Darker Than You Think (1948)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Jack Williamson
Publication Date 1998
Format Leather-bound (225 x 150 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 310
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on Amazon.com
Rating 8
No. of Reviews 11
Frontispiece/Illustrator Jill Bauman
Original Details
Original Publisher Spectrum Literary Agency
Original Publication Year 1948
Who is the Child of the Night?

That's what small-town reporter Will Barbee must find out. Inexorably drawn into investigating a rash of grisly deaths, he soon finds himself embroiled in something far beyond mortal understanding.

Doggedly pursuing his investigation, he meets the mysterious and seductive April Bell and starts having disturbing tantalizing dreams in which he does terrible things--things that are stranger and wilder than his worst nightmares. Then his friends begin dying one by one and he slowly realizes that an unspeakable evil has been unleashed.

As Barbee's world crumbles around him in a dizzying blizzard of madness, the intoxicating, dangerous April pushes Barbee ever closer to the answer to the question "Who is the Child of the Night?"

When Barbee finds out, he'll wish he'd never been born.


If science fiction is physics, fantasy is psychology. If science fiction is outer space, fantasy is inner space. If science fiction is rocket ships and formulas, fantasy is broomsticks and spells. If science fic tion is the there and then, fantasy is the nowhere and nowhen.

Distinctions like these between science fiction and fantasy lead to a novel, Darker Than You Think, that combines elements of both genres in a form that has been called "rationalized fantasy." As David Pringle wrote in Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels, "This is one of those novels that occupy the uncertain zone between science fiction and the supernatural horror story." The novel was written by a science-fiction writer who started publishing stories in the SF magazines in 1928 at the age of 20 and is still publishing them 70 years later. His name is Jack Williamson, and a 1997 novel, The Black Sun, was voted onto Locus magazine's "recommended reading" list, and a Williamson short story, "The Firefly Tree," was included in David Hartwell's 1998 World's Best SF.

As amazing as Williamson's longevity in the SF writing profession (and perhaps an explanation for it) has been his adaptability: science fiction changes every decade, and Williamson has adjusted to each new direction in writing style and subject matter. Born in 1908 in Bisbee, Arizona, Williamson grew up on an isolated, near desert New Mexico homestead and found companionship among books, particularly science fiction and fantasy. His discovery of the pulp magazines led him to Amazing Stories and that magazine inspired him to try writing science fiction and fantasy.

Williamson's first story, "The Metal Man," published in Amazing Stories in 1928, showed the influence of the romantic concepts and lush descriptions of science-fantasy master A. Merritt. In the 1930s, Williamson apprenticed himself to an older writer, Miles J. Breuer, and learned to "curb [his] tendencies toward wild melodrama and purple adjectives." Among other notable space adventures, he published The Legion of Space trilogy between 1934 and 1939 and The Legion of Time in 1938. During the 1940s Williamson adapted to the demands of John W. Campbell's Golden Age for greater scientific rigor, and produced the "Seetee" antimatter series Seetee Ship (1942-43/1951) and Seetee Shock (1949/1950) and, most important, "With Folded Hands" and The Humanoids (1949; 1948 as ". . . And Searching Mind").

The 1950s brought a writer's block and a return to academia to finish up an undergraduate degree that he had abandoned in 1930 to pursue his writing. He followed that with an M.A. in English in 1957 and a Ph.D. in 1964. Most of his writing during this period was in collaboration, with James Gunn on Star Bridge (1955) and with Frederik Pohl on a number of novels, a partnership that has lasted into the 1990s. In the 1960s, however, Williamson adapted even to the extremes of the New Wave emphasis on style and adoption of entropy as its major metaphor. Although his production was slowed by the academic demands of his position at Eastern New Mexico University, he continued to produce fiction publishable in every decade.

In addition, Williamson turned his energies toward teaching and scholarship. He led in the development of courses to teach science fiction, cataloged courses offered around the country, edited Teaching Science Fiction: Education for Tomorrow (1980), and published his dissertation, H.G. Wells: Critic of Progress (1973), for which, in addition to his other scholarly work, he received the Pilgrim Award of the Science Fiction Research Association. He was named the second Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master (after Robert A. Heinlein). He has served as president of SFWA and as guest of honor at the World Science Fiction Convention. Although he retired from teaching in 1977, he still teaches a course at ENIMU every year.

Darker Than You Think was published as a novella in the December 1940 Unknown, John W. Campbell's companion fantasy magazine to Astounding Science Fiction. The story was one of the most popular of those published in the 39 issues of Unknown, and the reason was not only the tense adventure and the occult mystery, and what John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy called "a tortured (and still haunting) erotic frankness unusual in genre literature of the 1940s," its psychological reverberations touched a responsive chord in thou sands of readers.

The reasons for the psychological underpinnings for the story and the psychological validity of the details lie in Williamson himself. In 1936, "deeply troubled" and going through his own "private depression," according to his autobiography, Wonder's Child, Williamson enrolled in a year-long analysis with a psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, and in 1940 he renewed his analysis in Los Angeles. As psychologist Alan C. Elms has noted in articles and his book Uncovering Lives: The Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology (1994), Williamson's therapist was suggesting that he abandon his focus on fantastic literature in order to improve his grasp on reality and adjust to greater social normality. The therapist argued that SF and fantasy allows authors to take leave of their conscious egos and that in Williamson's writing "the value of fantasy was constantly increasing and. . . in many ways [Williamson] was ignoring reality in order to maintain this ever-increasing interest in [unrealistic] thinking." Even earlier, in Topeka, one psychiatrist had commented "that writing science fiction was symptomatic of neurosis. His casual promise that I could be cured of that became one more mental problem. . . ."

Fortunately for his career and his readers, Williamson wanted no remedy for writing, but the experience enriched the novel that Fantasy Press published in 1948. "Though books are like children, too different for any fair comparison," Williamson wrote in Wonder's Child, "Darker has always been close to my heart, perhaps because of what it let me say about myself. Dr. Glenn, the analyst in the story, has hints of Dr. Tidd, and it strikes me now that the novel can be read as a comment on my own inner conflicts as I discovered and grappled with them under the analysis. In the story, Will Barbee is at first bewildered and horrified by the emerging strangeness in himself; at the end he has come to accept himself.... I think it reflects my own growing willingness to accept bits of myself that I had always feared or hated."

Fantasy Press was one of the first of the fan publishers that sprang up after World War II to rescue from the moldering pulp magazines the serials that had remained uncollected since the beginning of magazine SF and fantasy in 1926. Doc Smith's "Skylark" and "Lensman" series were among them, and Williamson's own Legion of Space trilogy, Heinlein's early work, and dozens more. Most of the publishers failed after a few years because of under-capitalization (although their early books are valued by collectors at many times their original cost), but their success in selling books to faithful fans ultimately led to the establishment of SF lines by such old-line publishers as Simon & Schuster and Doubleday, and by such new paperback publishers as Ace and Ballantine.

In the expansion of the "Darker Than You Think" novella into a novel, the scene of the story was shifted from New York City to the small town of Clarendon (Williamson suggests that it has some aspects of Topeka), psychotherapy and sanitarium scenes were added, as well as the hallucinatory transitions between Will Barbee's sleeping and waking. In addition, Barbee (is the resemblance to Williamson's birth place a coincidence, or his first name, Will?) is better developed and his transformation is more effectively handled. The virtues of the original, however, are retained; Unknown's preference for rationalized fantasy produced that unique tension between the supernatural material and its naturalistic presentation. The theme of lycanthropy has seldom been more skillfully handled (and may be compared to Richard Matheson's use of vampirism in I Am Legend), and the concept of homo lycanthropus provides a provocative explanation for much that is obscure in myths and legends as well as modern crime and insanity and creative genius.

Darker Than You Think was not Williamson's only venture into fantasy. His Golden Blood, which featured a lost race and a golden tiger in the Arabian desert, was published in Weird Tales in 1933 and a revised version reprinted as a paperback novel in 1964. Another novel, The Reign of Wizardry (1964), which dealt with the survival of magic in Minoan Crete until it was killed by the rise of science, was serialized in Unknown in 1940.

Williamson was primarily a science-fiction writer, however, and even his fantasy was carefully researched and the supernatural elements "explained" in some rational fashion. He received a World Fantasy Award in 1994 for Life Achievement, but to have done what Williamson has done and for the length of time that he has done it is, without a doubt, a life achievement of an even higher order.

Darker Than You Think is the fantasy novel that dramatizes the conflict at the heart of a life that took a boy from a lonely New Mexico farm and carried him to the stars through the unlikely medium of the pulp magazines.

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas
July 30, 1998
Chapter 1 - The Girl in White Fur Start Page: 1
Chapter 2 - The Kitten Killing Start Page: 24
Chapter 3 - The White Jade Wolf Start Page: 41
Chapter 4 - The Witch Child Start Page: 55
Chapter 5 - The Thing Behind the Veil Start Page: 70
Chapter 6 - As a Wolf Runs - Start Page: 88
Chapter 7 - The Trap in the Study Start Page: 105
Chapter 8 - The Huntress in the Dark Start Page: 119
Chapter 9 - Nightmare's Aftermath Start Page: 134
Chapter 10 - A Friend of April Bell Start Page: 146
Chapter 11 - As a Saber-Tooth Slays - Start Page: 159
Chapter 12 - Hair of the Tiger Start Page: 170
Chapter 13 - Private Hell Start Page: 182
Chapter 14 - As a Serpent Strikes - Start Page: 200
Chapter 15 - The Human Side Start Page: 219
Chapter 16 - The Most Frightful Shape Start Page: 233
Chapter 17 - Not All Human Start Page: 251
Chapter 18 - Rebirth of the Witch Folk Start Page: 263
Chapter 19 - On Sardis Hill Start Page: 277
Chapter 20 - The Child of Night Start Page: 286
Chapter 21 - Into the Shadows Start Page: 299