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Herbert, James

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1943-2013) UK advertising art director and author, best known for bestselling tales of horror, several of which have an sf premise (see Horror in SF). His first and still best known novel, The Rats (1974), which begins the Rats sequence, is a Disaster novel in which London is overwhelmed by a vicious strain of giant Mutant rats. The chaos continues in Lair (1979), where the rats have developed a greater intelligence. The third in the sequence, Domain (1980), is a Post-Holocaust novel set after a nuclear catastrophe has wiped out most of mankind and the rats, now further mutated, are in control, a situation explored to more visual effect in the graphic novel The City (1994). These novels were noted for their physical gore and graphic descriptions, causing Charles L Grant to christen Herbert the "Godfather of Splatterpunk". However, these novels may also be seen as statements about social conditions, drawing upon Herbert's childhood memories of the slums of London's East End where rats were common; they have almost become part of the city's Urban Legends. They also reflect the growing concern of the lack of control over technological progress and its potential impact on humanity (see Ecology), a concern further explored in another early similarly violent novel, The Fog (1975), where a fog developed as a product of chemical warfare (see Weapons) escapes after an earthquake and turns anyone who encounters it into psychotic maniacs.

In his later novels Herbert toned down the overt violence and built more upon character and supernatural atmosphere. Few are standard ghost stories. Rather there is an emphasis upon the occult, as in The Spear (1978), where neo-Nazis seek to draw upon the power of the Spear of Longinus to usurp supernatural control; The Dark (1980), where a house is infected by an ancient, malevolent, almost tangible force which drives people insane; and Shrine (1983), where a young girl seems to possess miraculous powers. Haunted (1989), originally written as a screenplay which was not filmed, introduced the occult detective David Ash, arguably Herbert's most interesting and well-drawn protagonist, with a deep engagement in events circling around the conflict between good and evil [for As Above So Below, Good and Evil, Occult Detectives and Occult Fantasy see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; this conflict reappears in Sepulchre (1987), Others (1999) and most significantly Portent (1992), where various local natural Disasters lead towards a global apocalypse (see End of the World). It incorporates aspects of the Gaia hypothesis. '48 (1996), which saw Herbert return to a more traditional sf milieu, is an Alternate History set in 1948 following a version of World War Two at whose European finale Hitler – even as he was defeated (but see Hitler Wins) – revenged himself with a V2 missile-carried Pandemic that has devastated Britain.

Opinion on Herbert's work soon polarized between those who regarded it as "rubbish" – a view expressed by a High Court judge who presided over a case of copyright infringement where Herbert had utilized material from The Spear of Destiny (1973) by Trevor Ravenscroft (1921-1989) for The Spear – and those who believed Herbert was Britain's best writer of horror fiction. On a purely commercial basis he was certainly Britain's most successful horror novelist with sales in excess of fifty million copies, translated in over thirty languages. He was honoured with the World Horror Grandmaster Award in 2010 and received an OBE in the same year for services to literature. [MA]

James John Herbert

born London: 8 April 1943

died Woodmancote, near Henfield, Sussex: 20 March 2013



The Rats

  • The Rats (London: New English Library, 1974) [Rats: hb/]
    • Deadly Eyes (New York: Signet Books, 1983) [vt of the above: movie tie-in edition: pb/]
  • Lair (London: New English Library, 1979) [Rats: hb/uncredited]
  • Domain (London: New English Library, 1984) [Rats: hb/]
    • The Rats; Lair; Domain (London: Book Club Associates, 2000) [omni of the above three: Rats: hb/]
    • The Rats Trilogy (Lakewood, Colorado: Centipede Press, 2015) [omni: vt of the above: Rats: pb/]
  • The City (London: Pan Macmillan, 1994) [graph: Rats: illus/hb/Ian Miller]

David Ash

  • Haunted (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989) [David Ash: hb/uncredited]
  • The Ghosts of Sleath (London: HarperCollins, 1994) [David Ash: hb/Bill Gregory]
  • Ash (London: Macmillan, 2012) [David Ash: hb/blacksheep]

individual titles

  • The Fog (London: New English Library, 1975) [hb/Tim White]
  • The Survivor (London: New English Library, 1976) [hb/Bob Martin]
  • Fluke (London: New English Library, 1977) [hb/]
  • The Spear (London: New English Library, 1978) [hb/uncredited]
    • The Spear (New York: New American Library, 1980) [cut, revised text: pb/uncredited]
  • The Dark (London: New English Library, 1980) [hb/uncredited]
  • The Jonah (London: New English Library, 1981) [hb/James Herbert]
  • Shrine (London: New English Library, 1983) [hb/James Herbert]
  • Moon (London: New English Library, 1985) [hb/James Herbert]
  • The Magic Cottage (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986) [hb/uncredited]
  • Sepulchre (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1987) [hb/uncredited]
  • Creed (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990) [hb/James Herbert]
  • Portent (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1992) [hb/James Herbert]
  • '48 (London: HarperCollins, 1996) [hb/Tony Stone and others]
  • Others (London: Macmillan, 1999) [hb/uncredited]
  • Once (London: Macmillan, 2001) [hb/Bill Gregory]
  • Nobody True (London: Macmillan, 2003) [hb/blacksheep]
  • The Secret of Crickley Hall (London: Macmillan, 2006) [hb/blacksheep]


about the author


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