I’ve been waiting quite a while to read Those Who Went Remain There Still which I ordered for the library earlier in 2008. It was on backorder with B&T for a while and we only received our copy a week or so ago. I’m glad we finally did as the story (novella?) was a brisk entertaining read that cast a straightforward monster story in a fascinating light. In a sparse 175 pages Priest manages to craft not only a cast of believable characters, including the historical Daniel Boone, but a surprisingly detailed setting drenched in a kind of wilderness gothic. Despite the paucity of words Priest manages to tell a tale that few writers could match with twice the word count.
Those Who Went Remain There Still tells a two tiered story. The first part of the story details the trials of Daniel Boone as his band of men constructing a road through the backwoods of Kentucky as they are assaulted nightly by a strange bird-like beast. The second part of the story deals with the later inhabitants of the valley where Boone’s final confrontation with the beast takes place. Both tales reveal a fairly straightforward almost text-book like “monster versus unsuspecting victims in the dark” horror story through the dual timlines lend a certain level of symbolic meaning and weight to the story that other, similar tales, frequently lack.
The inhabitants of the town, more or less descended from one family, are divided into two, frequently feuding clans: the Manders and Coys. Our two present day protaginsts: Meshack Coy and John Coy are two people who managed to break free from the squallor and ignorance of their homes to go on and lead what amounts to very idealized versions of the American life. Meshack, the younger of the two manages to escape, heading west eventually settling on a farm in Iowa with a wife and children. John Coy, Meshack’s uncle, ends up in upstate New York living in a sort-of religious community the that embraces the type of spiritualism (seances, mediums, etc.) that was popular in the 19th century. The right to own land no your background and the right to religious freedom are, to me, to themes are essential to early American, and especially frontier, life.
The story begins when, Heaster Wharton Junior passes away and calls back several of his “relatives” for a quest to track down his will. Six men, three Manders and three Coys, are sent to the “Witches Pit” to find the will and, hopefully overcome their differences. Of course they have a few problems along the way. I won’t lie, the events in the cave and the confrontation of with the monster unfold in fairly predictable ways, though cast in solid prose, but the true import of the story in in the subtext; in the interaction between past and present. This is a monster story, and a fairly entertaining one at that. At the same time it is also a story about dealing with the reprecrusions of past events in our present day lives, about how past experiences in our own lives color our reaction to new things, and when one needs to let the past remain in the past.
I know I’m being a bit vauge here. Sorry (not really). All that subtext is tied to how events in the story unfold both in Boone’s past and in the Coy’s present. Going into details would spoil that and, at least in my view, stip the story of some its value. Priest is a phenomenally talented writer, a gifted storyteller who manages to imbue even the simplest of stories with a depth of character and meaning that is truly impressive. Those That Went Remain There Still is exciting, dark, frightening, occaisonally gory, and deeply thoughtful all at once; an amazing feat for a short novel on 175 pages (plus several illustrations). If you’ve contemplated giving Priest a try this is an excellent place to start; a small dose of solid fiction that manages to espouse all of her talents as a writer in top form.