Araminta Palomer is the daughter of an elderly wealthy businessman and his second wife. Minta has been sheltered for all her life, living in the family mansion which is surrounded by high walls and patrolling Doberman Pinschers. She has a governess and is driven to town only rarely for shopping. Because she’s lonely, Minta creates an imaginary friend — an egg-shaped furry creature who loves her. Prophetically, she names him Willbe and she imagines him with sharp needle-like teeth because she’s got a really nasty older stepbrother.
At first, Willbe is the perfect companion; he’s warm and furry and sleeps next to Minta at night. The problems start when Willbe begins to manifest as a real creature whenever Minta feels threatened — and he’s not afraid to use those teeth. When Minta is kidnapped and Willbe steps in to protect her, the police start asking questions. Most people can’t see Willbe, but the governess, who has spent some time in Tibet, recognizes the creature as a Tulpa. She understands that Minta has summoned the tulpa, but she doesn’t know how to get rid of him, and he’s gradually getting more dangerous as he resists Minta’s control. He racks up several murders by the end of the story.
The Tulpa by Ardath Mayhar, who died this year, is a relatively short novel (168 pages in paperback, 5 hours in audio) that was originally published as The Tulpa: A Novel of Supernatural Horror in 2005 in ebook format. The plot is straightforward and linear — there is no divergence from the chronological storyline about Willbe. Since it’s a horror story, some departure or tension relief would have been welcome. The story isn’t particularly scary or gory, it’s just single-minded to a fault.
At first I was confused about Ardath Mayhar’s setting because Araminta’s family is so worried about her being kidnapped, she lives behind high walls, she has a governess instead of going to school, and her mother has been told that reading fiction causes children to become unhealthily fanciful. Then the governess mentions surfing the Internet and it’s clear that the setting is modern U.S.A. This all seemed incongruent to me.
Probably what saved The Tulpa for me was Kate Rudd’s narration of the audiobook version (published by Wildside Press). I have always enjoyed her performances and, though I accused her of being too angsty in the last audiobook I listened to her narrate, I didn’t find that to be a problem here (when she had even more cause to be angsty). She made Minta feel more real than Ardath Mayhar did.
If you’re looking for a short fast-paced supernatural horror story that’s not too gross or scary, The Tulpa will fit the bill. Don’t expect more than an uncomplicated unswerving monster story, though.
Ardath Mayhar’s writing style is pleasant, and I look forward to reading more of her work. I have one of her novels on my shelf and I fully intend to crack it open sometime soon.