William Peter Blatty’s Jamesian ghost story, Elsewhere

Ten years ago Al Sarrantonio edited one of the best horror anthologies of all time. 999 featured original stories of varying lengths by many of the best and most popular writers of the day: Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Joe Lansdale, David Morrell, Ramsey Campbell and Neil Gaiman are just a few of the major talents featured in the book. One of the longest tales in this massive tome came from the pen of Exorcist author William Peter Blatty (see a personal note at the end).

Now, for the first time, Blatty’s Elsewhere has been published alone in book form. This version comes in three states from Cemetery Dance Publications: a trade edition at $25; a signed/limited and slipcased edition of 350 copies for $75; and a signed/lettered traycased edition of 52 copies bound in leather that comes in at $250. All three states feature some spooky interior illustrations by Alex McVey.

Elsewhere is one of the better haunted house stories of recent years.  Joan Freeboard, a successful Manhattan realtor is trying to sell a mansion on an island. The original owner killed his wife and himself, and several of those who have occupied the house since have died or gone insane. In order to find a buyer and earn herself a fat commission, Freeboard sets out to prove the place is not haunted.

She invites Anna Trawley, a renowned British psychic; Gabriel Case, a well-known authority on paranormal phenomena; and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Terence Dare to spend a few nights on the island with her. If all goes well, Dare will write an article for Vanities Magazine debunking the house’s reputation. None of the four is a particularly pleasant person, and you may find yourself rooting for the ghosts.

Enter a couple of creepy caretakers and some uninvited guests, and, of course, all does not go well at all. Blatty even provides a surprise or two, and the author’s trademark exorcisms are not neglected.

Elsewhere is a tightly constructed tale, reminiscent of Henry James, that creates just the right atmosphere for a ghost story—storms, strange sounds and other Gothic effects set the mood. It is probably Blatty’s best work since The Exorcist.  But is purchasing the book a good idea?

Obviously, this edition is intended for the collectors’ market. However, one might reasonably expect a foreword or something new from Blatty in this hardback presentation, yet the only difference between this and the original is the artwork and the smaller more comfortable size. Those who just want to read a good haunted house tale can still find 999 in trade paperback for $16.95 and get 28 more horror stories—a great entertainment bargain.

For those who might be interested, here are a couple of reminiscences: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist was a singular event in the literary and entertainment world. The book was marketed as a true story, and Blatty appeared on dozens of national and local talk shows to hype it before it was released. The novel hit Number 1 on the best seller lists immediately on publication in July of 1971. I remember missing a day of work that year. I picked the book up one evening and read it straight through. I turned over the last page at 6:00 a.m., and I decided my summer job with a moving company that day was less important than my rest.

When the motion picture came out in 1973, the multiplex theater had not yet arrived, and for months the single theaters showing the film had lines that stretched for blocks for hours before each showing. There were rumors of people dying of heart attacks during the movie, and one of a man falling out of the balcony and killing the person sitting beneath him on the main floor. I don’t know if any of them are true, probably just urban myths.

My wife was afraid to go. A good friend was afraid to go, but his wife was eager to see the movie, so we met at a bar and his wife and I went to The Exorcist while he and my wife stayed and drank beer. Later we found out that was not at all unusual. Many other couples had seen the film the same way. And since I like an occasional adult beverage myself, it was a rare occasion where I was the designated driver.

Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper since 1988. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books. If you see a Rocky Mountain News blurb on a book it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. (There is actually one such blurb on the dustjacket of Elsewhere, from the 1999 News review of 999.) Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.


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