Daemon of the Dark Wood
Trade Paper, 250 pages, $14.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
One of horror’s most famous novellas is Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. It caused quite a scandalous stir when first published in 1890. Randy Chandler has brought back the satyr that spurred the pique. Daemon of the Dark Wood depicts the demigod in all his frenzied pagan glory. Chandler whips up a scary tale of Dionysian debauchery; splendidly evoking infernal upheaval. There is debasement, dismemberment, and cannibalism. Those who follow Pan’s call of the wild become slavishly bestial; translation: Their basic instincts are extremely base. The author deftly handles the disturbing material, producing a very well-written narrative that reads like a guilty pleasure.
Greek mythology infiltrates a community in Georgia when the horned and perpetually horny man-beast comes to town. Exerting an overpowering sexuality, he is a goat from the waist down – except for one important anatomical endowment. And in that, he looms large indeed. His psychological and physical enslavement of the vicinity’s womenfolk perpetuates a panic. Resistance is futile; even a bi-polar chick, whose lithium treatment initially spares her crossing to the down and dirty side, eventually succumbs: “The forbidden territory of her psyche was always well within reach, ever tempting her to breach its ephemeral gates, follow skewed pathways into the outer world and partake of prohibited delights and sweet terrors of the flesh – to wallow in her inherent wantonness. That such indulgence might be fatal only served to sweeten the sexual pot and raise the spiritual stakes.”
Bacchanalian anarchy isn’t new to the area. In 1866, some beyond uppity womenfolk took on the characteristics of mythical maenads; berserk females who killed, tore apart, and ate the local men. The ancient feral picnic was an inebriated tribute to Pan; often equated with the dark side of Dionysus, the god of wine. Its 19th Century manifestation was also heavy on male fatalities. A cover-up story was concocted: The guys were The Civil War casualties. The truth about the events, known as The Helling, was buried along with the remains of the victims.
An anthropologist, digging up the dirt regarding the covert history, unearths more than folklore. Logical and scientific in orientation, he possesses an adventurous streak: “He was a man of science, but he still had a boy’s love of science-fiction and the fantastic. He had never outgrown his love of the amazing tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft and the like. That same love had led him into the fields of anthropology and archaeology in the first place. Moreover, he believed it was important that he maintain a youthful sense of adventure in his work.”
The scholar’s expectations are exceeded when the rational gets trumped by the supernatural. Like most of the fellows in the yarn, he gets bitch-slapped into acknowledging that there is only one alpha male.
Sex and violence are played up to the hilt in the book; aberrations are pervasive. The subject matter certainly can’t be classified as “delicate.” Randy Chandler writes with apt audaciousness. He seems truly fond of the salacious wenches he has created. Daemon of the Dark Wood deals with loss of control, but the novel’s author is in masterly command.