriff
Our Lady of Darkness, reviewed by David Pringle.
There have been countless tales of haunted houses – old buildings, ranging from medieval castles to twentieth-century hotels, plagued by ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, what-have-you. In Leiber’s ingenious variation on the theme, the ghostly beings are known as “paramental entities”, and it is not just one building but a whole city (present-day San Francisco) which is haunted by them. Moreover, in a clever and elegant switch on our expectations, this book’s hero is able to tell that his own home is haunted only when he views it through binoculars from a distance of two miles.
Franz Westen is a middle-aged writer of horror fiction who lives, surrounded by his books and magazines, in a San Francisco apartment block. He is recovering from a long alcoholic binge which followed on the premature death of his wife, and he has been enjoying an on/off relationship with a young woman musician who lives two floors down from him. Franz is in the process of rediscovering ordinary life, and he takes a particular pleasure in gazing at the stars and the city through his binoculars. One morning he examines Corona Heights, a steep hill which rises from the streets a couple of miles away, and he notices a pale brown figure dancing eccentrically at its summit. He decides to go for a walk, and to investigate Corona Heights. When he arrives there the mysterious figure has gone. From the hilltop Franz searches for his own apartment window, catches sight of it through the lenses, and is horrified to see a pale brown creature leaning from the windwo and waving back at him. An old folk-rhyme runs through his mind: “I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy wasn’t home. Taffy went to my house and stole a marrowbone.”
It is a chilling moment, and things develop spookily from there. Franz discovers that his apartment building was once a hotel, where lived an eccentric scholar of the supernatural named Thibaut de Castries. He already owns a rare book by de Castries, entitled Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities. He now reads this apparently crack-brained work of pseudo-science with renewed interest, and it begins to make a strange kind of sense. De Castries believed that modern cities, with their vast quantities of steel, concrete, oil, paper and electrical energy were breeding grounds for so-called paramental entities – which is to say, ghosts befitting a technological era. It would seem that a supernatural line of power runs between Corona Heights and the apartment block (which was once a hotel where de Castries himself resided): Franz Westen is being haunted by a paramental.
The novel contains a great deal of talk – but it is fascinating talk, for most of Leiber’s people are a pleasure to meet. Despite a lack of action in the middle passages, the climax of the story is truly frightening. The bookish Franz encounters a nightmarish “Lady of Darkness” who draws her sustenance from raw materials which are very dear to his heart. At the end, he comes close to the point of dissolution, but survives. Our Lady of Darkness is a first-class supernatural horror story, written with all the relaxed ease of an old master. It is plainly an autobiographical fantasy, one which speaks of real suffering, but it also has a mellow quality.
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