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on 16 July 2012
I've been meaning to pick this book up for many years, mainly because of 'The Wicker Man' connection. It is deemed by some to be the inspiration behind Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy's much-loved occult horror film, and this in itself is the cause of much controversy and sometimes heated debate. For me, the thrill of finally getting hold of 'Ritual', apart from the prospect of becoming absorbed with an obscure 1960s occult novel, was in discovering exactly what similarities exist between the two works and whether the accusations of plagiarism are in any way justified.

Basic premise? Well, it's not dissimilar to the aforementioned film. Policeman arrives at a remote village to investigate the death of a child and is confronted with an increasingly bewlidering array of psychological trickery, erotic encounters and pagan practices.

If you can get past the excessively rich and over-worked dialogue, 'Ritual' is an enjoyable, engrossing read with a narrative that, after the initial Wicker Man similarities, treads a very different path towards an entirely different conclusion. The characters are grotesque, vaudevillian creations and wonderfully over-the-top; it's as if they have one eye on the audience in the stalls and are intentionally camping it up, playing for cheap laughs. If you think Lord Summerisle is fond of a florid turn of phrase, wait till you hear Lawrence Cready, Pastor White and Squire Fenn in full flow.

So, is it fair to say that Anthony Shaffer borrowed from this novel? To a certain extent, yes. We know that Shaffer attempted and abandoned a screenplay based upon the novel. We have the initial basic premise, which is almost identical. There are characters in Ritual which seem to be clear inspirations for some of Shaffer's characters, the most obvious being Anna Spark, whose unabashed sexuality surely paved the way for Willow MacGregor. There are many snatches of dialogue in Ritual which, for me, brought forth vague memories of dialogue in The Wicker Man. And perhaps most tellingly, there is one scene in Ritual - Anna Spark's night-time attempt at seducing David Hanlin - which is, to be frank, played out just about word-for-word in The Wicker Man. Coincidence? I think not.

Having said that, the differences between the two are such that both works can and should stand in their own right. Shaffer's work, thematically, is very different to Ritual and has bags more complexity and depth. The occult aspect of Pinner's novel is, in lots of ways, incidental to the actual story; it would work just as well without it. In Shaffer's work, Paganism is central, and much more painstakingly researched. The feel and atmosphere of the two works are entirely contrasting. Finally, both works head off in different directions and, by their respective conclusions, arrive in very different places.

I enjoyed Ritual a lot. It kept me engaged until the very last page and I would not hesitate in recommending it to lovers of weird fiction. Whatsmore, this new edition looks and feels great. Just one small gripe - I think the black unpeelable 'sticker' on the front, trumpeting the similarities with The Wicker Man, is unnecessary and almost ruins the cover. A shame to tarnish such a memorable piece of art with something that feels a bit crass. Other than that, well done to Finders Keepers for rescuing this hidden gem from obscurity.
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on 13 May 2009
David Pinner's Ritual opens in the Cornish village of Thorn where the dead body of 8 year old Dian Spark is found by an oak tree. Suspicion is stirred by the fact she is holding a sprig of garlic and the press raise the question of a ritual killing. Enter Detective Inspector David Hanlin, a no nonsense police officer despatched from London to investigate the incident, and whose eyes remain almost permanently behind a pair of shades as he suffers from sun blindness.

Hanlin begins with Reverend White at his church who insists the village is a Christian one, but David notices the altar cross is missing, to which the Reverend insists it often disappears and reappears again. However, the holy man is outraged when David finds a monkey's head and garlic flowers on the altar.

Events cut to a seance being conducted by Dian's mother to ascertain if her child was murdered. Meanwhile, David is exploring the wood and is taken by Gypo, the local nutter, to the oak tree where Dian was found. The monkey's head is back, along with two bats pinned along side it.

Back at the seance, Mrs. Spark claims there is witchcraft in the village and some of those present are involved. The accusation stirs up hysteria among the group, until the village squire takes control, suggesting the police should be brought in. Quite conveniently, he then makes the acquaintance of David Hanlin when Anna brings the detective back to the
house to give him lodging.

Hanlin initially spends his time visiting and getting to know the leading village characters. He visits Lawrence Cready, a rather camp character who had bought Squire Fenn's mansion, when Fenn had become debt ridden. Although Cready does have a witchcraft museum in his manor, he insists to David it is merely memorabilia. However, Hanlin discovers a doll falls with a pin stuck through its abdomen and the name Dian written across the back, when it falls out of the pocket of one of the local children, Fat Billy. The child goes hysterical, claiming he hated Dian and that her mother is a witch, but denies killing her. The boy is later found dead by the same oak tree.

Events come to a head when Hanlin receives an invitation from Cready to be initiated in a moon worshipping ceremony the villagers are holding. He goes. The villagers are dressed as animals, including two march hares, while Cready is dragged up as a man-woman. The proceedings end up on the beach at a bonfire flanked by an altar of stones where a white horse is sacrificed. The whole thing appears becomes hysterical, setting off a chain of accusation and counter accusation, before Hanlin eventually struggles and discovers the identity of the killer in a twist that no one sees coming.

If Ritual is famous for anything, it is as the novel Anthony Schaffer first considered for adaptation before deciding to do his own thing, which led to The Wicker Man. Ritual is very rich in its language. The problem is that, at times, this richness becomes over opulent in terms of dialogue. Virtually everyone in Thorn appears to be a budding poet or raconteur. The dialogue, at times, is amusing in its perversity ("Bullies always get their comeuppance! St. Valentine's Day is always hanging around some old garage!"), sometimes distracting ("You shouldn't gallop about in Gods house, you know!...God usually has his midday hibernation approximately now. He has to work very hard!"), often unbelievable in its absurdity ( "Who would dare, during my angelical reign, who would dare place a shrunken anthropoid's head on my high altar! This is really removing Lucifer's trousers."). It is difficult to judge whether Pinner simply got carried away or is deliberately having a laugh, given that the writer himself has stated Ritual to be "blackly, ironically humorous".

Pinner's characters are interesting. David Hanlin is a trickster, a man who is not always what he appears to be. He hides his eyes behind sunglasses, though is more for medical reasons than shielding himself from others. Throughout the book, Hanlin tells lies in order to further investigation, yet keeps telling himself he does not like lying; a symptom/prefiguring of his split personality perhaps? The supporting characters resemble a Hammer horror rep of the day, missing only the "arr, ye be stranger around here." Lawrence Cready, the main protagonist, is a wonderfully repulsive old queen of a man and is the containment of the only supernatural element of Ritual. Mrs.Spark, the murdered girl's mother, rebounds between grieving desperation and hysteria. Anna Spark is not unlike Willow in The Wicker Man; a sexual temptress.

Like language, Ritual is enriched in imagery, though not as over opulent. The novel opens with a butterfly - a symbol of metamorphosis - fluttering around the murdered Dian. Pinner plants the suggestion that the insect is Dian transformed, floating around her own dead body like a freed spirit. This is reinforced later when the butterfly lands on Mrs. Spark's breast during the seance, the child returning to the source of maternal comfort. The insect is subsequently killed by Fat Billy. He is later accused of killing Dian, which he denies but admits he wanted to kill her. Maybe he did in killing the butterfly.

Pinner invests the novel with some memorable set pieces, such as the ritual slaughter of the horse or Cready's invasion/manipulation of Hanlin's unconscious mind. While these scenes add colour to the proceedings, they remain incidental rather than integral to the story. Cready's mind contact with Hanlin, being the only supernatural element in Ritual, particularly stands out of step with the remainder of the tale.

I would not be surprised if an enterprising publisher one day reprints it as the book that inspired The Wicker Man (I am only surprised no one already has). Until then, I would beg, borrow, perhaps not steal a copy if you can; Ritual remains a curiously engaging read.
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on 24 October 2012
Have just started to read this and already cant put it down. Brillant. Recently finished the Whicker Man which I thought was A1 but yet again another great book. will really savour reading this.Looking forward to reaching the end, I can only imagine the journey I have to get there. Just buy it and read it. It will become clear then
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on 2 July 2013
I'd been looking for a copy of this for a while but was clearly reluctant to fork out over £100 for the original - hats off to Kindle for reissuing it as an e-book.

The parallels are clear, a remote village with lots of weird pagan customs, the death of a young girl in suspicious circumstances, a policeman called in to solve it.

But there the parallels end, it is clearly a product of its time, the language is excessively flowery and profanities are avoided even when the characters are clearly using them. The copper is not Sgt Howie, and the village lacks the charm of Summerisle. I won't spoil the twist, but it was a bit obvious from around half way through.

Glad I read it though, but if you are not a Wicker Man buff then I wouldn't bother.
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on 18 July 2016
This book was written in the late 60’s, Dennis Wheatley’s popularity was at its satanic peak, Henry Miller’s Tropic of....... books were peaking in popularity following the US obscenity trials in the mid-60s. It helps to enjoy this novel if you can imagine reading it in the late 60s. I read the book a few years ago when it first became readily available, and am reviewing it having just visited it a second time.
I initially read Ritual because I am a fan of The Wicker Man film. And I loved it. Pinner likes to scatter his work with flowery literary flourishes which I quickly got used and enjoyed. The novel clearly is the basis of the Wicker Man despite the protestations of the filmmakers: the plot setup (outsider puritan police officer enters an untrusting insular rural community to investigate the death a little girl and discovers paganism is rife and climaxes with a mid-Summer midnight pagan festival) and there is even the scene with the police officer clawing at the bedroom wall as he resists the temptations of the landlord’s daughter enticing him in the room next door.
If you are fascinated with the Wicker Man franchise then enjoy this archaeological forebear. The similarities with the Wicker Man is limited and the novel follows a different, albeit pagan, path.
I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it without my Wicker Man baggage, but I have subsequently read some of Mr Pinner’s plays and really enjoyed them and was delighted with David Pinner’s recent sequel, the Wicca Woman.
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on 28 September 2015
I enjoyed this book but found it very confusing at times. I would have given four stars but I just felt that the flowery language became too much. There was a plot and an unusual and unexpected ending.
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on 7 September 2014
Brilliant book from which the film The Wicker Man was taken
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on 2 June 2012
This is a great read! I liked the film and at the end it was mentioned that it was based on this book, so I googled it and bought it. You will not regret the purchase of this book if you like the film or reading. Great deliverly and condition of the book is absolutely mint. :)
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on 20 April 2011
I have searched high and low for this book, finally finding an original copy through interlibrary loan. I read it and soon discovered after a year that a new version was due to be released this April. I was thrilled. The story detailed by other reviews is a careful weaving of a mystery surrounding a society of somewhat isolated people who have their own views on the world. David Pinner is an author who crafts the writing so precisely and vividly that the words upon the page are thrilling to read. I teach writing and find his characterization and storytelling refreshing. Kudos for making available this masterpiece!
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on 15 December 2013
Got this to go with the wicker man soundtrack album. It should be a interesting read. Haven't read it yet as its a Christmas gift.
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