Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Campbell, Ramsey

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(1946-    ) UK writer, primarily of Horror, whose work often melds influences from many genres to produce an amalgam of images of Evil and alienation. RC's most notable primary influence was H P Lovecraft. August Derleth, RC's mentor in his formative years, encouraged him to establish his own milieu for his Lovecraftian stories. This led to RC's first professionally published story "The Church in High Street" (in Dark Mind, Dark Heart anth 1962 US ed Derleth) and his first book, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (coll 1964 US). Highly imitative, these stories, most fitting loosely into the Cthulhu Mythos, are glutinous with atmosphere but weak on character. By the time the book appeared RC was already moving away from Lovecraft towards deeper roots. His juvenilia, which he has no qualms over sharing with his readers, show the much stronger influence of writers like M R James and Algernon Blackwood, plus imagery from Comics and Horror Movies, particularly the film noir and the work of the early German directors. Movie imagery is evident in many of RC's stories, and is the basis of Ancient Images (1989). He also novelized three 1930s movies – The Bride of Frankenstein * (1977 US; text restored 1978), The Wolfman * (1977 US) and Dracula's Daughter * (1977 US); the US editions all bore the pseudonym Carl Dreadstone, as did the first book in the UK, but the last two UK editions carried the name E K Leyton. RC has also written as Montgomery Comfort (on short fiction) and Jay Ramsay.

RC's earliest stories, dating from 1958-1963, were collected in two special editions of The Crypt of Cthulhu: The Tomb-Herd and Others (coll 1986 US) and Ghostly Tales (coll 1987 US); he later compiled a retrospective of all his Lovecraftian fiction, Cold Print (coll 1985; exp 1993). But the mid- to late 1960s saw his work markedly metamorphosing as he came to terms with the Lovecraftian elements and began to control his influences, placing greater emphasis on character, particularly the psychology of his protagonists. RC's next collections, Demons by Daylight (coll 1973 US) and The Height of the Scream (coll 1976 US), trace this catharsis. His stories now focused on the Evil in humankind, an evil that may arise from supernatural origins but is as likely to be inherent. This new RC emerged with shocking violence in his first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother (1976 US; rev 1985 US), where dabblings in Satanism result in the birth of an evil child (see Children). The events themselves are only by implication supernatural, underlining the dichotomy RC has liked to explore in his later work between whether evil is of supernatural or human origin. This malevolence is more profound in his second novel, The Face that Must Die (cut 1979; restored 1983 US), a Psychological Thriller of mental decline. RC also utilized the latent malevolence of the cityscape (see Urban Fantasy) to heighten this sense of alienation. Many of his subsequent novels – To Wake the Dead (1980; rev vt The Parasite 1980 US); The Nameless (1981; rev 1985 US); The Claw (1983 as Jay Ramsay; vt Night of the Claw 1983 US; as by RC 1992 US); Incarnate (1983 US; rev 1990); Obsession (1985 US); The Influence (1988 US) and The Count of Eleven (1991) – follow this development, deploying concepts of the supernatural, especially satanic cults, as only a possible explanation (or excuse) for human failings and degradation. These novels are thus stories of Possession, whether by human, supernatural or psychological intervention, often triggered by a dominant precursive malign figure, which rules through the Spirit (control may often manifest via Dreams or Visions). All are interpretations of madness. The One Safe Place (1995) utilizes this development to produce a strongly anti-censorship nonfantastic novel that explores how social deprivation is the root cause of most corruption.

RC's shorter stories remain more firmly in the realms of Supernatural Fiction, and include some of the best Ghost Stories of the 1970s and 1980s – he received the World Fantasy Award for "The Chimney" (1977 US in Whispers ed Stuart David Schiff) and "Mackintosh Willy" (1979 US in Shadows 2 ed Charles L Grant). The best of these are collected as Dark Companions (coll 1982 US) and Dark Feasts (coll 1987); the two volumes overlap extensively. RC also produced some Sword-and-Sorcery stories while struggling to establish himself as a freelance writer; these include the four Ryre the Warrior tales, starting with "The Sustenance of Hoak" (1977), which appeared in the Swords Against Darkness series ed Andrew J Offutt: none has been included in RC's story collections. He also completed some of Robert E Howard's Solomon Kane stories, included in Solomon Kane 2: The Hills of the Dead (coll 1979 US) by Howard. At this time RC produced a series of erotic horror stories (see Sex), mostly for Anthologies ed Michel Parry (1947-2014), and these have been collected as Scared Stiff: Tales of Sex and Death (coll 1986 US).

RC's later short stories show a stronger affinity with his novels, placing greater emphasis on psychological degradation, alienation and distortions of Reality. This emerges most potently in his novella Needing Ghosts (1990 chap), a story of lost identity. Collections of later material are Waking Nightmares (coll 1991 US) and Strange Things and Stranger Places (coll 1993 US), plus a comprehensive retrospective Alone With the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell 1961-1991 (coll 1993 US).

The later novels have shifted slightly from the emphasis on the evil of humanity to the possession of place, exploring the implications of residual influences caused either by humanity's spiritual or artistic passions – as in The Hungry Moon (1986 US) and Ancient Images (1989) – or by the spirit of place (see also Pan), as in Midnight Sun (1990) and The Long Lost (1993). The last two, in particular, are rare among late-20th-century Supernatural Fiction in the complexity of their exploration of humanity's relationship with its surroundings. [MA]

other works: L'Homme du souterrain (coll 1979 France) ed Richard D Nolane; Watch the Birdie (1984 chap); Through the Walls (1985 chap); Slow (1986 chap US); Medusa (1987 chap US); Two Obscure Tales (coll 1993 chap US); The Guide/Der Reiseführer (coll 1994 chap Germany).

as editor: Superhorror (anth 1976; vt The Far Reaches of Fear 1980); New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (anth 1980 US); New Terrors 1 (anth 1980; cut vt New Terrors 1982 US) and New Terrors 2 (anth 1980; cut vt New Terrors II 1984 US) – assembled as Omnibus of New Terrors (omni 1985); The Gruesome Book (anth 1983); Fine Frights: Stories that Scared Me (anth 1988); Best New Horror series co-ed with Stephen Jones, being Best New Horror (anth 1990), Best New Horror 2 (anth 1991), #3 (anth 1992), #4 (anth 1993), #5 (anth 1994), with a selection from first three issued as The Giant Book of Best New Horror (anth 1993); Uncanny Banquet (anth 1992); Deathport (anth 1993) with Martin H Greenberg.

further reading: The Fantasy Readers' Guide to Ramsey Campbell (1980) by Mike Ashley; Ramsey Campbell (1988) by Gary W Crawford; The Core of Ramsey Campbell: A Bibliography and Reader's Guide (1995 US) by RC with Stefan Dziemianowicz and S T Joshi.

Ramsey Campbell


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.