fritz leiber's horror novel, our lady of darkness, is based around the idea that cities are haunted. this has happened due to the steel, electricity, poles, roads, and the general rush of people living and dying in them every day, with their ashes collecting in the air around people. in fact cities (through the voice of a dead old man and his book) are portrayed as a giant tomb, like the pyramids that were constructed to house the bodies of important individuals.
it draws its atmosphere, its sense of dread (for, in a one hundred and sixty odd page novel, little happens) from the city around him. the sight of corona heights, the park around it, the one thousand foot tv tower: all of these become symbols of terror as the novel progresses, taping into the literally real world, but also the way that technology and nature conflict when placed next to each other.
in addition to this, leiber's character, franz weston, recently recovering fromt he death of his wife, and the alcoholism that was crutch during this time, is transparently leiber himself. the raw emotion, the sense of grief has been placed into the page, and one is forced to wonder of this is how he viewed san francisco after his wife's death. (his wife is in the book, or so one of the reference sites will have you believe. she's the painting in franz's apartment.) i'm personally not a big believer in saying that the author is talking about his or herself, but the similarity between franz and fritz appears to be quite deliberate, and done to add a second layer to the book.
the next layer for the book is that of city fiction itself, either in the form of writers, or their work. dashiell hammett, h.p. lovecraft, jack london, ambrose bierce, and clark ashton smith are just some of the writers leiber uses to add to the sense of dread that is forming outside his window. one suspects that what leiber is doing is talking about the new mythos that is developing around cities--which is certainly an interesting idea, i think, but i'm not quite sure how far it'll fly since i've not read all the authors in question, and some i'm not qualified to say in the content of their work i have read. yet, still, i think it's an interesting idea. despite this, it would seem that leiber has layered his story with these authors work, so that people can pick at strands and peel back layers here and there for additional meaning.
it is, really, quite a fascinating novel in which very little happens outside franz walking around san francisco and piecing together the story. there is no real sense of menace from the brown figure he sees through his binoculars, though leiber does make it a menacing figure in its appearance. he also plays the end nicely, though cal's invoking of science and music to defeat the horror of the city and its literature fueled beast was a bit of a let down, really.
still, it's an interesting, fascinating book that draws deeply and effectively from the world around it.
Our Lady of Darkness: A Jamesian Classic.
Our Lady of Darkness: Annotations.