Reading rare and obscure books has become my obsession, and this is the rarest one yet. Considered the first gay werewolf novel, it has significance to queer horror fans, but its appearance in 1971, amid a swirl of gay socio-political turmoil, interests me even more. I can’t read it and not imagine myself as a groovy gay man, the possibility of equal rights newly in my head after the Stonewall Riots, but knowing actual equality is so far off as to be unimaginable. My existence is considered monstrous to almost everyone. I know because they told me. Maybe not me specifically, because of course I’m in the closet, but they’ve said it out loud. Many times.
In 1971 you could be jailed for writing books like this, and reading them wasn’t always safer. Obscenity laws still percolated in the Supreme Court and Greenleaf Classics, Lambert’s publisher, faced endless legal battles.
This is all merely context, of course. Some might say that’s irrelevant when considering a book’s enjoyability, but I would disagree. On the surface this is seemingly just another “dirty book,” one of many which remain popular for one-handed reading. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the book succeeds on those standards alone, but for me at least—and I freely admit to being somewhat nerdy—the pleasure derives from enjoying it as a historical document. Who knew archival “research” could be this fun?
The novel’s set-up is as such: in a remote English village, rumors of supernatural lore abound. There’s a society of servants and masters, druidic rituals and a deadly curse. Beware the full moon, don’t go out after dark!
The village seems to be populated exclusively by gay men. As we follow various couplings, clues are interspersed about what’s really going on in this wooded village, and the mystery behind those insatiable howls in the night.
The novel’s theme is best summed up by the line “lust could be spawned by many things: by fear, by beauty, by a need for love and companionship” (p79). And indeed the indulgent men are frequently in situations featuring all the above.
The most dramatic moment occurs when a shackled man begs for intercourse and soon regrets the wish when his attractive suitor transforms into a werewolf. Though the man realizes what’s happening to him is horrible, he eventually becomes “soared with his passions” and completely unaware he’s dying “until that brief instant when his throat and mouth flooded with blood and the ultimate darkness came” (p123).
It’s an eerily profound sequence that’s unexpected from this type of publication, which does not traditionally print bedroom scenes which make you squirm with unease. It’s fitting, however, for a sex novel to deliver such impressive commentary on lust. Desire is a controlling force that can leave a person totally helpless, totally incapable of rational thought. When glamorized this doesn’t seem problematic, but in the macabre Valley of the Damned, sex is such an all-consuming force that it’s often fatal. Like the moth drawn to flame, the black widow to his mate, or the wolf to the moon.
Another example of this literary thread occurs after a young man’s companion is slaughtered by a werewolf and his corpse is left bleeding in a swimming basin. A day later, the young man finds himself seduced by someone new (the werewolf, as it turns out). Though he’s disgusted by the idea of another tryst in the cool water where his previous lover died, he reconsiders after discovering “a light rain” had “washed away all signs of blood within the pool…If he hadn’t seen the body, he would have never guessed it had once been there” (p128).
This scene feels like stark commentary on how the relentless allure of sex can lead to repeated mistakes or, again, death. Having had the opportunity to interview William J. Lambert (aka William Maltese) I know sex and terror are among his favorite combinations. He has noted that both sensations cause a “boner-producing” adrenaline rush. When together like this, they reveal a darkness about human biology that’s beastly and unnervingly pleasant. The novel seems to ask: under a full moon, could any man become a werewolf?
Despite the dark imagery, it should be noted that the vast majority of the novel consists of happy couples enjoying the music of classical instruments playing upon classical orifices. There’s no homophobia in the world whatsoever, and even the grim moments (death and such) come from a place of erotic legitimacy. The characters’ death are not a result of giving into gayness, or even giving into pleasure exactly, but rather the bizarre fate of humans unfortunate enough to be cast in a horror story.
Other accomplishments of the novel include delightfully flirty dialogue which moves the plot forward with succinct proficiency. Lambert’s effortless world-building surpasses many fantasy novels. Miraculously he does it all within the confines of a mere 150 pages and limited variety of content. The characters, though numerous and entirely male, are surprisingly easy to keep track of. Each man represents a unique type of fantasy, which I suspect is the secret. My favorite thing, however, might be the fabulous ’70s word choices—such as “dork” in reference to the male member.
If you’ve read this far and are thinking this novel sounds great, I would highly encourage you to pick up a copy. Unfortunately that’s all but impossible. After a year of searching every used book site in existence, not a single listing appeared. Nothing. Not even a $500 copy. I had almost given up hope when a library responded to my desperate plea for temporary access to their archive copy. THANK YOU to all libraries who diligently archive forgotten books such as this. All other copies, I suspect, are collecting dust on the shelves of wealthy book collectors, have been ground to pulp by decades of eager readers, or have simply been thrown away.
If there’s publishers out there reading this, please consider reprinting Valley of the Damned and other golden age queer novels from the ’60s and ’70s! With eBooks, there’s really no excuse not to.
As if reading Valley of the Damned wasn’t exciting enough, the author agreed to answer a few of my questions about it! William J. Lambert, aka William Maltese, is still writing and has now surpassed 200 books published under dozens of pseudonyms.
JUSTIN: William, it’s truly an honor. Thank you for taking time to talk with me. In my review I imagine all sorts of thematic intent conveyed through Valley of the Damned. Do any of these ring true to your intentions back in ’71?
WILLIAM: Most of your contemplated thematic intent, as conveyed through Valley of the Damned and via other pulp books of that era, did, indeed, I suspect, exist at the times of writing. Then, again, a lot of those higher-minded intents were usually, at least in my case, purely subconscious. Consciously, my intent was merely to entertain and explore types of sexuality which hadn’t been expressed, quite so explicitly, in books gone before. Gay sex, especially, finally, was allowed for gay protagonists not only to enjoy gay sex but to end up at the end of the book alive, well, and still enjoying and embracing their homosexuality. The deaths in Valley of the Damned weren’t because of a character’s gay sexuality but the result of the genre – in this case, horror. Characters in Valley died because sex with werewolves, whether you’re gay or not, can be dangerous and can lead to dire consequences.
JUSTIN: What, if anything, scares you about sex?
WILLIAM: What scares me, today, of course, is HIV. What scared me in the golden years of pulp fiction was hardly anything. I might have said police raids on gay establishments, but I was never involved in one. I could have said roaming bands of homophobes, but, while many of my friends were beaten up outside gay establishments, or in parks used for nocturnal cruising, it never happened to me. I might have said getting a needle rammed through my cockshaft while I had my dick stuck through a bathroom glory hole, which was a rumored danger of the times, but I never experienced such a horror. And as far as gay sex being against the law, I was never put in jail for any of my sexual activities. So, while others obviously had a lot about sex that could have (and should have) scared them, I was blessedly spared.
JUSTIN: After such a long and successful publishing career, I’m curious about your craft. Do you outline, consider themes, plan every sequence, or just go with the flow?
WILLIAM: I’ve been told it’s because I’m a Gemini that I can get so bored so damned easily, and boredom can hit me while I’m writing a book, too. I want to be surprised as well as my readers; therefore, I’ve always considered all of the anal-retentive necessities of knowing the beginning, middle and ending, before the book is written, and to have a total outline available at the out-start, as leaving me, the few times I’ve tried, bored out of my gourd. Usually, I just pick a genre, and then work from a title. In fact, as long as I have a working title, I can pretty much, and usually do, just go with the flow.
JUSTIN: The cover art for Valley of the Damned is particularly striking. How do you feel about the art that has been selected for your novels?
WILLIAM: For the most part, I’ve never really been disappointed by the covers I’ve been assigned by publishers. While my favorite from the “Pleasure Reader” series of books was and is the cover on my very first gay detective title published for them, Adonis, I definitely like the cover provided by artist Darrell Millsap for Valley of the Damned. They had equally good artists for their hetero series. The cover graphic for my very hard-to-find Starship Intercourse was done by Robert Bonfils, quite well known at the time, and since, for his excellent work.
JUSTIN: Any memorable reader reactions to Valley of the Damned?
WILLIAM: I don’t recall negative reaction to any of my books at the time, but, then, I was doing a lot of my writing in Europe, while all the arrests and crack-downs, jailings, and political machinations as regards obscenity laws, were taking place, here, in the States. I suspect that none of the publishers at the time would have bothered sending along mail, addressed to me, whether positive or negative, while I remained abroad. That the publishers kept asking me for more books led me to believe that whatever I was writing was providing enough interest to readers as to have them desiring more of the same.
JUSTIN: Other thoughts or historical context we should know about this novel?
WILLIAM: Valley of the Damned was primarily written by me because I looked around one day and thought, “Hey, I don’t believe that there’s actually a gay werewolf novel yet on the market, and I think I’d have a jolly good time writing one to fill the gap.” Its plot-line was merely to designate it as “literature” as opposed to pure porn. Plot was always a redeeming quality an author of pulp fiction and/or his/her publisher could point to as providing the dividing line between prurient and writing socially redeemable content. As for the horror genre, now as then, it continues in popularity. I’ve just wrapped up the second mainstream allegorical novel, Book of Ascendancy, in my Flicker series which is available on Amazon and elsewhere. This series is a continuation of providing readers with yet another universal tale of demons, dragons, witches, warlocks, shape-shifters, werewolves and vampires. Two gay young men to be found within that series’ ensemble of characters.
JUSTIN: William, thank you again for your time!
WILLIAM: My pleasure. Happy reading!
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