Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Straub, Peter

(1943-    ) US writer and poet whose first published genre work was Julia (1975; vt Full Circle 1977 UK), an effective Ghost Story centring on a young woman whose daughter died in a tragic accident. Questions about her sanity and her husband's motives are played against apparent manifestations of the girl's cruel Spirit. PS followed with another tale of guilt and a malignant spirit, If You Could See Me Now (1977). He was working his way towards a definitive take on the ghostly tale, Ghost Story (1979). In this classic of the subgenre, a group of elderly men who meet regularly to exchange ghost stories become the targets of a Shapeshifting creature that embodies the spirit of a woman whose death the men inadvertently caused in youth. It is both a tribute to the traditional ghost tales of Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne et al. and an updating of such themes, featuring an intricate and varied contemporary Gothic plot. With this novel – filmed as Ghost Story (1981) – PS assumed a pre-eminent position in the Horror genre, a role he embraced only briefly before moving further afield.

In Shadowland (1980; vt Shadow Land 1981 UK), a tale of Magic, Illusion and Dark Fantasy, the narrator recounts a bizarre summer of his adolescence spent at the home of an ageing magician who seeks a successor. PS's last venture into unadulterated supernatural horror was Floating Dragon (1982), which focuses on a small Connecticut community, juxtaposing the influences of an ancient, Dragon-like entity with the effects of an accidentally released chemical weapon, DRG-16. A much-anticipated collaboration with Stephen King resulted in The Talisman (1984), whose setting is split between the contemporary USA and the Territories, a dark parallel universe in which Magic holds sway and technology's advances stalled long ago. The 12-year-old protagonist Jack Sawyer (his name a homage to Mark Twain) befriends a Werewolf in the Territories and brings him back to the USA, where the two battle various adversaries in an epic Quest whose ultimate aim is to save the life of Jack's mother. Elements of the fantastic and surreal are only hinted at in PS's Blue Rose trilogy, which begins with Koko (1988), a tale of four Vietnam vets seeking a killer, and which won the 1989 World Fantasy Award despite minimal fantastic content. The remainder of the sequence consists of Mystery (1990), a slightly surreal novel of detection, and The Throat (1993), which won the 1994 Bram Stoker Award. The Hellfire Club (1996) involves a Serial Killer and reflects PS's continuing shift away from the fantastic.

PS's shorter fiction tends towards novellas. "The Ghost Village" (1992) won a World Fantasy Award. Houses Without Doors (coll 1990) collects six long stories, including Blue Rose (1985 chap) and the nightmarish Mrs God (exp 1990), in which a professor is drawn to an English manor to research the works of his poetess grandmother, and finds himself caught in a vortex of hallucinatory images, including a preponderance of dead babies. [BM]

other works: Ishmael (coll 1972 chap), Open Air (coll 1972 chap) and Leeson Park and Belsize Square: Poems 1970-1975 (coll 1983), verse; Marriages (1973); The General's Wife (1982), based on a previously unpublished excerpt from Floating Dragon; Wild Animals (omni 1984), assembling Julia, If You Could See Me Now and the previously unpublished Under Venus; Peter Straub's Ghosts (anth 1995).

Peter Straub

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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.