The Hungry Moon | Ramsey Campbell | Rougeski Book Review
The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell is permeated with allusions to the Druids and their apocryphal predilection for blood lust, human sacrifice, and even a fabled consumption the dead. Since there is so little verifiable knowledge of them, the Druids and their mythology can be molded into any form that suits the imagination.
The secluded town of Moonwell gets its name from an ancient Druid relic located out in the moors. Instead of a stone ring, its center is a huge, bottomless well as round as the full moon. The ground around it tilts toward the well, creating a hazardous situation where unwary celebrants might slip into the bottomless darkness, harkening back to Jonathan Edwards’s gaping maw of hell. The well itself creates a sense of dread; what eldritch horrors might wait breathing in the endless darkness, waiting for the community to fail in their duty?
The locals perpetuate a Druidic custom of dressing the well on midsummer eve every year. They are not sure why; they just know it must be done. Unfortunately, this year, an enigmatic, charismatic American cult leader appears with a professed goal of convincing the populace to accept his version of God by voyaging down to the bottom of the well to exorcize the hidden evil.
The well dressing ritual goes undone, and darkness descends on Moonwell.
The story is populated by a huge cast of characters. There are so many that it is at first hard to keep track of them. Some might wish that Campbell had narrowed the number of players, but that would be a mistake because it could be said that the vast preponderance of the population of Moonwell operates as a unit, melded together into a single mind, in part due to the hypnotic power of Mann, the cult leader. Two outsiders, Nick, a reporter, and Diana, an American schoolteacher, stand out as immune to Mann’s power and resist the Moonwell hive mentality, thus creating conflict that puts their lives in danger. The fact that Campbell creates many points of view creates a character-driven tale that will draw in many readers with the interesting sub-plots created by the players.
The plot is highly complex due to its many moving parts. One of those parts, a nearby missile base, hints at some sort of effect on the community. However, this question goes unanswered. Characters form allegiances with like-thinkers and hostilities towards divergent individuals who refuse to follow Mann. The most interesting aspect of the plot is the question as to whether the ancient creatures who dwell in the well or Mann’s followers are the true monsters. Campbell does a masterful job of demonstrating the possible effects of religious mania. The end leaves readers to interpret the true point of the story.
As always, Campbell’s writing style makes all the characters come alive via their detailed descriptions, thoughts, social interactions, and realistic dialogue. His vivid visuals create a living sense of place.
Readers who enjoy a long, complex tale of mystery and cosmic horror will appreciate this leisured journey into the depts of a Druid well and the horrific devolution of a once normal country community due to the absolute conformity caused by religious fervor. Perhaps it could be said that The Hungry Moon is a commentary on the dangers of foregoing individualism and self determination to mindlessly become a semiconscious part of the hive mind, thus freefalling into a metaphorical darkness as deep at the moon well.
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