Mills’ collection begins with a tree, spoiled by M. Wayne Miller’s illustration (it gives away the turn in the tale), and Mills’ collection ends with a tree, the Saint Martin’s Oak, “burned to a standing cinder.”
Tree destroyed, Muelenberg loses faith and turns to debasement; out of the bacchanal, a theater is built, where sins are performed as mystery plays (the history of theater, at least from Roman times to the early Renaissance, is here). For a time, a halt is put on the performances in preparation for a great performance, scheduled for Midsummer. Who will be the mason and who the ass?
Friedrich, a monk in the monastery where the narrator lives, understands the tree to be “the embodiment of all that we could never know.” While the story “The Lord Comes at Twilight” is “after Thomas Ligotti,” it’s informed by Catholicism, not atheism, and maybe a little evangelical Christianity—the Lord was in Muelenberg, but corruption, embodied by the leprous, masked Count, holds Muelenberg’s people in its thrall. They are, so-to-speak, “left behind.”
A little ahead of the collection’s midpoint, Mills experiments; “Whistler’s Gore” is told via grave markers and a sermon. That formal break marks a point in the collection where the stories become more complex—when they get weird. All the stories in The Lord Came at Twilight are, in terms of genre, weird—by weird, I mean, unpredictable. When Mills gets weird his stories become interesting, buttressed by his solid prose. When Mills gets weird his stories are very good.
Perhaps the best way to get weird is to break from the communities from which you seek admiration.
[Daniel Mills’ collection, The Lord Came at Twilight, is available from Dark Renaissance Books.]