Farris (Son of the Endless Night, 1985, etc.) sets out to upgrade the horror novel by attention to prose style and for a while seems successfully to be changing a sow's ear into a silk purse before sexual vulgarity and the plot clichÃ‰s explode that hope. Farris' subject is a faerielike bestiary featuring an armless girl who is half butterfly, a hawkman, a friendly' centaur, a semihuman black ram and so on, seen within a nearly impenetrable Carolina forest called Wildwood, which has magic pools and holds a five-acre chateau that was built in the first decade of this century, then lost in a time-warp. The chateau is still there, on its perch called Tormentor mountain, but nobody's been able to find it and emerge alive from Wildwood. Stocked with artworks and a bestiary that rivals Charles Foster Kane's at Xanadu, the chateau was built by Edgar Langford, a crippled robber baron turned archaeologist who dabbled in magic and reveals himself as an ancient Assyrian magician. Wildwood is sold to a New York firm that plans to touch it up as a tourist attraction and that sends ex-colonel Whitman Bowers down to investigate the forest's potential. Bowers meets Arn Rutledge, his former first sergeant, who now lives on the edge of Wildwood and is the only guide who knows his way about the forest. When the two men try to fly over Tormentor, wild disturbances deter flight directly over the lost chateau. Arn and Bowers go into the forest, and are soon followed by Arn's clairvoyant Cherokee wife Faren and Bowers' son Terry. All four are quickly ensnared by dangerous coils of magic. Counterpointing the modern story (set in 1958) is that of Mad Edgar Langford, his wife Sibby and her love affair with the chateau's resident architect, who may be Whitman Bowers' father. The story builds to a kind of carnival of the half-beasts extravaganza, but by then the reader has lost identification with the main characters and watches the climaxes as if they were elements locking into place in a kaleidoscope. Even so, this lost cause has some of Farris' best writing.