Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Keep

One of the important novels that helped jump-start the horror boom of the 80s was F. Paul Wilson’s first horror novel, The Keep, published in 1981. Wilson had published several short stories and a handful of science fiction novels before this, but The Keep was the work which made him a household name (at least among those of us who read books). I probably first read The Keep at the time of its first paperback publication and loved it. Over the years, I had wondered how well it would hold up, and got the chance to find out after Borderlands Press published a beautiful reprint edition.
The Keep is set in Eastern Europe in 1941. This was a tumultuous time. Poland and France had already fallen to the Wehrmacht, and by the end of the year, Germany would be locked in a death struggle against its former ally Russia. A small castle in Transylvania has been occupied by a German army unit under the command of Captain Woermann, a German regular army officer. This seemed like a tedious posting, but after one of the German soldiers breaks into a secret chamber in the wall of the keep, the soldiers begin to die one by one. Woermann’s dilemma is complicated by the arrival of an SS contingent under the command of the fated Major Kaempfer.

The two officers are unable to discover what force is killing their men, although it becomes increasingly obvious it is of supernatural origin. At a loss, they summon a Jewish scholar named Cuza, who is an authority on the keep, along with his daughter Magda, to solve the mystery. Cuza discovers the cause of the deaths is an ancient vampire, named Molasar. Can this be true?

I was very pleased and relieved to find The Keep to be just as good a novel as the one I remembering reading 25 years ago. It is still a fast moving story with well-drawn characters, and offers a number of “twists” on the vampire legend. (I am deliberately avoiding spoilers here, as those of you who have read the book will understand). Of particular interest is the crisis of faith suffered by the observant Jew Cuza, when he discovers, just as in the legends, Molasar is repelled by the sight of the cross.

Wilson supposedly made some tweaks in this new edition of the book, but I’m not enough of a scholar to have recognized them. There was a film adaptation of the book in 1983 directed by Michael Mann, but for much-debated reasons, it did not turn out well.

If there is anyone who hasn’t read The Keep, I would recommend taking the time to hunt it down. It is deservedly a classic.

1 comment:

The Doctor said...

Ah yes, one of my favourites from the 80s. I read the British paperback edition, which I think was published a year or two later. Wasn't so enamoured of the Reborn (etc), which sort of retconned The Keep, The Tomb (another good 'un) and The Touch (hmmm...don't remember enjoying that one so much) into the one story line.