Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hebrew for 'Lord'

Ba'al by Robert R. McCammon (1978): McCammon's first novel and first published novel is a humdinger with a lot of flaws and a lot of raw energy and ambition. The influences -- conscious or otherwise -- initially seem to be The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen. By the end, though, McCammon has staked out his own odd territory with a climax on the Arctic ice during the long night of the North Pole.

A terrible baby is born sometime in the late 1950's, at least partially the product of a supernatural rape. It's Ba'al, the human-sacrifice-loving god of the Canaanites, a Christian demon known as Beelzebub. Shenanigans ensue. People die. The kid creeps everyone out. By the time he's an adult, apocalyptic cults will form around him. More people will die. And Ba'al's long grudge against the Jews and their god will drive his (or its) actions.

Of course, a ragtag group of heroes will form to face this foe, the most interesting an aging theology professor who initially gets pulled into events while on a search for a colleague gone missing while investigating the rise of the Ba'al cult in Kuwait. The globe-trotting aspects of the novel bear more resemblance to the sort of plotting seen in a spy thriller than in a typical horror novel. McCammon's influences are never programmatic, or programmatically used, even here at the beginning of his writing career.

All in all, I enjoyed this novel. There are flaws, though I'm not sure whether the main flaw is McCammon's fault or his publisher's. Simply put, the novel doesn 't have a middle. We basically jump from the end of the beginning to the beginning of the end, from Ba'al at 10 to Ba'al ascendant. As there are textual references to a confrontation with Ba'al in Mexico and the American Southwest during the 'ascending' portion of the being's development, I really do wonder if this section (also cited in a later, otherwise unrelated McCammon novel, They Thirst) was cut by an editor with the mandate of a specific page length.

In any case, the novel -- and McCammon's brief but illuminating 1988 afterword to the novel -- both make for a diverting experience with much more depth and scope than the similarly themed Omen. Recommended.

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