If Disney has taught me anything, it’s that fairies are adorable, little, winged creatures that flit around blessing princesses, making children fly, and going on exciting woodland adventures. It’s all very cute and safe and markets beautifully to girls ages 3-12.
It’s also nothing at all like real fairies.
The fairies of folklore are total dicks. They delight in leading travelers astray and ensorcelling them with faerie food so they can never go home. They spirit men and women away to dance night after night until they waste away and die. Most famously, they steal children and leave enchanted fetches or their own inhuman children in their place. Under all of that Disney glamour, fairies are pretty damn scary (and Disney should capitalize on that, I would love to own Child Stealer Tinkerbell with Wooden Fetch accessory.) And sometimes, just sometimes, a horror author will take advantage of that.
BEHIND THE PEN
Ramsey Campbell is a titan of the horror genre whose writing career spans more than 50 years. He has written 30 novels and hundreds of short stories, among them Alone With the Horrors, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, The Parasite, and The Darkest Part of the Woods. His works have won so many literary awards that he is arguably the most decorated horror author alive. In the words of S. T. Joshi, “Future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
Luke Arnold has a good life: he’s happily married, has a successful career, and is expecting his first child with his wife, Sophie. But when a part of his life he has always taken for granted is proven false, he is thrown into turmoil that is only made worse with the death of his Uncle Terance. You see, Uncle Terance spent Luke’s childhood telling him stories full of magic and otherworldly entities, stories that Luke is starting to suspect just might be true. Suddenly unsure of just who—or what—he really is, Luke sets out on a journey of self-discovery where every step only makes him more and more certain that he is not going to like what he finds… or what it means for his family.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
From page one, HOWLers were in agreement on one thing: Campbell can write atmosphere. Comparisons to the films of David Lynch were made by several people over the course of the discussion. “The whole thing feels a little surreal and dreamlike,” said @Chris O’Halloran. “Like nobody’s feet are planted on the ground, everyone’s walking three inches in the air. The way people act and react seems just the slightest bit off.” The scenes taking place in nature were agreed to be particularly strong in atmosphere. In the words of @frylock, “My favorite aspect so far is the recurring imagery of elements of nature always looking like they’re about to come to life and do something wild.”
That is not to say that all talk about the writing was positive. Some felt the writing was vague to the point where it was difficult to tell what was actually happening. At one point, multiple members had trouble picturing a scene as it was written, although it turned out that at least some of the confusion was because the scene involved a British car and American readers were disoriented by the location of the steering wheel.
The discussion got temporarily sidetracked when the book introduced a physically impossible hand sign and every single person reading took pictures of themselves attempting the sign, culminating in
an obvious photoshop a stunning display of manual dexterity from @Chris O’Halloran and an exclamation that it’s “so weird that you guys can’t do it.”
By the end of the book, not all readers felt that the atmosphere made up for the book’s slow pacing. “I am ready for this book to be over,” said @Mantis Shrimp. “It crawls at a snail’s pace, and atmosphere can only do so much. I know it’s the journey, not the destination, but… I feel like there’s no journey. There’s just a prolonging of the answer that somehow never adds enough to feel like any forward momentum is gained.” Other members voiced similar concerns about the story going nowhere, scenes being repetitive, and characters being underdeveloped and underutilized.
In the end, HOWLers ended up divided into two camps: those who felt that the atmosphere and writing made up for the book’s pacing, and those who did not. Issues aside, the writing impressed members enough that even those who had issues with it were eager for recommendations of Ramsey short stories. The Kind Folk is flawed, but when it worked, it worked. In the words of @Golfwang, it’s “good to know that Fairies can actually be scary.”
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- Unsettling enough to shake my (admittedly tenuous) grip on reality, and yet I couldn’t put it down. Quintessentially British in all the best ways, though that doesn’t detract from the novel’s own sinister uniqueness.
- A slow-burn story saturated with folklore. Campbell can make an empty field feel creepy…
- A truly creepy read with lovely sentence-level writing. Page-turning despite the sometimes dense prose, with short chapters. I do wish there were more tags on the dialogue though.
- Are you into repetition? Driving chapters? Repetition? Then this is the book for you! While there are plenty of spooky scenes in which Tinkerbell’s dark cousins perform classic fairy antics, the confusing dialogue, lack of stakes, and unclear character motivations makes The Kind Folk fall just short of the ever present moon.
- The Kind Folk is disorienting, creepy, mysterious, magical, sinister, and really anything but kind! Ramsey Campbell’s prose is at times reminiscent of his compatriot, Neil Gaiman, and kept me turning page after page. A novella that felt like a novel which left this reader with conflicted optimism that magic might exist in the world, while dreading ever encountering it.
- Campbell’s take on fairy lore is dripping with atmosphere and gorgeous language. It’s also genuinely terrifying at times. The plot is a bit static, but Campbell had me hanging on to every lush description and disturbing encounter with the kind folk.
- Between the back cover blurb and chapter one, you already know everything that will happen over the course of 36 more slow, meandering chapters that barely eke the plot forward. Give it a read if you don’t mind a scenic route with a 15kmph speed limit headed to an all-too familiar destination.
- The dread-inducing and thoroughly weird prose made The Kind Folk a treat to read. As a first foray into Campbell, it has me looking forward to diving into his short stories, which may alleviate some of my problems with pacing this had. That said, this novel is a worthy undertaking, and I may return to certain chapters just to bask in the moonlight they cast.
HAND SIGNALS ARE FAIRY HARD!
The Kind Folk is a slow atmospheric tale with some genuinely unnerving scenes that may or may not make up for its meandering pace. If you’re looking for scenes of unsettling nature horror or a modern Arthur Machen story, this may be the book for you.