Friday, July 11, 2008

The Woods Are Dark

Although he has never been as well known outside the horror genre as Stephen King or Dean Koontz, Richard Laymon has always been a big name to horror fans. Unfortunately, due to his lack of crossover appeal, Many of Laymon’s books have been out-of-print for quite a while, and some were never published in the United States. Laymon, who died young of a heart attack in 2001, believed partial responsibility for this lay in the treatment of his second novel, The Woods Are Dark.

In was 1981, at the early beginnings of the horror boom. Stephen King had become widely popular, and publishing houses were looking for horror writers to cash in on the surge in the genre’s popularity. Richard Laymon was one of these writers. He published his first book, The Cellar, in 1980, and felt the follow-up, The Woods Are Dark, would be the book that found a broader audience. But when he delivered the manuscript to Warner Books, they wanted drastic changes made, to lessen the amount of sex and violence. Although Laymon disagreed, he was young and went along with the re-write, all the while feeling it weakened the store. When the second proof was delivered, he was horrified to find the book had been re-written and butchered by someone connected with Warners. Subplots were destroyed, the timeline was tangled and there were many mistakes. Warners also told him it was too late to make further changes. Then they slapped a hideous foil cover on the book and released it, and it promptly flopped. Laymon’s career never regained its momentum in the United States (although he was big in the United Kingdom), and for the rest of his life he was a cult author.

Laymon always said the original version of The Woods Are Dark could never be recovered or re-written, that the material that comprised it was too scattered or destroyed. After his death, however, his daughter Kelly undertook the task of piecing together the original manuscript, finding pages in various places and assembling it like a jigsaw puzzle. At the same time, Leisure Books was in the process of re-publishing Laymon’s work. Everything came together at the right time, and this month, Leisure published Kelly Laymon’s reconstruction of The Woods Are Dark, the first mass publication for the American market.

The Woods Are Dark was an ideal follow-up for the Cellar, as it carries over many of the same themes. Travelers come to a creepy small town in California, are abducted by the locals (who are all in on it), and taken out into the woods, where they are eaten by a tribe of feral people called the Krulls. These periodic sacrifices keep the Krulls from troubling the townspeople.

In the book, two separate groups, two girls traveling together, and a family, are kidnapped and tied to trees in the woods. Before they can meet their fate, they are freed, and embark on a harrowing attempt at escape through the dark woods. The entire book takes place over the course of one night, a favorite device of Laymon’s, and the action is non-stop from beginning to end. There are a couple of instances where characters behave illogically, but that isn’t enough to lessen the suspense.

If you are a Laymon fan, you’ll definitely want to read this. If you aren’t, this would be a good place to start.

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