A friend of mine recently suggested that I read Joe R. Lansdale’s The Nightrunners. I had been planning to read Lansdale’s The Drive-In books for a while, but I have been holding off because there is 3 of them, and that seems like a big commitment. The Nightrunners looked like a short, standalone text, and the name was familiar. I started that evening. I am now a Follower of the Razor.
The Nightrunners – Joe R. Lansdale
Tor – 1989 (First published 1987)
This book is nasty. It’s about a gang of horribly messed up teenagers trying to kill their teacher. They’re spurred on by the God of the Razor, a particularly unpleasant interdimensional entity who likes seeing people bleed.
The only other Lansdale I’d read before this was his story in the first Splatterpunks anthology, and I’m pretty sure that this novel far exceeds that tale in terms of graphic violence. This book contains multiple scenes of sadistic torture and sexual assault. It’s fucking good though. It’s a hard one to put down once you’ve started. Reading the car chase towards the end of the book is just as exciting as watching it on a cinema screen would be.
There’s one bit in here that describes the evil teenagers as “high on fire, blood and hate”. When I came across this phrase, I thought it might have been where that band High on Fire got their name. It’s not though. Apparently the band name comes from some crappy Electric Light Orchestra song. Yuck. If Matt Pike had any decency, he’d go back in time, read this book and then name his band High on Fire for the right reason.
While I was reading The Nightrunners, I started to wonder if there was a film version. It really seems like it should be a movie. This hasn’t happened yet, but Lansdale, along with his friend Neal Barrett, Jr., have written the screenplay. I read this too. It’s pretty much the same as the novel, but here the God of the Razor seems far less likely to be a hallucination.
In 2007, Subterranean Press put out The God of the Razor, an anthology of Lansdale’s Nightrunners/God of the Razor stories. It includes:
God of the Razor
Not from Detroit
King of Shadows
The Shaggy House
Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Janet Finds the Razor
This book is long sold out and hard to find, but I was able to track down its contents in other sources. The most comprehensive of these was Crossroad Press’s 2012 release, Written with a Razor. This book includes the screenplay version of The Nightrunners, God of the Razor, King of Shadows and Janet Finds the Razor. I found the remaining tales online and in different anthologies.
The Lord of the Razor, The Shaggy House and Not from Detroit are short stories that are basically rewritten and extended scenes from The Nightrunners. Neither The Shaggy House nor Not from Detroit actually feature the God of the Razor in any form. (It is for this reason that I didn’t bother reading Lansdale’s Something Lumber This Way Comes, a rewriting of The Shaggy House for children. I’ll do so with my kids when they’re a little older.) These stories were fine. You’ll have to forgive me for not being super excited. I read these tales, the novel they were taken from and its screenplay in the course of a week. Maybe space them out if you’re going to do the same.
King of Shadows is the highlight of both collections. It’s an original story (original here meaning “not based on a scene from The Nightrunners“), and very nasty. A family adopts a kid whose da murdered his ma and then killed himself. Guess what happens next.
Janet Finds the Razor is short. It was written specifically for The God of the Razor collection. I have no complaints about it.
Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is an excellent story, but apart from being super gory, I don’t know what it has to do with the God of the Razor. Maybe it was included because it’s one of Lansdale’s better known tales. It’s not included in Written with a Razor.
In 1996 Lansdale wrote a story called ‘Subway Jack’ for a Batman Anthology. This story is not included in either of the above collections, but in the introduction to King of Shadows in Written with a Razor, Lansdale notes that his other favourite God of the Razor story couldn’t be published there. I assume Subway Jack has to be the one he’s talking about. There was probably some licensing issue because of the Batman characters. I really liked this story. It quotes background sources on the God that aren’t available elsewhere. Also, this story is a crossover between ultra violent horror fiction and Batman. Hell yeah.
While the Batman/Lord of the Razor crossover takes the form of a short story, Lansdale actually wrote a 4 four part comic series about the Lord of the Razor called Blood and Shadows. I don’t read many comics, and I was delighted to give these a go. This is a weird series that starts off Detective Noir, turns into a Western and ends as hellish post-apocalyptic fantasy. It gives a bit of background about where the God of the Razor comes from. It seems as though the metal in his razor originally came to Earth on a meteor and was forged into a blade by an Apache Tribe. This seems to contradict the information in Followers of the Razor (a fictional book mentioned in Subway Jack and Blood and Shadows) in which author David Webb claims, “Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, was originally from the same dimension as the God of the Razor, and that it belonged to him. He [Webb] claims that this is the sword that got broken and made into a razor.” How could the razor come from the Apache and the Britons? The first known mention of King Arthur is from 829, a good while before there was any trade between America and Europe. Is there more than one magical blade that can call up the God of the Razor? But look at his name! He’s not Razor God or God of Razors; he’s God of THE Razor. What the Hell is going on? Probably something to do with his interdimensionality.
The only God of the Razor stuff that I didn’t read was Joe R. Lansdale’s Lords of the Razor. This is an anthology of God of the Razor stories by other authors. I’d like to read it, but it’s out of print and super expensive. It doesn’t contain any Lansdale stuff that isn’t available elsewhere though, so I’m not too upset that I couldn’t get my hands on it. Still though, if anyone has a copy that they want me to have, I’ll gladly review it here.
The Nightrunners turned into more of a commitment than I was expecting, but the novel, the screenplay, the stories and the comic series were all highly enjoyable. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lansdale’s books in the future.
6 thoughts on “Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor (The Nightrunners, Blood and Shadows…)”
Damn, I really want to read “nightrunners” but I can’t find an affordable copy anywhere.
I’m often willing to pay more for a nice signed hardcover or 1st edition if need be but never willing to pay 30 bucks for a beat up paperback.
I’ve read some of Lansdale’s short fiction and crime fiction (including his newest novel, More Better Deals, but not much of his horror. The Drive In is on my to read pile, probably start there.
You have a kindle?
I don’t. Actually never made the digital book jump. I read plenty of articles and news online but prefer to be off screen for reading books.
At this stage I’ll only buy a physical book if I can’t find an ebook version. Cheaper and takes up less space. It’s not like reading off a screen either, at least not with the model I have.
Coincidentally, just yesterday I was reading Lansdale’s 2008 comic book adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Pigeons From Hell,” a sufficiently gory tale.
In adapting the story, Lansdale had to get around some dated conventions in the Howard original, like the racism, although when you’re telling a story about a slave plantation, race is going to figure no matter what. And it was desirable for Lansdale to put in a twist, so readers of the original story wouldn’t find it all smooth sailing, which he did, a reasonable pair of them, in fact. The result is not great, but in my opinion the underlying Howard story isn’t that great. Lansdale strengthened the middle segment, when our protagonists converse with a voodoo practitioner, so he certainly deserves credit for that.
And more coincidentally I spent hours yesterday researching Howard for a future post. (Trying to figure out how much of his stuff I really need to read.) Will try to remember the Lansdale comic when I get around to the pigeon story!
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