14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Not Really Horror,
This review is from: Shadowland (Mass Market Paperback)
Peter Straub tells the story of two prep-school classmates, Tom Flanagan, and Del Nightingale who spend a summer apprenticed to a master magician.
The novels first part chronichles the formation of their friendship, and their involvement in both stage and occult magic. This segment is fairly conventional, and well told. It succeeds in effectively building an atmosphere of menace, and thoroughly introducing the characters and themes that will be futher developed in the second half of the book, which is much more complex.
In the second half the book, all the laws of nature are uprooted, and magic and menace become the rule rather than the exception. The setting is confined to an estate in vermont, Shadowland, which is the domain of the wizard Coleman Collins. Coleman's origins are spelled out in an elaborate series of hallucinations, staged events, and magical illusions, or some indefinite mixture of all three. Straub is very effective in creating this fantastical setting, and in initiating the characters, and the reader, into his world of magic.
Unfortunately, this is where the story, and the horror, break down. In a story featuring a protagonist who can fly, transform himself, levitate objects, start fires with his mind, etc, it is a bit hard to generate any kind of menace or horror. (it is especially galling that a character who can fly is kept captive by a tall fence-) Thus what should be the climactic conflict pitting master against apprentice comes across rather flat, despite a phantasmagoria of imagery. The images can be interesting, perhaps even scary, but their ephemeral nature undercuts the significance of the consequences of this action.
Don't get me wrong, Straub weaves a rich tapestry that is compelling in places, but ultimately, in the big picture, falls utterly flat as horror, despite its richness and lyricism.
If you want clever references, occult themes and an intricate plot and a satisfying finish, perhaps you should read Foucault's Pendulumn, by Eco Umberto.
If you want a horror story with occult themes, look elswhere.