Thursday, March 21, 2013

James Herbert R.I.P.

Horror writer James Herbert died yesterday, 21 March 2013, at the age of 69.

James Herbert was born on 8 April 1943 in the East End of London. His parents operated a fruit stall in Bethnal Green market. Young Mr. Herbert attended St Aloysius Grammar School in Highgate on a scholarship and later Hornsey College of Art. Afterwards he got a job at John Collings, a small advertising agency. He was inspired by one of Renfield's lines from Tod Browning's  Dracula ("Rats. Rats. Rats! Thousands! Millions of them!") and his own experience with the animals growing up in the East End of London to write his first novel The Rats. The novel was rejected five times before it was sold to the New English Library for £150 and a 5% royalty. Published in 1974, The Rats met with harsh reviews from many critics, although notably the critic for the Sunday Times thought it was brilliant. Regardless, The Rats proved to be a commercial success and would later be adapted into the film Deadly Eyes (1982).

James Herbert would follow the success of The Rats with his second novel The Fog (unrelated to the John Carpenter novel of the same name).  Until 1988 he wrote a novel a year, among which were The SurvivorFluke, The Spear, The DarkThe Magic Cottage, Sepulchre, and Haunted. . The Survivor, Fluke, and Haunted were all adapted into films. His output slowed following 1988, although he was still quite prolific, writing such novels as Creed, The Ghosts of Sleath, '48The Secret of Crickley Hall (later adapted by BBC One), and Ash.

James Herbert was often described as "the British Stephen King," while Mr. King himself compared him to The Sex Pistols, once writing, "If The Rats, with its scenes of gruesome horror and its blasted East End landscape, is not a literary version of Anarchy in the UK, what is?" My late best friend Brian and I had a slight different take on James Herbert--he was the British horror equivalent of American pulp adventures novels, with scenes of horror rather than action occurring every ten to twenty pages.

In truth James Herbert was actually much more than any of these things. He was a writer with a brisk, nearly minimal, easy to read style who often explored social themes in his work. In The Rats Mr. Herbert touched upon life in the East End of post-War London. '48 examined extremely right wing politics and the use of propaganda. The Secret of Crickley Hall looked at the nature of religious zealotry. And while James Herbert was often described as a horror writer, his work actually crossed several genres. '48 was a alternate history science fiction. Both Sepulchre and Portent could be counted as thrillers. With Creed Mr. Herbert even delved into comedy. Common to all of his novels was the fact that they dealt with ordinary, everyday people. While traditional British horror concentrated on the upper class, James Herbert's protagonists belonged to the working class more often than not. James Herbert took British horror and not only modernised it, but he made it much more democratic.

1 comment:

Jim Marquis said...

I enjoyed his work. I think I might have read a couple of his books back in the 70's, even before I started getting into Stephen King.