YBHS IX: ‘The Gap’ by Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey‘The Gap’ by Ramsey Campbell was originally published in the Fantasy Readers Guide issue two. To my understanding, this guide worked as a great source of bibliography for the author featured in the issue pre-internet. In addition to the bibliography, it also included essays on Campbell’s work as well as this new story ‘The Gap’.

‘The Gap’ tells the story of horror author Lionel Tate and how his life is changed after a young author Don Skelton comes to visit. Skelton was brought along by the Dewhursts, friends of Tate’s when they come to stay. Skelton questions Tate’s belief in the occult and treats Tate as a pretender. Skelton becomes more and more difficult and is eventually tossed out, as are the Dewhursts, after Skelton is found snooping in Tate’s office late at night. Days later Tate is sent an anonymous unmarked puzzle. Being a puzzle fan, he assembles it only to find it’s a picture of himself being menaced by a menacing figure. As he finishes the puzzle all the pieces to fill in the face of the figure are missing. A bright light glistens off the table in this gap. The rest of the story is what happens as the gap begins to extend outside the puzzle.

I thought this was a solid Campbell story. The dread unfolds in an obscure and subtle way without clear answers, which is a style I attribute to Campbell’s other writing as well. It’s a great story about the fears of being overwhelmed and erased by the younger generation. It makes me wonder if Skelton and the Dewhursts weren’t based on folks from Campbell’s own life.

An intriguing question came up for me while reading Wagner’s introduction. He states

Art by Jill Bauman

“Currently Campbell is at work on a novel set in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.” This didn’t ring any bells as a published work to me and I went digging. I found mention of this book again in the letters of Wagner and Campbell. Mr. Campbell adds that he’d like to add some of the experiments of Dr. Rhine at Duke University to the book. Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine started the parapsychology department at Duke and worked in conjunction with Karl Zener, of Zener card fame, to test for ESP. It seemed to me that this would be an early draft of Campbell’s novel Incarnate.

This was later confirmed by Campbell himself on the message boards. He said “It is indeed Incarnate, but only one chapter is actually set in Chapel Hill and that was deleted. I’d visited there, staying with Manly Wade Wellman and Frances after the first World Fantasy Convention. The Futura and Little, Brown editions reprint the chapter in an afterword.” Mystery solved!

Thanks to Mr. Campbell for taking the time to respond.

Next: ‘The Cats of Pere LaChaise’ by Neil Olonoff

More Ramsey Campbell: YBHS VIII: ‘To Wake the Dead’ 

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