Tired cliches are the stuff of any lazy journalist’s repertoire, so here’s one: Living legend. That fully applies to Ramsey Campbell, one of the very small and very select circle of modern British horror and dark fiction writers – Clive Barker being the only other one who readily comes to mind – to have truly won international recognition and visibility. And he was born a Liverpudlian on January 4th, 1946.
Campell won much early recognition in the Lovecraftian school of cosmic horror through a collection of stories located in his own variant of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants – published by Arkham House in 1964 when the author was just 18 years old. I shouldn’t need to emphasize to non-devotees of the Mythos what an achievement it is for an author to have a whole collection published by the canonical imprint in his chosen sub-genre at age 18. Suffice it to say that the whole subsequent (and yes, sometimes silly and puerile) development of the Cthulhu Mythos through Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu role-playing game and other offshoots all the way down to Cthulhu plushies, does incorporate Ramsey Campbell’s late teenage creations, from the communities of Brichester and Goatswood (his answer to Arkham and Dunwich) to the monstrous Gla’aki and the parasitic Shan. Campbell revisited the work of his youth almost 50 years later in 2013 with The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, so clearly he too sees the value in those early contributions.
From then on up, it was a march into the mainstream – as far as British horror has one – with some early disavowals of his adolescent Lovecraftian preoccupations along the way and a more-than-successful push to find his own voice. No less a critic than S.T. Joshi hailed his second collection, Demons by Daylight (1973), as “perhaps the most important book of horror fiction since Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others,” with handsome tributes to his prose style. His huge number of subsequent novels and collections include classics whose titles alone are practically synonymous with modern horror – The Doll Who Ate His Mother (1976) and The Face That Must Die (1979) – and he was the biggest stars, and beneficiaries, of the Stephen King-led horror boom of the 1970s. And he shows absolutely no sign of flagging – indeed, his 2014 novel Think Yourself Lucky could be one of his most contemporary and Ballardian to date in its riveting focus on current concerns and social panics.
“I find I can do whatever I want to with my writing – not just write what I choose to without eyeing the potential market but talk about whatever concerns me,” declared Campbell in a recent interview. “One of the pleasures of some of the greatest work in the field is the aesthetic experience of terror (which involves appreciating the structure of the piece and, in prose fiction, of the selection of language). I don’t see this as limited.” And he’s given ample demonstration that it’s not.
You can find further details of Ramsey Campbell’s appearances and doings at his blog here. Google Ramsey Campbell birthday tributes and you’ll find a host. No wonder.