Jean Ray (author)  

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Jean Ray (real name Raymundus Joannes de Kremer, 8 July 1887 – 17 September 1964) was a prolific Belgian author.

In the English-speaking world, he is known for his macabre novel Malpertuis (1943), which was adapted for film by Harry Kümel in 1971 (starring Orson Welles).

Malpertuis was published in France on the Présence du futur imprint, next to work by Ray Bradbury en H.P. Lovecraft.



In the mid 20th century, Jean Ray was, whithout a doubt, the most famous and influential author of fantastique and he is generally regarded by genre scholars as the French-language equivalent of Poe and Lovecraft. Ray began his career as a pulp writer, using a variety of aliases, and had several stories published in Weird Tales. His gigantic output can be divided into three parts. Short stories steeped in the rich, mist-shrouded atmosphere of his native Flanders; a few novels, including the classic Malpertuis (1943) and rewritten translations of an unauthorized Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Harry Dickson.


Ray was born in Ghent, his father a minor port official, his mother the head of a girls' school. Ray was a fairly successful student at school but failed to complete his university studies, and from 1910 to 1919 he worked in clerical posts in the city administration.

By the early 1920s he had joined the editorial team of the Journal de Gand. Later he also joined the monthly L'Ami du Livre. His first book, Les Contes du Whisky, a collection of fantastic and uncanny stories, was published in 1925.

In 1926 he was charged with embezzlement and sentenced to six years in prison, but served only two. During his imprisonment he wrote two of his best-known long stories, The Shadowy Street and The Mainz Psalter. From the time of his release in 1929 until the outbreak of the Second World War, he wrote virtually non-stop.

Between 1933 and 1940, Ray produced over a hundred tales in a series of detective stories, The Adventures of Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes. He had been hired to translate a series from the German, but Ray found the stories so bad that he suggested to his Amsterdam publisher that he should re-write them instead. The publisher agreed, provided only that each story be about the same length as the original, and match the book's cover illustration. The Harry Dickson stories are admired by the film director Alain Resnais among others. In the winter of 1959-1960 Resnais met with Ray in the hope of making a film based on the Harry Dickson character, but nothing came of the project.

During the Second World War Ray's prodigious output slowed, but he was able to publish his best works in French, under the name Jean Ray: Le Grand Nocturne (1942), La Cité de l'Indicible Peur, also adapted into a film starring Bourvil, Malpertuis, Les Cercles de L'Epouvante (all 1943), Les Derniers Contes de Canterbury (1944) and Le Livre des Fantômes (1947).

After the war he was again reduced to hackwork, writing comic-strip scenarios under the name of John Flanders. He was rescued from obscurity by Raymond Queneau and Roland Stragliati, whose influence got Malpertuis reprinted in French in 1956.

A few weeks before his death, he wrote his own mock epitaph in a letter to his friend Albert van Hageland: Ci gît Jean Ray/homme sinistre/qui ne fut rien/pas même ministre ("Here lies Jean Ray/A gent sinister/who was nothing/not even a minister").

Selected bibliography Jean Ray

  • Les Contes du Whisky [The Tales Of Whiskey] (1925, rev. 1946)
  • La Croisière des Ombres [The Cruise Of Shadows] (1932)
  • Le Grand Nocturne [The Great Darkness] (1942)
  • Les Cercles de l'Epouvante [The Circles Of Terror] (1943)
  • Malpertuis (1943; transl. Atlas Press, 1998)
  • La Cité de l'Indicible Peur [The City Of The Unspeakable Fear] (1943)
  • Les Derniers Contes de Canterbury [The Last Tales Of Canterbury] (1944)
  • La Gerbe Noire (editor) (1947)
  • Le Livre des Fantômes [The Book Of Ghosts] (1947; rev. 1966)
  • 25 Histoires Noires et Fantastiques [25 Dark And Fantastic Tales] (1961)
  • Le Carrousel des Malefices [The Spellbound Merry-Go-Round] (1964)
  • Les Contes Noirs du Golf [Dark Tales Of Golf] (1964)
  • Saint Judas-de-la-Nuit [St. Judas-Of-The-Night] (1964)

Selected bibliography John Flanders

See also

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