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|Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2010 - 11:31 am: |
The title page of this tie-in book by Ramsey carries the following:
Solomon Kane: The Official Movie Novelisation
A Novel by Ramsey Campbell
It’s the telling “A Novel by” that raised my curiosity when I opened the book. Most novelisations contain little of literary interest, and but for a few exceptions I’ve mostly found them to be deadly dull hack jobs. There’s usually little of the things that make pieces of prose fiction interesting and a true art form: the exploration of the characters’ minds, that chance to become familiar with others’ thoughts, to experience the world (or any number of worlds in fantasy!) through another’s eyes. As far as I’m aware, this is also the first time Ramsey’s signed his own name to a novelisation as well. Though he’s not been shy about the Carl Dreadstone books, they’re rarely a listed feature on the “also by this author” page of his more familiar novels.
So by making that declaration, “A Novel by”, you can’t help but feel Ramsey’s drawn a line in the sand and dared people to cross, with raised expectations of what to find beyond it.
And for the most part, I think he’s succeeded.
Though it’s not always possible to escape the fact that the book is based on a movie and thus someone else’s story, intended for a different medium, particularly in the action sequences, there’s enough here in my little old opinion to justify that tag “A Novel by Ramsey Campbell.”
The first couple of chapters are not the Ramsey Campbell we on this message board are mostly used to. The sly subtlety and ambiguous allusions to the otherwordly are instead replaced by a brasher (though no less effective) and thrusting action-packed set up. But even here Ramsey brings in more than the flat two dimensions of the cinema to the page, letting us glimpse the protagonist through the eyes of one of his protagonist’s band of mercenaries. It’s this attempt to bring more than a simple description of what’s unfolding on the screen that makes this more than a tarted up screenplay in prose form, and not “someone peddling madly to make a 30,000-word story add up to 75,000 words” to paraphrase Stephen Gallagher speaking about novelisations.
As I say, the first two chapters are the set up action pieces, the kind of prologue you might expect to find in a David Gemmell fantasy novel. For me, though, it’s chapter three where there’s time for Ramsey (and the reader) to get his breath and begin the job proper of producing his novel. Here Ramsey’s prose asserts itself more fully and his descriptions and exploration of the character’s internal conflict and history come to the fore and you feel – or I did – that you’re reading a Ramsey Campbell novel, albeit a full blown fantasy. There are perhaps more descriptive passages, bowing to the film viewer’s needs, than you might expect, but all are written in Ramsey’s characteristic prose, often containing wonderful gems.
I’ve not seen the movie this book has been born from, and didn’t want to until after I’d read the book. I wanted the pleasure of reading Ramsey’s images and beefing up of the characters without having the movie in my mind. How much leeway Ramsey’s had to play with the dialogue, I don’t know, but certain lines could only have come from a screenwriter, I’m afraid: the villain’s mocking camp “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?” when Kane comes to confront him in the castle at the finale, for instance.
But Ramsey was under an obligation to please fans of the film as much as those of us who have come to the book for his writing.
Nor has Ramsey been able to fix something of a plothole that the movie must carry. At one point Kane is crucified (presumably to fulfil the expectations of his would-be executioners he should die there as far as they’re concerned) yet later on in the tale Kane appears to intentionally have been lured to the villain’s castle as part of his masterplan. Surely something that would’ve been hard to do were Kane dead.
That aside, though, I enjoyed reading this fantasy novel, and seeing an aspect of the skills of one of my favourite writers not often witnessed. There’s 290 pages here, and they don’t feel a chore at all; Ramsey seems to have had a lot of fun with it and I think it shows. Coming off it, I’d like to read more of Ramsey’s fantasy work at novel length. Perhaps one unconstrained by the demands of meeting the visual descriptive needs of a movie interpretation.
That said, I read that James Purefoy is signed up to make three Kane movies, so perhaps Ramsey may not be done with the world of Solomon Kane yet.
So the book’s a treat, an extra Ramsey Campbell novel for the year. Can’t say fairer than that.