Supernatural fiction

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Supernatural fiction or supernaturalist fiction [1] is a genre of speculative fiction that exploits or is centered on supernatural themes, often contradicting naturalist assumptions of the real world.



In its broadest definition, supernatural fiction overlaps with examples of weird fiction, horror fiction, vampire literature, ghost story, and fantasy. Elements of supernatural fiction can be found in writing from the genre of science fiction. Amongst academics, readers and collectors, however, supernatural fiction is often classed as a discrete genre defined by the elimination of "horror", "fantasy", and elements important to other genres. [1] The one genre supernatural fiction appears to embrace in its entirety is the traditional ghost story. [2]

The fantasy and supernatural fiction genres would often overlap and may be confused each for each other, though there exist some crucial differences between the two genres. Fantasy usually takes place in another world, where fantastical creatures or magic are normal. In supernatural fiction, though, magic and monsters are not the norm and the mystery of such things is usually closely intertwined in the plot. The supernatural genre highlights supernatural creatures or happenings within the real world. Moreover, supernatural fiction also tends to focus on suspense and mystery and less on action and adventure.

Occult detective fiction combines the tropes of supernatural fiction with those of detective fiction. Supernatural fiction and drama has supernatural elements blended into a story about the characters' internal conflict and/or a dramatic conflict between the protagonist, human and/or supernatural world, society and between groups.


The author of The Rise of Supernatural Fiction 1762–1800 states that the origins of supernatural fiction come from Britain in the second half of the 18th century. Accounts of the Cock Lane ghost were featured in the newspapers in 1762, and an interest in Spiritualism was also currently prevalent. There was a need for people to see real ghosts and experience them vicariously through the writings of fiction. [3]

S. L. Varnado argues in Haunted Presence: The Numinous in Gothic Fiction that the beginning of an interest in the supernatural comes from humanity's craving for the experience of the divine, so that even the old mythological tales of the knights of King Arthur give the reader a sense of the presence of "holy" things. The author does then go on to trace this influence further into the future with the Gothic literature movement. [4]

The famous horror writer H. P. Lovecraft cites man's fear of the unknown as the origin of supernatural fiction in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (1927). He also goes on to describe the literary genre's roots in Gothic literature. The description in Wuthering Heights (1847) of the natural surroundings in which the novel takes place and the eerie mood it evokes is cited as one of the first instances of supernatural horror's being evoked in literature. [5]

In the 20th century, supernatural fiction became associated with psychological fiction. In this association, descriptions of events that occur are not explainable through the lenses of the natural world, leading to the conclusion that the supernatural is the only possible explanation for what has been described. A classic example of this would be The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James, which offers both a supernatural and a psychological interpretation of the events described. In this example, ambiguity adds to the effects of both the supernatural and the psychological. [6] A similar example is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper".

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Gothic fiction, sometimes called Gothic horror in the 20th century, is a loose literary aesthetic of fear and haunting. The name is a reference to Gothic architecture of the European Middle Ages, which was characteristic of the settings of early Gothic novels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Horror fiction</span> Genre of fiction

Horror is a genre of fiction that is intended to disturb, frighten or scare. Horror is often divided into the sub-genres of psychological horror and supernatural horror, which are in the realm of speculative fiction. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon, in 1984, 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". Horror intends to create an eerie and frightening atmosphere for the reader. Often the central menace of a work of horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for larger fears of a society.

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Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction with a particular focus on mental, emotional, and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle its audience. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action, and paranoia of the setting and plot and to provide an overall creepy, unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.

The fantastic is a subgenre of literary works characterized by the ambiguous presentation of seemingly supernatural forces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Campaign setting</span> Fictional environment setting for a role-playing game

A campaign setting is usually a fictional world which serves as a setting for a role-playing game or wargame campaign. A campaign is a series of individual adventures, and a campaign setting is the world in which such adventures and campaigns take place. Usually a campaign setting is designed for a specific game or a specific genre of game. There are numerous campaign settings available both in print and online. In addition to published campaign settings available for purchase, many game masters create their own settings, often referred to as "homebrew" settings or worlds.

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, Clark Ashton Smith, 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, it experienced a resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s, under the labels of New Weird and Slipstream, which continues into the 21st century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oliver Onions</span> English writer (1873–1961)

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Southern Gothic</span> Subgenre of Gothic fiction

Southern Gothic is an artistic subgenre of fiction, country music, film and television that are heavily influenced by Gothic elements and the American South. Common themes of Southern Gothic include storytelling of deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may be involved in hoodoo, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy literature</span> Literature set in an imaginary universe

Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. Fantasy literature may be directed at both children and adults.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ghost story</span> Literary genre, work of literature featuring supernatural elements

A ghost story is any piece of fiction, or drama, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters' belief in them. The "ghost" may appear of its own accord or be summoned by magic. Linked to the ghost is the idea of a "haunting", where a supernatural entity is tied to a place, object or person. Ghost stories are commonly examples of ghostlore.

Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literary, artistic, and cinematic works that incorporate disturbing 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.

In literature, psychological fiction is a narrative genre that emphasizes interior characterization and motivation to explore the spiritual, emotional, and mental lives of the characters. The mode of narration examines the reasons for the behaviors of the character, which propel the plot and explain the story. Psychological realism is achieved with deep explorations and explanations of the mental states of the character's inner person, usually through narrative modes such as stream of consciousness and flashbacks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lovecraftian horror</span> Subgenre of horror

Lovecraftian horror, sometimes used interchangeably with "cosmic horror", is a subgenre of horror fiction and weird fiction that emphasizes the horror of the unknowable and incomprehensible more than gore or other elements of shock. It is named after American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937). His work emphasizes themes of cosmic dread, forbidden and dangerous knowledge, madness, non-human influences on humanity, religion and superstition, fate and inevitability, and the risks associated with scientific discoveries, which are now associated with Lovecraftian horror as a subgenre. The cosmic themes of Lovecraftian horror can also be found in other media, notably horror films, horror games, and comics.

Everett Franklin Bleiler was an American editor, bibliographer, and scholar of science fiction, detective fiction, and fantasy literature. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he co-edited the first "year's best" series of science fiction anthologies, and his Checklist of Fantastic Literature has been called "the foundation of modern SF bibliography". Among his other scholarly works are two Hugo Award–nominated volumes concerning early science fiction—Science-Fiction: The Early Years and Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years—and the massive Guide to Supernatural Fiction.

Supernatural horror film is a film genre that combines aspects of horror film and supernatural film. Supernatural occurrences in such films often include ghosts and demons, and many supernatural horror films have elements of religion. Common themes in the genre are the afterlife, the Devil, and demonic possession. Not all supernatural horror films focus on religion, and they can have "more vivid and gruesome violence".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy</span> Artistic genre

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction involving magical elements, typically set in a fictional universe and sometimes inspired by mythology and folklore. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became fantasy literature and drama. From the twentieth century, it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels, manga, animations and video games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of fantasy</span> Overview of and topical guide to fantasy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fantasy:


  1. 1 2 Cavaliero, Glen (1995). The Supernatural and English Fiction. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  2. Wilson, Neil (2000). Shadows in the Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction, 1820–1950. London: The British Library.
  3. Clery, E. J. (1999). The rise of supernatural fiction 1762–1800 (1st pbk. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-66458-6. OCLC   41620634.
  4. Varnado, S. L. (1987). Haunted Presence: The Numinous in Gothic Fiction. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN   0-8173-0324-3. OCLC   13823178.
  5. Lovecraft, H. P. "Supernatural Horror in Literature". Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  6. Bleiler, Everett F. (1983). The Guide to Supernatural Fiction . Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. pp.  277–278.

Further reading