Darker Than You Think
|Cover artist||A. J. Donnell|
|1948 (novel version)|
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson, originally a novelette, was expanded into novel length and published by Fantasy Press in 1948. The short version was published in Unknown in 1940. It was notably reprinted by UK-based Orion Books in 2003 as volume 38 of their Fantasy Masterworks series. It can be classed as contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy, though these were not yet clearly defined categories at the time it was written.
The novel begins with the announcement from an ethnological expedition to Mongolia that among humanity exist people who can turn themselves into animals. However, the expedition's spokesman dies of a sudden mysterious seizure in the midst of a press conference, just as he was about to provide detailed proof of his assertions. His friend, journalist Will Barbee, suspects his alleged colleague, the fascinating April Bell.
Determined to discover the truth, but also attracted by Bell, Barbee finds out that in a past era a war took place in which Homo sapiens defeated werewolves (Homo lycanthropus) - who can, in fact, also turn themselves into various other animals other than wolves. The surviving werewolves continued to live hidden among humans and await the coming of the Child of the Night who will lead them to recover their supremacy.
In the secret history depicted in the book, medieval witch hunting was not a manifestation of blind fanaticism but a means of protecting Homo sapiens against the resurgence of this very real threat; conversely, modern skepticism and rational disbelief in the very existence of witches were deliberately fostered by these hidden werewolves, as a way of gaining a breathing spell and preparing for their counter-attack.
While becoming aware of all this, Barbee is faced with the issue of discovering precisely who and what he is himself, and on which side should he range himself in the coming titanic struggle.
Brian W. Aldiss and David Wingrove chose Darker as "Williamson's best novel," declaring that "it is well worked out, full of genuine suspense and excitement, and primed with a good hefty sense of evil. The characters, though obvious, are clearly drawn, but the major advantage of the novel is that is full of the pleasure of wild life, of running free in the dark, of the forests, the mountainside, and of the scents of the breeze."
R. D. Mullen described the novel as "Williamson's first serious effort to transcend the limitations of pulp fiction" and noted that it, like contemporaneous mainstream novels, "combines the fantasies of our darker superstitions with the revelations of psychoanalysis."
Robert Weinberg included Darker Than You Think on his list of key horror novels, stating that the book was "filled with dark, powerful images" and that Darker Than You Think "remains the definitive werewolf novel".
A sequel short story by Poul Anderson was published in a Williamson tribute anthology during the 1990s.
Influences and admirers
The story was particularly influential on rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons. Williamson's "Crucible of Power" had influenced his ideas about the former but it was Darker Than You Think that paralleled his experiences with the latter:
|“||Parsons had a particular interest in one of Williamson's stories that had recently appeared in the fantasy magazine Unknown.
The story's description of a scarlet-haired woman riding a great beast recalled Crowley's own personal mythology, and the tale of Will Barbee seems to have captured Parsons' imagination because it resonated with his own awakening fervor for the OTO.
- "Book Reviews", Astounding Science Fiction, October 1949, p.141
- Aldiss & Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree, Victor Gollancz, 1986, p.264
- "Reviews: November 1975", Science Fiction Studies, November 1975
- Robert Weinberg,"What You Are Meant To Know:Twenty-One Horror Classics" in Mort Castle (ed.),On Writing Horror: A Handbook. Cincinnati, Ohio : Writer's Digest Books, 2007 ISBN 1582974209 (p.20).
- Pendle, George (2005) Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist Jack Parsons. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, page 170.
- bits, oddments, and, you know, stuff..., Neil Gaiman's Journal, November 2006 "Jack Williamson passed away, aged 98. I think the first SF novel I ever read was his book Seetee Shock, although it wasn't until I read his novel of shapechangers, Darker than You Think, as a teenager, that I knew I was a fan."