FFB: Ritual by David Pinner

The library's only copy: large print edition!
The library’s only copy: large print edition!

David Pinner’s novel Ritual is probably best known for inspiring the classic film The Wicker Man, which counts as horror or comedy depending on your religious alliances (or maybe a little of both — those poor animals!). Having come up in conversation on Twitter (I think? Rod McKie I believe can refresh my memory), I figured I should finally check it out (despite having several other books on the go, as usual — I am given to whims).

Pinner wrote this initially as a treatment for an occult film in the same vein as his recent play, the vampire comedy Fanghorn. He was also starring in Christie’s The Mousetrap (“Keeping New Plays out of the West End for decades!”), so combining the procedural with occult seemed cool. Director Michael Winner (according to Wikipedia, take that as you will) liked it and thought to make it with John Hurt but dithered too long about it. So Pinner turned it into a novel and then Robin Hardy read it and the rest is history — insofar as the film was made but it was scripted by Anthony Shaffer. Good choice.

I won’t say Pinner’s novel is bad, but it was a slog. Major problems are headhopping and purple prose. The dialogue would work to better effect on stage in the right hands to give it readings that might tread the line between parody and satire. There are moments that work beautifully — the death of the girl at the start has a dreamy quality. I like that the detective names his inner Puritan as Oliver Cromwell. Anna’s understanding of her own sacred sexuality fits the fevered verbiage well.

David Hanlin comes to a remote Cornwall village to investigate what he thinks is a ritual murder; he has a bit of a Satanic Panic going on, but as in The Wicker Man the villagers (or islanders) seem to be up to something dodgy as well. There’s a down-at-the-heels peer in the novel who’s rather less dramatic than Christopher Lee’s legendary turn as Lord Summerisle. There’s even the seduction through the wall scene, though without Britt Eklund’s body double (I think). But it doesn’t at all add up to the same thing.

Hanlin is bonkers and gets more so as he goes along. Though you jump unexpectedly at times into other people, there’s no real sense of the other characters. His would-be seducer Anna is just your patented woman-as-sexual-temptation, she’s not a person. The Reverend is just the impotent hypocrisy of the church, etc. Like a script the focus is on the diaolgue (inner and outer) and not so much on the character development. He does make nature seem evil and cruel, but it’s mostly a reflection of Hanlin.

Can’t say I’d recommend it. I far more enjoyed Hardy’s novelisation of Shaffer’s script, which made an effort to add a little background and context to the story as scripted. This was a curiosity and I skimmed as much as I could after getting frustrated with it. Time is my most precious commodity. If I’ve saved you some, all the better.

See the round up of Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s site.

Update: some cool pagan news from Finland – official recognition for the Karhun kansa (Bear People). Thanks, Byron!

NB: I have put up my first story at Medium, the new blogging site set up by one of the founders of Twitter: Getting Medieval on Love, a little bit about the medieval creation of Valentine’s Day celebrations. Take a poke around the site to see what it’s all about.


  1. Todd Mason says:

    There are dangers that dramatists face, particularly when they aren’t too far along as playwrights, when tackling prose fiction. Sounds like this guy was defeated by several. But as an experience, how does it compare with the WICKER remake?

    1. katelaity says:

      No idea. I have no interest in LaBute’s misogyny.

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