A Young Person’s Guide to the Gothic by Richard Bayne. Book review

A Young Person’s Guide to the Gothic by Richard Bayne, IndieBooks, h/b £16.00

Reviewed by Simon Ives

This is quite simply an excellent book which does exactly what it sets out to do.  Aimed specifically at teenagers and young adults who have enjoyed the Harry Potter or Twilight universes, Richard Bayne puts these works into the framework of Gothic storytelling and explores the history of the genre.  In addition, there is a fantastic added surprise.

Bayne’s insightful introduction posits that the first Gothic novel was Horace Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Ortanto’, first published in 1764 and followed by a number of books written by Ann Radcliffe, acknowledged as the true founder of the genre.  The introduction follows the genre’s development through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, touching upon established classics by Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, H G Wells and Bram Stoker upon the way.

The main body of the book is divided into five chapters, each dealing with a specific aspect of the Gothic novel.  These are Settings (eg abbeys, haunted houses), Scenery (dungeons, marshes), Plot Devices (curses & prophecy, imprisonment), Characters (hero/heroine, villain/villainess, antihero) and Antagonists (mostly monsters and the Inquisition).

When discussing castles in the Settings chapter, for example, Bayne begins by describing ‘Hogwarts as the ultimate Gothic castle, complete with all the traditional features of high towers and tall walls, secret rooms and underground tunnels’.  He then goes on to include an extract from Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ (1794), illustrating the similarities between the castle described and Potter’s school home.

This is Bayne’s style throughout the book, and this alone would make it a worthwhile read.  However, the real treat is the inclusion of no less than eleven complete short stories from some of the masters of the genre.  For some reason, there is no mention of the authors on the cover or blurb of the book and inside they are listed by title and page number only.  The complete list is:

‘The Outsider’ by H P Lovecraft

‘The Room of Evil Thought’ by Elia Peattie

‘There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard’ by M R James

‘The Voice in the Night’ by William Hope Hodgson

‘The Cask of Amontillado’ by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Red Room’ by H G Wells

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

‘The Cone’ by H G Wells

‘The Dancing Partner’ by Jerome K Jerome

‘The Gray Wolf’ by George Macdonald

‘Torture by Hope’ by Auguste Villiers de L’Isle Adam

One downside of the book is the lack of an index.  Frequently the same book is referenced in more than one section, such as Matthew Lewis’ ‘The Monk’, and it would have been useful to go to each reference quickly and easily.  This is, as far as I can see, the only drawback to this fantastic book.

If you have teenage children, friends or relatives and want to interest them in the classic Gothic novel, this book is an absolute ‘must buy’.