Book Discussion: A Night In the Lonesome October by Roger ZelaznyThe Dark Herald
In the mood for a good Halloween story?
I’ve got one for you.
“I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside of London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks. Jack is under a curse from long ago and must do much of his work at night to keep worse things from happening. I keep watch while he is about it. If someone comes, I howl.
We are the keepers of several curses and our work is very important…”
If you aren’t interested, you suck bad and I want nothing to do with you.
Roger Zelazny’s career is a perfect example of top-tier talent going largely unrewarded by the publishing industry. Or perhaps he was simply the kind of writer that only other writers are really into, and at the end of the day that really isn’t a big market.
Zelazny was a poet as well as an author. He had the gift of being able to tell how the shape of words affected how the reader would react to them.
Here is a forensic example: The word “fuck” is a nearly perfect profanity. It starts with a fricative consonant soft sibilant “f” sound, followed by a deep, abdominally generated “Uh” and ends with a “Ka” denoting disgust. And all that in one syllable.
He was a wordsmith of rare ability as well as a storyteller. He hit it fairly big hit with Lord of Light, although I’m afraid a lot of that success was due to hippy interest in a science fiction book that prominently featured the Hindu pantheon. Most of that book’s most ardent adherents had dropped acid before reading and were hard-pressed to put into words what they loved about the book other than, “G-r-o-o-o-o-o-v-y.”
Probably his best known to actual fans of his work were the Amber novels. Zelazny was drawn to myth and liked to combine that with terse hard-bitten characters. His influence on urban fantasy was immense even if the general public doesn’t know it. Almost all of his characters were heavy smokers. He had been a swordsman in college and been heavily into martial arts, consequently, his fight scenes were much better than the average poet’s.
A Night in the Lonesome October was Zelazny’s love letter to the old Universal horror movies as well as classic authors in the field. He dedicated the book to Shelley, Poe, Doyle, Lovecraft, plus a couple of relative newcomers Bradbury and Bloch. Also, Terhune but that was mostly because of the dog.
This is a book where the style of the story’s telling outweighs the narrative and that is perfectly fine because it is the style that matters the most. The narrative itself is just for fun, although Zelazny makes the reader figure it out for himself.
The book is constructed as a diary of Snuff the Dog (?). Each chapter of the book corresponds to a date in the month of October, the climax as you have guessed is on Halloween. Snuff used to be something else, somewhere else, but in this time and place, he is Jack’s Dog. Jack as you already know has to do his work at night and yes Jack does have a very big knife.
Jack and Snuff are part of a faction called the Closers, it takes quite a while before you find out what they are closing.
There is another faction called the Openers and they are in opposition to the Closers. It’s more than a little difficult to tell which side are the good guys and which the bad because their methods are rather similar and early in the story they can’t really tell which side the other is on either. It is all part of the Great Game.
The Openers and Closers are familiar to you. There is the Good Doctor and his secret Creation, the Great Detective, the Mad Russian Monk, the Count, the Fallen Priest, and Larry Talbot. Each of these Player in the Great Game has an animal familiar with human sapience. Except for Larry who is of course his own best friend.
At the start of the Game things are very cordial between the players, the Great Game is only played every few decades so there is a sense of comradery… At first. But as the month progresses, alliances are formed which are followed by betrayals, naturally. Then Players start being eliminated, that too is part of the Great Game. Finally, the remaining Players and their familiars gather in a certain place where the rite that will decide the fate of the world will be decided.
A Night in the Lonesome October was Roger Zelazny’s last book and he said it was one of his five favorites. It’s certainly one of mine.
It’s available on Kindle and paperback. Hardback on the other hand can run you as high as $500.