Background: When Dark Shadows initially aired on ABC in June of 1966, it was a fairly conventional soap opera, with some Gothic trappings that borrowed heavily from Jane Eyre and Rebecca. The initial storylines dealt with the 20 year old Victoria Winters’ arrival in the Maine town of Collinsport, where she has been summoned from a New York City Foundlings Home to work as governess at Collinwood, the mysterious mansion of the even-more mysterious Collins family.
Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is cagey regarding her reasons for choosing Victoria for the position, while Victoria hopes to uncover the identity of an anonymous patron who sent money for her support from the nearby city of Bangor. Meanwhile, Burke Devlin, a former friend of the family has returned to Collinsport after a lengthy absence during which he served a sentence for manslaughter and then became a wealthy globe-trotting playboy: he has vowed revenge on the Collins family for their part in his conviction. Meanwhile, someone has sabotaged he car belonging to Roger Collins, Elizabeth’s brother and the father of Victoria’s young charge. Was it attempted murder?
So, pretty much standard soap opera stuff, livened up by the constant gaffes resulting from a budget that didn’t allow for retakes: looming microphone booms, stray stagehands wandering into a scene, actors forgetting their lines or reading the wrong part off of the cue cards.
As originally written, there were no supernatural elements to the plot, but soon a few ghosts started creeping in… and then a character who was secretly an Immortal Phoenix… but the glacial pace wasn’t drawing viewers and the show was on the verge of cancellation when writers decided to go all-in and introduce a vampire to the storyline. Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid, revitalized the show, making is popular among teenagers with its after-school timeslot, and turning the middle-aged Frid into an unlikely teen idol.
Eventually all manner of witches, warlocks, werewolves and Frankenstein-esque monsters were introduced, along with time travel to the past, future and alternative realities. By 1969 it was the highest-rated program in its timeslot, drawing about 20 million viewers per episode.
Now, as we saw with the novelization of All My Children, one way of turning 700 or so episodes of a TV series into 200 pages of novel is to compress everything, so characters fall into comas and struggle with amnesia on an alarmingly regular basis. The other way is to slow down the prose to the same creeping pace as the TV show…
The Plot: …which is unfortunately the strategy used here.
It is worth noting that publication date on the novel is December, 1966, about six months after the show’s debut, so it is likely that “Marilyn Ross” (a pseudonym for Canadian pulp writer Dan Ross), was working from first drafts of scripts, which may vary greatly to the final filmed product.
The novelization, the first in a series of 32(!) Dark Shadows novels written by Ross for Paperback Library, deals with Victoria’s arrival in Collinsport, and none of the supernatural elements that would make the show a success are present; the novel also features a number of plot points and characters that don’t appear in the TV show at all, as well as a late-act “twist” that is taken directly from Rebecca.
The book is very tedious; it will only appeal to the most hard-core Dark Shadows fans, those completists who want to read about another, boring, alternate reality involving the Collins family.
Victoria is summoned to Collins House (not Collinwood) from the Foundling Home to serve as a governess for Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s nephew, David. She becomes tentatively involved with Elizabeth’s cousin, Ernest, a concert violinist with a dead wife and a few scandals involving women who came to a bad end after dating him. Victoria also attracts the interest of Will Grant, the Collins’ family lawyer and suitor of Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn.
Will suspects that Ernest is responsible for both the death of a young artist, who supposedly committed suicide the previous summer, as well as an attack on a Santa Barbara socialite a few years earlier. Will believes that the death of Ernest’s wife, Elaine, has driven him into madness.
Victoria hears mysterious sounds and is mysteriously attacked in the basement of the mansion; someone sabotages her car; she sees a mysterious face at a window in the closed-off part of the house; is it David playing a prank? Is it Ernest and his madness?
Carolyn finally admits that Elaine is totally not dead and has been hidden away in the basement of the mansion for some time. Victoria confronts Ernest, but says she understands the sacrifice he’s made for her and how great his love must be for her. Then oh-ho! PLOT TWIST!
“My love for Elaine!” he said.”You don’t know anything about my love for her! Or why I hate her now! Have hated her all of these long years!”
Elaine shows up and forces Victoria up onto the roof at knife-point, they struggle, Elaine goes over the railing. Crazy wife problem solved, do I hear wedding bells for Victoria and Ernest?
“I want to give you some time,” he said. “And myself, as well. Perhaps in six months or a year we can make more definite plans.”
And in that moment of sheer happiness she knew it had all been worthwhile. One day she and Ernest would come together again and perhaps there would be no more partings.
So, no scheming Burke Devlin, no Improbably Handsome Joe Haskell, and definitely no vampires. That (2nd Edition) cover is all lies. Just 159 pages of incredibly slow-moving gothic conventions.
Sign It was Written In 1966 Department:
“Do You Frug?”
“No. And I can’t do the Watusi either.”
“I don’t believe it! I thought everyone in New York was hep to the new dances!”
“We don’t spend all of our time at discotheques,” Victoria told her.
Smoove! Department: “What a quixotic little fool you are,” he said. “And how much I want to protect you!”
Oh, Roger! Department: “You mean to say you were actually a foundling?”