Bookbanter Column: Remembering James Herbert

There are probably not too many people familiar with James Herbert, who was the equivalent of Stephen King in Britain: a huge bestselling horror author.  He started from simple beginnings, as many writers do: he studied graphic design, print and photography and then worked at an advertising agency.

Then, in the early seventies, in just ten months, he wrote his first book, called The Rats.

The Rats is a horror novel set in London that brilliantly catches the feeling of the city at that time in the early part of the decade, and is about very ordinary people with very ordinary lives.

But then a new mutant form of rat evolves that grows to be the size of some small dogs. And these rats soon develop a hunger for human flesh and begin their attack on London, mercilessly killing.

It’s up to the people of London — at least those still alive who haven’t fled — to save the city and its survivors from these terrifying, giant, blood-thirsty rats.

The short novel sold 100,000 copies in three weeks and was later adapted into a movie. It would go on to be one of Herbert’s bestselling and most known books, much like with Stephen King and his debut novel (also short), Carrie.

Herbert wrote twenty-three novels over his career and sold fifty-four million copies around the world.

Herbert’s talents as a horror writer were in that he wrote about the things that terrify many people, or even things that are mildly scary that he turned into something horrifying. Some of these books include The Dark, which was literally about an approaching darkness that could kill you; and The Fog. 

Again, there is another similarity with Stephen King, who wrote the short story The Mist. And much like Stephen King, James Herbert would always use ordinary, non-superhero people with normal jobs in a setting and story that would push them to go way beyond their average lives.

Herbert also had a talent for the ghost story and the tale of the haunted house. A number of his novels were on this subject, including: Haunted, The Ghost’s of Sleath, Others, The Secret of Crickley Hall, and his last published novel, Ash, featuring a returning parapsychologist character of the same name.

Occasionally, Herbert would try something completely different, like he did with Fluke, a book written entirely from the perspective of a dog.

Of course, with the continuing success of The Rats, he would also go on to write two sequels: The Lair, which brings new untold horrors of giant killer rats, this time going outside of London; and Domain, set in a future London where there has been nuclear war, and some people have survived, as well as the aforementioned giant killer rats.

Now, with his passing on March 20, 2013, the world has lost a great storyteller, who could take you to the edge of the darkness and beyond, but then bring you back at the end, nice and safe. Though, as is the case these days with prominent authors dying, I’m sure he has another book or two sitting around that he wrote earlier in his career, or was currently working on that will get completed by someone, and eventually published.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

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