Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
File under 'hidden gems'
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.