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Campbell, Ramsey

Entry updated 28 August 2023. Tagged: Author, Editor.

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(1946-    ) UK author, primarily of Horror, son-in-law of A Bertram Chandler; he has also published as Montgomery Comfort and Jay Ramsey, and under the House Names Carl Dreadstone and E K Leyton. His earliest work, dating from 1957 to 1963 (but not then released professionally), was assembled as two special issues of Crypt of Cthulhu: The Tomb-Herd and Others (coll 1986) and Ghostly Tales (coll 1987) [special one-author issues of magazines are treated as books in this encyclopedia: for Crypt of Cthulhu, and Horror, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. This work already shows the influence of writers like M R James and Algernon Blackwood, plus imagery from Comics and Horror movies, particularly the film noir and the work of the early German directors; these influences would pervade much of his later work. Campbell began publishing professional work of genre interest with "The Church in High Street" in Dark Mind, Dark Heart (anth 1962) edited by August Derleth who encouraged him to create an independent milieu for his stories within the general compass of the Cthulhu Mythos as adumbrated by H P Lovecraft, a range of work by various authors that melds influences from many genres to produce an amalgam of images of evil and alienation. The sense of cosmic horror conveyed through mythos tales is akin to but not normally definable as sf (see Fantastika), though two later short tales, Slow (1986 chap) and Medusa (1987 chap), modestly argue outbreaks of underlying chthonic evil in sf-like terms (see Horror in SF).

Campbell's first book, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (coll 1964), contains some very early stories that fit loosely into the version of Cthulhu he came to call the Brichester Mythos, which is named after the fictional town in a Midlands-inflected Severn Valley where many of the tales and some novels have been set over the decades. Early examples are glutinous with atmosphere, but relatively weak on character; the later work is more sophisticated, and Brichester increasingly emanates a chill urban Midlands aura. Cold Print (coll 1985; exp 1993) assembles the early Cthulhu/Brichester stories. More powerful later work in the over-series includes The Darkest Part of the Woods (2002), The Last Revelation of Gla'aki (coll 2013 chap), Visions from Brichester (coll 2015) and the Three Births of Daoloth sequence beginning with The Searching Dead (2016).

By the time The Inhabitant of the Lake appeared, however, he had began to sideline Lovecraft, not returning seriously for a number of years. Campbell's next collections, Demons by Daylight (coll 1973) and The Height of the Scream (coll 1976), trace this change, one so violently effective that it had a cathartic effect on readers as well as Campbell himself. His stories now focused less generically on the evil in humankind, an evil that may arise from supernatural origins but is as likely to be inherent. This new Campbell emerged with shocking violence in his first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother (1976; rev 1985), where dabblings in Satanism result in the birth of an evil child. The events themselves are only by implication supernatural, underlining the dichotomy Campbell has liked to explore in his later work between whether evil is of supernatural or human origin. This malevolence is more profound in his second novel, The Face that Must Die (1979; full text 1983), a psychological thriller of mental decline. Campbell also utilized the latent malevolence of the cityscape [for Satanism above, Answered Prayers below, and Supernatural Fiction throughout, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] to heighten this sense of alienation. Many of his subsequent novels – To Wake the Dead (1980; rev vt The Parasite 1980); The Nameless (1981; rev 1985); The Claw (1983; vt Night of the Claw 1983) as Jay Ramsay; Incarnate (1983; rev 1990); Obsession (1985), a complex Answered Prayers tale; The Influence (1988) and The Count of Eleven (1991) – follow this development, deploying concepts of the supernatural, especially satanic cults, as only a possible explanation (or excuse) for human failings and degradation. These novels are thus stories of possession, whether by human, supernatural or psychological intervention, often triggered by a dominant precursive malign figure; all are interpretations of madness. The One Safe Place (1995) utilizes this approach to produce a strongly anti-censorship nonfantastic novel that explores how social deprivation is the root cause of most corruption.

During this period Campbell also novelized three 1930s movies: The Bride of Frankenstein (1977; text restored vt as Bride of Frankenstein 1978); The Wolfman (1977) and Dracula's Daughter (1977), all as by Carl Dreadstone in America; the first UK edition also used Dreadstone, though the second and third were as E K Leyton.

Campbell's later short stories show a stronger affinity with his novels, placing greater emphasis on psychological degradation, alienation and distortions of reality. This emerges most potently in his novella Needing Ghosts (1990 chap), a story of lost identity. Collections of later material include Waking Nightmares (coll 1991), Strange Things and Stranger Places (coll 1993), a comprehensive retrospective Alone With the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell 1961-1991 (coll 1993; rev 2004).

More recently, his novels – he has now published about thirty-five full-length tales, many of them ambitious – have shifted slightly from the emphasis on inherent evil to a focus on the carceral inscapes of twenty-first century England; his recent return to Brichester Mythos material, whose individual stories are conspicuously bedded into local geography both urban and rural, may mark an integration of his work in general. It could be suggested that this recent work could be understood as an accumulating array of contemporary visions of the Matter of Britain seen in terms of Urban Fantasy [for Matter and Urban Fantasy see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Midnight Sun (1990) and The Long Lost (1993) are early examples; The Grin of the Dark (2007) is one of several later tales which with increasing intensity convey a sense of the ontological insecurity of the evolved world we now inhabit.

Among his many honours, Campbell received a World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2015. [MA/JC]

see also: American Fantasy; The Arkham Sampler; The Bride of Frankenstein; Jack Dann; The Edge; Fear; Walter Harris; The Haunt of Horror; The House of Hammer; L'Incroyable Cinema; Postscripts; Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine; Clark Ashton Smith; Jason Van Hollander; Video Watchdog; Whispers; Writers of the Future Contest.

John Ramsey Campbell

born Liverpool, England: 4 January 1946



The Three Births of Daoloth

Brichester Mythos

individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor


New Terrors

  • New Terrors 1 (London: Pan Books, 1980) [anth: New Terrors: pb/Andrew Douglas]
  • New Terrors 2 (London: Pan Books, 1980) [anth: New Terrors: pb/Andrew Douglas]
    • New Terrors (New York: Pocket Books, 1982) [anth: omni of the above two: 15 of 37 stories: New Terrors: pb/]
    • New Terrors II (New York: Pocket Books, 1984) [anth: omni of the above two: a second 15 of 37 stories: New Terrors: pb/Patti Eslinger]
    • Omnibus of New Terrors (London: Pan Books, 1985) [anth: omni of the above two: New Terrors: pb/Matt Mahurin]

Best New Horror

  • Best New Horror (London: Robinson, 1990) with Stephen Jones [anth: Best New Horror: pb/Les Edwards]
  • Best New Horror 2 (London: Robinson, 1991) with Stephen Jones [anth: Best New Horror: pb/Luis Rey]
  • Best New Horror 3 (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992) with Stephen Jones [anth: Best New Horror: pb/]
  • Best New Horror 4 (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1993) with Stephen Jones [anth: Best New Horror: pb/Tony Greco]
  • Best New Horror 5 (London: Robinson, 1994) with Stephen Jones [anth: Best New Horror: pb/Luis Rey]

individual titles

about the author:


previous versions of this entry

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