In olden times, storytellers would explain the fear of the unknown... by giving it flesh. I am still doing that today, by inventing creatures and situations in which our daily terrors can be grappled with in a physical form.
- Graham Masterton, interviewed on the Nightmare Sagas website
In the present day, one can walk into a high street bookstore and be presented with shelves that practically bulge with the work of writers known the world over. Each year the most exalted authors in particular genres, recognised by the modern publishing industry, reward their faithful fan bases with new and shiny tomes in time for the Christmas rush. In the genre of horror fiction, these names include Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Anne Rice without fail. But the name of Graham Masterton is seldom mentioned among them.
A prolific writer of titles from a multitude of genres, Graham Masterton is an author who commands what has become an almost underground following. Mention his name to some and all you get is a blank stare. But occasionally the name will light a spark in the memory and you will hear a tale of that person reading a book, which lured them into a quasi-real world of brooding horrors and unrelenting dread.
These readers seem to come from no one specific place, as Masterton has been published all over the world, from North America to the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe. They also seem to come from all walks of life, as well. A reader of Graham Masterton is as likely to be a city gent on his way to a nine o'clock meeting as a teenage goth contemplating his existence and partaking in writing bad poetry.
Plots, Themes and Ancient Mythology
As with his readership, the subjects of Masterton's novels are varied, but some common themes do exist. Rather than relying on psychotic madmen or forces from another world to terrorise his protagonists, Masterton instead looks to old legends and mythology for inspiration for bad guys. But never one to limit himself to one part of the world as regards his source material, in his works the reader can find demons and devils from all corners of the world.
In his first published novel The Manitou (1975), Masterton ventured into the world of Native American myth. He followed this theme in the later novels featuring the same characters and his other early title Charnel House (1978). The latter introduced the Western reader to figures such as Gitche Manitou (words meaning 'Great Spirit'), the simply named, but terrifying 'Big Monster' and the treacherous 'Coyote'. The Pariah (1983) saw an ancient demon of the Aztec world transported by human hands to New England to begin again its bloody reign of terror.
Tengu (1983), perhaps one of the writer's bleakest works, brings the most terrible of the spirits of Japanese myth to the modern world. Tengu comes to seek revenge upon the people of the United States for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as for the horrific aftermath of the atomic bombs. Staying in the Eastern world, Death Trance (1986) immerses the reader in the depths of the Malaysian underworld and the monstrosities that lurk therein.
Masterton also makes great use of Judaeo-Christian myth in works such as The Devils of D-Day (1978) and Black Angel (1991). In Mirror (1998) however, he goes one step further and blends together the apocalyptic verses of the book of Revelation and the surreal images of Lewis Carroll's famous poem 'The Jabberwocky'. In this he creates an alternate reality, replete with twisted reflections of what we know as the real world, which reflect disturbing inner realities hidden in the original.
In Prey (1992), Masterton even reworks HP Lovecraft's cycle of Yog-Sothoth transplanting the events to the Isle of Wight. Here the designs of the witch Kezia Mason and her hybrid human/rat familiar Brown Jenkin are played out in the confines of a former children's home on the remote island. And as is usually the case, the creatures of the Cthulu myth are far more than the human race can handle.
The Good, The Bad and Graham Masterton
While Masterton has many fans among the lovers of the horror genre, there are those who will explain that they can't read his books due to the often graphic depictions of violence that characterise his adult fiction. It is certainly true that there are few authors who are better able to describe the sights, smells and sounds that abound when a person's face is forcibly torn from their skull. But then this is horror fiction, it deals with subjects that are supposed to challenge the stomach and startle the mind of the reader.
Masterton is also clearly writing for a mature readership simply by virtue of the subjects and themes which he dwells upon in his books. An impressionable or immature reader should no more be indulging in these titles than they should be watching movies that present violent or sexually explicit images.
The violence and frank expressions of sexual imagery in his works aside, it is also worth mentioning the fact that Masterton's writing can never be said to degenerate to a point where this is the sole concern of the tale being told. For every sadistic killer, such as the villain of Black Angel (1991), one can find an equally determined hero or heroine of the piece intent upon tracking them down and ending their reign of terror. The Devils of D-Day (1978) sees the denizens of hell itself walking the Earth; Masterton opposes them with equally awesome and terrifying hosts of angelic beings. In his depiction of the world, Masterton makes the forces of good neither apathetic nor impotent in the face of impending doom.
And the good guys usually come out on top in the end.
Since publication, Graham Masterton's novels have been re-printed and re-published numerous times and in many different countries. As a result, a good number are quite rare and hard to come by unless a great deal of time and effort is invested. What follows is a brief summary of the titles by Masterton which form part of a series and are some of his most widely known and loved works. A complete and exhaustive list of titles can be found at the official Graham Masterton website which can be reached via the link below.
The Manitou Series
- The Manitou (1975)
- Revenge of the Manitou (1979)
- Burial (1991)
Published over the space of three decades, these novels recount the ongoing conflict between a modern day spiritual medium and an ancient Native American manitou (or spirit) named Misquamacus intent upon revenge against the descendants of the white settlers who destroyed his people in times past. In each title the medium is forced to stand in the way of the awesome power of Misquamacus, who was a legendary wonder worker in life and whose powers have far from diminished in death. Adapted and filmed in the late 1970s, The Manitou which starred Tony Curtis, is one of the few titles by Graham Masterton to reach the silver screen.
The Nightwarriors Trilogy
- Night Warriors (1986)
- Death Dream (1988)
- Night Plague (1991)
Perhaps the most enduring and popular series by Graham Masterton to date, these books chronicle the battles of an ancient order known as the 'Nightwarriors', charged with protecting the dreams of humankind by a divine being known as 'Ashapola'. While the populace of the world sleeps, the Nightwarriors keep watch over their dreams and combat the demonic creatures that prey upon the innocent sleepers, each warrior bringing his or her own unique skills to bear in the conflict. With an imaginative scope, arguably above and beyond anything he has written before or since, here Masterton blends the genres of horror and science fiction to produce a setting that - while slick and high-tech in some ways - still resounds with the visceral dread of his more conventional titles.
The Rook Series
- Rook (1997)
- Tooth and Claw (1997)
- The Terror (1998)
- Snowman (1999)
- Swimmer (2001)
With the Rook series, Masterton moved into the arena of young adult fiction. Somewhat shorter in length and obviously toned down in terms of the subject matter in comparison to his novels for an adult audience, the books centre around high school teacher Jim Rook and his pupils. Taking charge of a class of troubled teenagers and attempting to teach them the joys of English literature in an effort to bring them out of themselves, one might think that Jim had enough on his mind as things are. But on top of the strains of his job, Jim Rook is also blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with a certain degree of psychic sensitivity. So when one of his students is threatened by a supernatural force (which happens quite often) Jim is able to sense and oppose that force rather than put it all down to teenage hormones and angst.
Though nothing has materialised as yet, there have been rumours that talks were under way between Masterton and a US production company to commission a live action series based on the Rook novels. And with the popularity of series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and the adaption of RL Stine's Goosebumps books, the project may very well see the light of day.
The Nightmare Sagas website, which features articles on and interviews with Graham Masterton as well as other writers of the horror genre.