Book Review: The Place Called Dagon By Herbert Gorman
By William P. Simmons
"A most impressive addition to Hippocampus Press's Lovecraft library, The Place Called Dagon, by Herbert Gorman, is much more than an archaic artifact whose mysterious setting and somber atmosphere contributed to Lovecraft's own ancestral fictions of decadent New England locales and ancient gods.
"Lovecraft afficionados will be quick to appreciate the influence Gorman's Dagon almost certainly exerted on Lovecraft's later developed fictional mythologies, and will likewise delight in the moody atmosphere, witch-haunted history, and incestuous back-woods mystique of Gorman's prose. Also inherent in this novel's ancient deities, grim New England landscapes, and lecherous atmosphere may be found suggested inspirations for Lovecraft's Arkham, Dunwhich, and Innsmouth as well. Despite such relationships and the sense of fun and literary continuity that such might provide, The Place Called Dagon is most certainly a philosophically challenging, emotionally captivating novel deserving a far greater reputation that it currently enjoys in its own right.
"Yielding up the ghastly secrets of its Gothically complex plot with rich description and a sure, menacing sense of place, Gorman's careful pacing and distinct voice sweeps one back to the somber isolation and sexually repressed era of early New England, focusing on the emotionally bankrupt, hard-living descendants of folks who were persecuted for practicing black magic during the frenzied violence of early colonial Witch hysteria - a historical backdrop lending authenticity and grim believability to the novel without falling victim to a theme that would have proved damagingly cliche in the hands of a less imaginative author.
"The emotional meanness, suspicion, and greed of the citizens of Marlborough, Massachusetts are expertly mirrored and dramatized by their physical surroundings (whose presence is crucial to both the plot and lingering sense of unease). Decrepit farmhouses, boggy swamps, malevolent weather, and secretive roadways through the inhospitable town and uninhabitable forest embody within their wild and malicious natures the unwholesome instincts, motives, and fears of the townspeople as well. Against the secretive and dangerous townspeople must Dr. Daniel Dreeme, the novel's hero, wage not only psychological but physical, and spiritual warfare if he is to save his sanity and the life of Deborah, a newly orphaned young woman with whom he falls in love.
"Thrust in the midst of secretive and melancholy Marlborough, Dreeme's uneventful yet satisfying life as village doctor is upset on the rain-lashed evening he's called to bandage a wound at the secretive Jeffrey Westcott farmhouse, whereupon he stumbles upon the shadows of ancient evil, black magic, and cultural conspiracy - temptations and threats both sensual and malignant in nature whose paradoxical attractiveness and repulsion lends greater flavor to what might otherwise be a standard Romance. In the hands of Gorman, towering passions and eldrich terrors live with deeply moving psychological relevancy. Resonating with the gable-haunted atmosphere of guilt and moral corruption so often found in Nathaniel Hawthorne (who Gorman had written a study on prior to starting this novel), further traces of "Young Goodman Brown" and the temperament of early American author Charles Brodkin Brown echo through this innovative reworking of traditional horror archetypes. Sensational and thoughtful, The Place Called Dagon is a wild ghost-walk through the history of early American life containing all the flavor of a soft spoken ghost story. This is surely a volume worth preserving.
Will appear in the FALL 2003 issue of ALL HALLOWS, the respected fiction journal of the GHOST STORY SOCIETY (Ash-Tree Press).