Horror fiction

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An Illustration of Poe's "The Raven" by Gustave Dore Paul Gustave Dore Raven1.jpg
An Illustration of Poe's "The Raven" by Gustave Doré

Horror is a genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon defined the horror story as "a piece of fiction in prose of variable length... which shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing". [1] It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror is frequently supernatural, though it might also be non-supernatural. Often the central menace of a work of horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for the larger fears of a society.

Contents

History

Horror in ancient Greece and Rome

Athenodorus Athenodorus - The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House.jpg
Athenodorus

The horror genre has ancient origins with roots in folklore and religious traditions, focusing on death, the afterlife, evil, the demonic and the principle of the thing embodied in the person. [2] These were manifested in stories of beings such as demons, witches, vampires, werewolves and ghosts. European horror fiction became established through works of the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans. [3] The well-known 19th-century novel about Frankenstein was greatly influenced by the story of Hippolytus, where Asclepius revives him from death. [4] Euripides wrote plays based on the story, Hippolytos Kalyptomenos and Hippolytus . [5] In Plutarch's The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans focused on Cimon, the author describes the spirit of a murderer, Damon, who himself was murdered in a bathhouse in Chaeronea. [6]

Pliny the Younger tells the tale of Athenodorus Cananites who bought a haunted house in Athens. Athenodorus was cautious since the house was inexpensive. While writing a book on philosophy, he was visited by a ghostly appearing figure bound in chains. The figure disappeared in the courtyard; the following day, the magistrates dug it up to find an unmarked grave. [7]

Horror after AD 1000

Werewolf stories were popular in medieval French literature. One of Marie de France's twelve lais is a werewolf story titled "Bisclavret".

Vlad III Vlad Tepes coloured drawing.png
Vlad III

The Countess Yolande commissioned a werewolf story titled "Guillaume de Palerme". Anonymous writers penned two werewolf stories, "Biclarel" and "Melion".

Much horror fiction derives from the cruellest personages of the 15th century. Dracula can be traced to the Prince of Wallachia Vlad III, whose alleged war crimes were published in German pamphlets. A 1499 pamphlet was published by Markus Ayrer, which is most notable for its woodcut imagery. [8] The alleged serial-killer sprees of Gilles de Rais have been seen as the inspiration for "Bluebeard". [9] The motif of the vampiress is most notably derived from the real-life noblewoman and murderess, Elizabeth Bathory, and helped usher in the emergence of horror fiction in the 18th century, such as through László Turóczi's 1729 book Tragica Historia. [10]

Gothic horror in the 18th century

Horace Walpole wrote the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), initiating a new literary genre. Horace Walpole.jpg
Horace Walpole wrote the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), initiating a new literary genre.

The 18th century saw the gradual development of Romanticism and the Gothic horror genre. It drew on the written and material heritage of the Late Middle Ages, finding its form with Horace Walpole's seminal and controversial 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto . In fact, the first edition was published disguised as an actual medieval romance from Italy, discovered and republished by a fictitious translator. [11] Once revealed as modern, many found it anachronistic, reactionary, or simply in poor taste but it proved immediately popular. [11] Otranto inspired Vathek (1786) by William Beckford, A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1796) by Ann Radcliffe and The Monk (1797) by Matthew Lewis. [11] A significant amount of horror fiction of this era was written by women and marketed towards a female audience, a typical scenario of the novels being a resourceful female menaced in a gloomy castle. [12]

Horror in the 19th century

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840-41) Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Rothwell.tif
Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840–41)
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe 2.jpg
Edgar Allan Poe

The Gothic tradition blossomed into the genre that modern readers today call horror literature in the 19th century. Influential works and characters that continue resonating in fiction and film today saw their genesis in the Brothers Grimm's "Hänsel und Gretel" (1812), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), John Polodori's "The Vampyre" (1819), Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), Jane C. Loudon's The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827), Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Thomas Peckett Prest's Varney the Vampire (1847), the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the works of Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1897), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Each of these works created an enduring icon of horror seen in later re-imaginings on the page, stage and screen. [13]

Horror in the 20th century

A proliferation of cheap periodicals around turn of the century led to a boom in horror writing. For example, Gaston Leroux serialized his Le Fantôme de l'Opéra before it became a novel in 1910. One writer who specialized in horror fiction for mainstream pulps, such as All-Story Magazine, was Tod Robbins, whose fiction deals with themes of madness and cruelty. [14] [15] Later, specialist publications emerged to give horror writers an outlet, prominent among them was Weird Tales [16] and Unknown Worlds . [17]

Influential horror writers of the early 20th century made inroads in these mediums. Particularly, the venerated horror author H. P. Lovecraft, and his enduring Cthulhu Mythos transformed and popularized the genre of cosmic horror, and M.R. James is credited with redefining the ghost story in that era. [18]

The serial murderer became a recurring theme. Yellow journalism and sensationalism of various murderers, such as Jack the Ripper, and lesser so, Carl Panzram, Fritz Haarman, and Albert Fish, all perpetuated this phenomenon. The trend continued in the postwar era, partly renewed after the murders committed by Ed Gein. In 1959, Robert Bloch, inspired by the murders, wrote Psycho . The crimes committed in 1969 by the Manson Family influenced the slasher theme in horror fiction of the 1970s. In 1981, Thomas Harris wrote Red Dragon , introducing Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In 1988, the sequel to that novel, The Silence of the Lambs , was published.

Early cinema was inspired by many aspects of horror literature, and started a strong tradition of horror films and subgenres that continues to this day. Up until the graphic depictions of violence and gore on the screen commonly associated with 1960s and 1970s slasher films and splatter films, comic books such as those published by EC Comics (most notably Tales From The Crypt ) in the 1950s satisfied readers' quests for horror imagery that the silver screen could not provide. [19] This imagery made these comics controversial, and as a consequence, they were frequently censored. [20] [21]

The modern zombie tale dealing with the motif of the living dead harks back to works including H. P. Lovecraft's stories "Cool Air" (1925), "In The Vault" (1926), and "The Outsider" (1926), and Dennis Wheatley's "Strange Conflict" (1941). Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954) influenced an entire genre of apocalyptic zombie fiction emblematized by the films of George A. Romero.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the enormous commercial success of three books - Rosemary's Baby (1967) by Ira Levin, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, and The Other by Thomas Tryon - encouraged publishers to begin releasing numerous other horror novels, thus creating a "horror boom". [22] [23]

Stephen King Stephen King, Comicon.jpg
Stephen King

One of the best-known late-20th century horror writers is Stephen King, known for Carrie , The Shining , It , Misery and several dozen other novels and about 200 short stories. [24] [25] [26] Beginning in the 1970s, King's stories have attracted a large audience, for which he was awarded by the U.S. National Book Foundation in 2003. [27] Other popular horror authors of the period included Anne Rice, Brian Lumley, Graham Masterton, James Herbert, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, [28] Ramsey Campbell, [29] and Peter Straub.

Post-millennial horror fiction

Best-selling book series of contemporary times exist in genres related to horror fiction, such as the werewolf fiction urban fantasy Kitty Norville books by Carrie Vaughn (2005 onward). Horror elements continue to expand outside the genre. The alternate history of more traditional historical horror in Dan Simmons's 2007 novel The Terror sits on bookstore shelves next to genre mash ups such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), and historical fantasy and horror comics such as Hellblazer (1993 onward) and Mike Mignola's Hellboy (1993 onward). Horror also serves as one of the central genres in more complex modern works such as Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (2000), a finalist for the National Book Award. There are many horror novels for teens, such as The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (2009). Additionally, many movies, particularly animated ones, use a horror aesthetic. These are what can be collectively referred to as "children's horror". [30] Although it's unknown for sure why children enjoy these movies (as it seems counter-intuitive), it is theorized that it is the grotesque monsters that fascinate kids. [30] Tangential to this, the internalized impact of horror television programs and films on children is rather under-researched, especially when compared to the research done on the similar subject of violence in TV and film's impact on the young mind. What little research there is tends to be inconclusive on the impact that viewing such media has. [31]

Characteristics

One defining trait of the horror genre is that it provokes an emotional, psychological, or physical response within readers that causes them to react with fear. One of H. P. Lovecraft's most famous quotes about the genre is that: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." [32] the first sentence from his seminal essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature". Science fiction historian Darrell Schweitzer has stated, "In the simplest sense, a horror story is one that scares us" and "the true horror story requires a sense of evil, not in necessarily in a theological sense; but the menaces must be truly menacing, life-destroying, and antithetical to happiness." [33]

In her essay "Elements of Aversion", Elizabeth Barrette articulates the need by some for horror tales in a modern world:

The old "fight or flight" reaction of our evolutionary heritage once played a major role in the life of every human. Our ancestors lived and died by it. Then someone invented the fascinating game of civilization, and things began to calm down. Development pushed wilderness back from settled lands. War, crime, and other forms of social violence came with civilization and humans started preying on each other, but by and large daily life calmed down. We began to feel restless, to feel something missing: the excitement of living on the edge, the tension between hunter and hunted. So we told each other stories through the long, dark nights. when the fires burned low, we did our best to scare the daylights out of each other. The rush of adrenaline feels good. Our hearts pound, our breath quickens, and we can imagine ourselves on the edge. Yet we also appreciate the insightful aspects of horror. Sometimes a story intends to shock and disgust, but the best horror intends to rattle our cages and shake us out of our complacency. It makes us think, forces us to confront ideas we might rather ignore, and challenges preconceptions of all kinds. Horror reminds us that the world is not always as safe as it seems, which exercises our mental muscles and reminds us to keep a little healthy caution close at hand. [34]

In a sense similar to the reason a person seeks out the controlled thrill of a roller coaster, readers in the modern era seek out feelings of horror and terror to feel a sense of excitement. However, Barrette adds that horror fiction is one of the few mediums where readers seek out a form of art that forces themselves to confront ideas and images they "might rather ignore to challenge preconceptions of all kinds."

One can see the confrontation of ideas that readers and characters would "rather ignore" throughout literature in famous moments such as Hamlet's musings about the skull of Yorick, its implications of the mortality of humanity, and the gruesome end that bodies inevitably come to. In horror fiction, the confrontation with the gruesome is often a metaphor for the problems facing the current generation of the author.

There are many theories as to why people enjoy being scared. For example, "people who like horror films are more likely to score highly for openness to experience, a personality trait linked to intellect and imagination." [35]

It is a now commonly accepted viewpoint that the horror elements of Dracula's portrayal of vampirism are metaphors for sexuality in a repressed Victorian era. [36] But this is merely one of many interpretations of the metaphor of Dracula. Jack Halberstam postulates many of these in his essay Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker's Dracula. He writes:

[The] image of dusty and unused gold, coins from many nations and old unworn jewels, immediately connects Dracula to the old money of a corrupt class, to a kind of piracy of nations and to the worst excesses of the aristocracy. [37]

Illustration from an 1882 issue of Punch: An English editorial cartoonist conceives the Irish Fenian movement as akin to Frankenstein's monster, in the wake of the Phoenix Park killings.
Menacing villains and monsters in horror literature can often be seen as metaphors for the fears incarnate of a society. Punch Anti-Irish propaganda (1882) Irish Frankenstein.jpg
Illustration from an 1882 issue of Punch : An English editorial cartoonist conceives the Irish Fenian movement as akin to Frankenstein's monster, in the wake of the Phoenix Park killings.
Menacing villains and monsters in horror literature can often be seen as metaphors for the fears incarnate of a society.

Halberstram articulates a view of Dracula as manifesting the growing perception of the aristocracy as an evil and outdated notion to be defeated. The depiction of a multinational band of protagonists using the latest technologies (such as a telegraph) to quickly share, collate, and act upon new information is what leads to the destruction of the vampire. This is one of many interpretations of the metaphor of only one central figure of the canon of horror fiction, as over a dozen possible metaphors are referenced in the analysis, from the religious to the anti-semitic. [38]

Noël Carroll's Philosophy of Horror postulates that a modern piece of horror fiction's "monster", villain, or a more inclusive menace must exhibit the following two traits:

Scholarship and criticism

In addition to those essays and articles shown above, scholarship on horror fiction is almost as old as horror fiction itself. In 1826, the gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe published an essay distinguishing two elements of horror fiction, "terror" and "horror." Whereas terror is a feeling of dread that takes place before an event happens, horror is a feeling of revulsion or disgust after an event has happened. [40] Radcliffe describes terror as that which "expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life," whereas horror is described as that which "freezes and nearly annihilates them."

Modern scholarship on horror fiction draws upon a range of sources. In their historical studies of the gothic novel, both Devandra Varma [41] and S.L. Varnado [42] make reference to the theologian Rudolf Otto, whose concept of the "numinous" was originally used to describe religious experience.

A recent survey reports how often horror media is consumed:

To assess frequency of horror consumption, we asked respondents the following question: “In the past year, about how often have you used horror media (e.g., horror literature, film, and video games) for entertainment?” 11.3% said “Never,” 7.5% “Once,” 28.9% “Several times,” 14.1% “Once a month,” 20.8% “Several times a month,” 7.3% “Once a week,” and 10.2% “Several times a week.” Evidently, then, most respondents (81.3%) claimed to use horror media several times a year or more often. Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between liking and frequency of use (r=.79, p<.0001). [43]

Awards and associations

Achievements in horror fiction are recognized by numerous awards. The Horror Writer's Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror novel Dracula . [44] The Australian Horror Writers Association presents annual Australian Shadows Awards. The International Horror Guild Award was presented annually to works of horror and dark fantasy from 1995 to 2008. [45] [46] The Shirley Jackson Awards are literary awards for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic works. Other important awards for horror literature are included as subcategories within general awards for fantasy and science fiction in such awards as the Aurealis Award.

Alternate terms

Some writers of fiction normally classified as "horror" tend to dislike the term, considering it too lurid. They instead use the terms dark fantasy or Gothic fantasy for supernatural horror, [47] or "psychological thriller" for non-supernatural horror. [48]

See also

Related Research Articles

Bram Stoker Irish novelist and short story writer

Abraham "Bram" Stoker was an Irish author, best known today for his 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as the personal assistant of actor Sir Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, which Irving owned.

<i>Dracula</i> 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker

Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. It introduced the character of Count Dracula and established many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy. The novel tells the story of Dracula's attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of people led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Robert Bloch American novelist and short story writer

Robert Albert Bloch was an American fiction writer, primarily of crime, horror, fantasy and science fiction, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is best known as the writer of Psycho (1959), the basis for the film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock. His fondness for a pun is evident in the titles of his story collections such as Tales in a Jugular Vein, Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of and Out of the Mouths of Graves.

Undead deceased being which behaves as if alive

The undead are beings in mythology, legend, or fiction that are deceased but behave as if they were alive. A common example of an undead being is a corpse reanimated by supernatural forces, by the application of either the deceased's own life force or that of another being.

Ramsey Campbell English author

Ramsey Campbell is an English horror fiction writer, editor and critic who has been writing for well over fifty years. He is the author of over 30 novels and hundreds of short stories, many of them widely considered classics in the field and winners of multiple literary awards. Three of his novels have been filmed.

Werewolf fiction literary genre

Werewolf fiction denotes the portrayal of werewolves and other shapeshifting man/woman-beasts, in the media of literature, drama, film, games, and music. Werewolf literature includes folklore, legend, saga, fairy tales, Gothic and Horror fiction, fantasy fiction and poetry. Such stories may be supernatural, symbolic or allegorical. A classic American cinematic example of the theme is The Wolf Man (1941) and in later films joins with Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula, as one of the three famous icons of the modern day horror. However, werewolf fiction is an exceptionally diverse genre with ancient folkloric roots and manifold modern re-interpretations.

The Bram Stoker Award for Best Non-Fiction is an award presented by the Horror Writers Association (HWA) for "superior achievement" in horror writing for non-fiction.

Thomas Ligotti is a contemporary American horror writer. His writings have been noted as being rooted in several literary genres – most prominently weird fiction – and have overall been described by many critics as works of philosophical horror, often formed into short stories and novellas in the tradition of gothic fiction. The worldview espoused by Ligotti in his fiction and non-fiction is pessimistic and nihilistic. The Washington Post called him "the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction."

Weird fiction Subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Weird fiction either eschews or radically reinterprets ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and other traditional antagonists of supernatural horror fiction. Writers on the subject of weird fiction, such as China Miéville, sometimes use "the tentacle" to represent this type of writing. The tentacle is a limb-type absent from most of the monsters of European folklore and gothic fiction, but often attached to the monstrous creatures created by weird fiction writers, such as William Hope Hodgson, M. R. James, and H. P. Lovecraft. Weird fiction often attempts to inspire awe as well as fear in response to its fictional creations, causing commentators like Miéville to paraphrase Goethe in saying that weird fiction evokes a sense of the numinous. Although "weird fiction" has been chiefly used as a historical description for works through the 1930s, the term has also been increasingly used since the 1980s, sometimes to describe slipstream fiction that blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Oliver Onions English writer

George Oliver Onions, who published under the name Oliver Onions, was a British writer of short stories and over 40 novels. He wrote in a variety of genres but is perhaps best remembered for his ghost stories, notably the highly regarded collection Widdershins and the widely anthologized novella "The Beckoning Fair One". He was married to the novelist Berta Ruck.

S. T. Joshi American writer

Sunand Tryambak Joshi is an American writer, musician, critic and award-winning scholar whose work has largely focused on weird and fantastic fiction, especially the life and work of H. P. Lovecraft and associated writers. Joshi is a lifelong scholar and editor of H. P. Lovecraft and restored Lovecraft's texts for Arkham House. He has published a lengthy biography of H. P. Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. Additionally, Joshi has been a prolific editor of works of weird fiction by various authors and a historian of the field across a number of volumes. He has also written extensively on atheism and rationalism, as well as forms of prejudice including sexism and racism. Joshi lives with his wife, Mary Krawczak Wilson, in Seattle, Washington.

Dark fantasy Subgenre of fantasy and horror

Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literary, artistic, and cinematic works that incorporate darker and frightening themes of fantasy. It often combines fantasy with elements of horror or has a gloomy dark tone or a sense of horror and dread.

Supernatural fiction or supernaturalist fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that exploits or is centered on supernatural themes, often violating naturalist assumptions of the real world.

Weird West subgenre that combines elements of the Western with another genre, usually horror, occult, fantasy or science fiction.

Weird West is a subgenre that combines elements of the Western with another genre, usually horror, occult, fantasy, or science fiction.

LGBT themes in horror fiction refers to sexuality in horror fiction that can often focus on LGBTQ+ characters and themes. It may deal with characters who are coded as or who are openly LGBTQ+, or it may deal with themes or plots that are specific to homosexual people. Depending on when it was made, it may contain open statements of sexuality, same-sex sexual imagery, same-sex love or affection or simply a sensibility that has special meaning to LGBTQ+ people.

"The White People" is a horror short story by Welsh author Arthur Machen. Written in the late 1890s, it was first published in 1904 in Horlick's Magazine, edited by Machen's friend A. E. Waite, then reprinted in Machen's collection The House of Souls (1906).

Leslie S. Klinger American Sherlock Holmes scholar

Leslie S. Klinger is an American attorney and writer. He is a noted literary editor and annotator of classic genre fiction, including the Sherlock Holmes stories and the novels Dracula and Frankenstein as well as Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comics, Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen graphic novel, the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, and Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Urban Gothic

Urban Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction, film horror and television dealing with industrial and post-industrial urban society. It was pioneered in the mid-19th century in Britain, Ireland and the United States and developed in British novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), and Irish novels such as Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). In the twentieth century, urban Gothic influenced the creation of the subgenres of Southern Gothic and suburban Gothic. From the 1980s, interest in the urban Gothic revived with books like Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and a number of graphic novels that drew on dark city landscapes, leading to adaptations in film including Batman (1989), The Crow (1994) and From Hell (2001), as well as influencing films like Seven (1995).

Roger Luckhurst is a British writer and academic. He is Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature in the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London and was Distinguished Visiting Professor at Columbia University in 2016. He works on Victorian literature, contemporary literature, Gothic and weird fiction, trauma studies, and speculative/science fiction. Luckhurst is notable for his introductions and editorships to the Oxford World's Classics series volumes -- Late Victorian Gothic Tales,Dracula, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Portrait of a Lady, H.P. Lovecraft's Classic Horror Tales, King Solomon’s Mines, and The Time Machine -- and for his books on J. G. Ballard (1997), The Invention of Telepathy (2002), Science Fiction (2005) The Trauma Question (2008), The Mummy’s Curse: The True Story of a Dark Fantasy, and Zombies: A Cultural History. He has also written two books for the British Film Institute classic film series on The Shining and Alien.

Centipede Press is an American independent book and periodical publisher focusing on horror, weird tales, crime narratives, science fiction, gothic novels, fantasy art, and studies of literature, music and film. Its earliest imprints were Cocytus Press and Millipede Press.

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Further reading