The Egyptian goddess Isis was known as the goddess of simplicity, protector of the dead, and goddess of children from whom all beginnings arose. Later Egyptian myths told of the Nile River flooding annually as a result of the tears shed by Isis over the death of her husband, Osiris. The occurrence of Osiris’s death and rebirth was relived by the Egyptians each year through rituals.
Douglas Clegg’s Isis is a classic supernatural tale that follows the Egyptian Isis legend while also involving a story of family, beauty, youth, love, death and resurrection. Young Iris Villiers is uprooted with her family - parents and three older brothers, two of whom are identical twins - from their home on the Long Island Sound to Belerion Hall, the home of Iris’ grandfather along the rocky cliffs of Cornwall, England.
With Mr. Villiers being called away to service in Burma for the British government, Mrs. Villiers is left to raise her children alone. The oldest son, Lewis, is rarely home as he has left to begin college. The twins, Harvey and Spencer, remain at Belerion Hall with young Iris, a highly imaginative and intelligent young girl whose deepest relationship is with brother Harvey. They make the most of life in Cornwall, engaging themselves in imaginary games, including those where they pretend to be famous trapeze artists on their backyard swing. Of particular curiosity to them is Old Marsh, the gardener at Belerion Hall who warns them of the old ruins found along the sea cliffs called the Tombs - actually old burial grounds in the form of a mausoleum consisting of underground burial chambers.
Old Marsh recounts age-old tales of those who sought to make pacts at this site whereby the dead could be returned to them. However, he sternly warns that this does not come without a price. The Villiers family, in an effort to keep themselves active and amused, participates in local charity theatrical performances for the Ladies’ Club. This particular summertime performance finds Iris playing the role of the Goddess Isis and her brother Harvey cast as the legendary Osiris. Harvey finds it difficult to overcome his fear of being entombed in a casket during the performance, but Iris and his mother get him through it.
Iris’ mostly carefree existence takes a turn for the worse when she loses her governess and tutor to marriage and gains a replacement in the form of Edyth Bright (or Edyth Blight, as Harvey refers to her). Edyth’s tactics with Iris are often cruel, and she resents her for this. To make matters worse, Iris discovers that Edyth has begun a secret love affair with her brother Spencer. The most crucial moment of this story finds Iris walking in on the young lovers and eventually getting into a confrontation with Edyth in an upper hallway of Belerion Hall. During the altercation, Iris falls backwards through an open window and is saved only when Edyth grabs hold of her leg. Quickly losing her grip and screaming for help, Harvey and Spencer come to Iris’ rescue. Harvey gets a firm grip on Iris and tells her to close her eyes and re-enact their imaginary trapeze act. Unfortunately, Harvey loses his balance, and he and Iris plummet to the hard courtyard below. Since Harvey has wrapped himself around his young sister, he takes the brunt of the impact.
This tragic accident causes Iris to walk with a permanent limp. More importantly, she must live with the fact that her brother and rescuer, Harvey, perished in the fall. Iris tries to move on with her life but cannot find any joy without Harvey. She finds herself returning to the Tombs along the cliff-side and recalling the legends Old Marsh shared. Like many other characters from classic horror fiction who are dealing with death and loss (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, to name a few), Iris’s grief makes the possibility of defying nature and resurrecting her lost brother seem to be the only thing she can do to find happiness again. Alas, as Old Marsh has warned her, this act does not come without a price.
What Douglas Clegg has accomplished with Isis is the creation of a supernatural tale that is emotionally involving while at the same time paying great homage to the most classic horror stories ever created. Accompanied by terrific and haunting illustrations by artist Glenn Chadbourne, Isis will resonate for readers of Gothic romance tales as well as sating the appetite of fans of horror and supernatural literature right in time for the Halloween season.