Screamy on the Beach

Journey into Darkness by Frank Belknap Long (1967): Long was one of H.P. Lovecraft’s closest friends. He also had a long writing career, one that extended from the 1920’s until his death in the 1990’s. He’s most notable now as a memoirist who defended Lovecraft’s memory in Dreamer on the Nightside and as one of the earliest contributors to HPL’s “shared universe” that would come to be known as The Cthulhu Mythos after Lovecraft’s death.

Long’s “The Space-Eaters” and “The Hounds of Tindalos” would help establish the more outre, non-representational otherworldly denizens of Lovecraft’s sinister universe (the eponymous hounds appear to be sentient geometric shapes rather than more ‘normal’ beings). And his “Second Night Out” is one of the great short stories in that surprisingly robust sub-sub-genre of horror stories that take place on cruise ships. It certainly gave me nightmares for months after I first read it as a child in the Shudders horror anthology for children.

Freelance writers don’t have pension plans or the promise of steady employment, and so Long had to keep writing and publishing long past retirement age (which would have fallen in 1966) just to keep himself and his wife afloat. Only a charity drive by fans after he died got his name inscribed on his family tombstone in the Bronx.

In this too-short novel, Long seems to have been handicapped by limitations on the length of the project. It really feels like fifty or more pages have been summarily cut from the manuscript to make it fit into a small, cheap paperback, resulting in a pretty jarring jump from gradually escalating horror to a rushed and somewhat anti-climactic climax.

Journey into Darkness depicts the beachfront  invasion of “our” universe by some nebulous, murderous entity or entities from Outside who have been accidentally summoned by a psychiatrist’s experiments with what basically seems to be the most dangerous proto-Power Point Presentation ever put on screen. Colours and shapes projected on a screen by a weirdly complex slide projector can summon extra-dimensional Death, can, indeed, BE extra-dimensional death.

With this explicitly referenced Lovecraftian set-up (one character mentions the HPL short story “The Colour Out of Space”) in place, Long throws in some other vaguely real material, including Jung’s theory of archetypes and the always bizarre saga of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Box. Some of the material also recalls William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and his battle with the extra-dimensional demon known as “The Hog.”

I wouldn’t describe this a great book, or even a very good one. Long was always a workmanlike prose stylist at best, and his intellectual reach generally far out-extended his writerly grasp. The horror remains fairly firmly in the realm of exposition, in part because much of the second half of the novel IS clumsily delivered exposition. Still, there are some interesting ideas here, and I was never bored. Occasionally frustrated, but never bored. Lightly recommended.

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