The Lion King of Belgium
Posted on December 9, 2015
During his lifetime the prolific Belgian writer Jean Ray wrote under several pseudonyms (John Flanders, Alix R, Bantam, Sailor John and King Ray).
Ray (Raymundus Joannes de Kremer) was born in Ghent on the 8th of July 1887. His father was a minor port official and his mother the director of a girls’ school.
After failing to complete his university studies, Ray worked in various clerical jobs between the years 1910 and 1919. By the early 1920s he 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, Ray was charged with embezzlement and sentenced to six years in prison, but served only two years. During his imprisonment he wrote two of his best-known long stories, The Shadowy Street and The Mainz Psalter (both stories were published in English in 1965 as part of a collection: Ghouls in my Grave (translated from French by Lowell Bair).
From the time of his release in 1929 until the outbreak of the Second World War, Ray wrote virtually non-stop. Between 1933 and 1940, he produced over a hundred tales in a series of detective stories: The Adventures of Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes.
Originally he had been asked to translate the stories into French, but the stories were so poorly-written he offered to rewrite them. His offer was accepted on the proviso that any rewrites were compatible with the cover illustrations and the titles that had already been produced.
Jean Ray wrote in French, Dutch and German. In the English-speaking world he is best known for his macabre novel Malpertuis, which was filmed by Harry Kümel in 1971 and starred Orson Welles.
Malpertuis was translated into Dutch by Jean Ray’s friend, the Flemish writer Hubert Lampo, who wrote many essays about his work, devoting an entire chapter to him in his book Dialogen met mijn Olivetti.
La machine à écrire d’ Jean Ray
Over the years, Ray contributed more than 80 short stories – a mixture of detective stories, horror stories, and historical adventures – to “Vlaamse Filmkens”, a popular long-running Flemish magazine targeted at children between the ages of 10 and 13.
His life was as colourful as his fiction. One story goes that he claimed to have been a lion tamer in his youth and was put to the test when a circus arrived in the vicinity of his home town. To everyone’s amazement he entered the lion’s den, alone, hands in pockets. He was 76.
“So I walked up to the lion and I hypnotised him like this…”
Ray survived the lion but died a year later, aged 77, on the 17th September 1964.
(from my collection)