By Roger Zelazny. Illustrations by Gahan Wilson. New York: Avon, 1993. 280 pages (hardcover).
There are two types of people in the world: those that divde the world into two types, and those who do not. To continue: there are two types of fantasy novels—those that create their own mythical structures, and those that borrow and improvise upon pre-existing myths, characters, etc. While the latter category is home to much of the derivative serial-fantasy on the market, it is also home to many works that know how to choose the right sources and mold them to their own ends. Zelazny’s 1993 A Night in the Lonesome October is a surprsingly touching and enjoyable example.
Zelazny presents us with a nearly comical situation: what if we were to join Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, Count Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, the Wolfman Larry Talbot, and several other standard horror and mystery figures in one story, and have it all be narrated by a talking (shaggy) dog? Such a setup is given in A Night in the Lonesome October, in which each (more or less) famous historic or literary figure is matched with an animal familiar; these teams are then part of “the Game”—either to unleash or contain the Elder Gods come Halloween (the book’s title comes from a Poe poem).
Two potential pit-falls presented themselves while reading this work. Zelazny’s prose comes across at times as overly simple and unsophisticated, and occasional attempts to capture the “local color” of some of the characters is not entirely convincing. If, however, one accepts a talking dog rather than a well-spoken London gentleman as the narrator, the prose becomes less of an issue. On other other hand the novel is a breezy 280 pages in hardcover, much less in paperback, and Zelazny makes few efforts to “fill in the gaps,” expecting instead that the reader be familiar with the major historical and literary figures presented. Readers of Lovecraft will recognize some of their favorite names; Doyle fans will enjoy the Great Detective. Indeed, those ignorant of the borrowed elements might well feel lost, though anyone schooled in the last hundred years of Western high and popular culture should be right at home; as a result, this novel at times feels like a private “in-joke” or “tribute.” However, the character development of the animal familiars is strong enough that the reader becomes attached to them, and this piece of light fantasy is a page-turner. Zelazny’s wit, though not razor sharp, is up to the task, and this may well be the type of book that gets better each time it is read.