What exactly does the term "gothic" mean?

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Zsinj, Jan 14, 2004.

  1. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    You know, Ive always wondered, what does it mean when a dark fantasy/horror story is gothic? What are the elements that make it gothic? What defines gothic in a story? I've asked some of the people I know about this, and they don't seem to have very good explanations for it, so could someone here please explain to me what gothic exactly means? Thanks. :)
     
  2. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    A lot of the term is due to the background to the term.

    Gothic
    1. adj. of or relating to the Goths or their language //
    2. of a form of art, esp. architecture, which flourished in Europe from the late 12th c. to the Renaissance //
    3. of or relating to a class of sensational novels of the late 18th and early 19th cc.dealing with macabre or mysterious events in medieval settings // (loosely) medieval // primitive, barbaric

    4. Gothic architecture // Gothic type [fr. L. gothicus] - Gothic architecture, a development of the earliest Romanesque, spread from N.W. France to flourish all over Europe in the 12th-15th cc., as far afield as Finland, Portugal and Sicily. Each country tended to produce a national style of Gothic. Its distinguishing features are pointed or ogival arch, elaborate stone vaulted roofs, clustered columns and rich stone carving.

    Development of technique led to high buildings with walls consisting very largely of windows, the great stresses being taken by the arches themselves, by pillars, and by buttresses, often flying buttresses. The Gothic church or cathedral, seeming to aspire eternally heavenwards, is naturally taken as a symbol of medieval spirituality.

    But Gothic is a term applied also to castles, palaces and houses, as well as sculpture, painting and the minor arts (the word is here loosely used to mean 'of the later Middle Ages'). In France, England and Germany, Gothic can be seen mingled with Romanesque or merging into the later Flamboyant style.

    A renewed appreciation of Gothic appeared in the 18th and early 19th cc. Interest in the Middle Ages became a cardinal doctrine of Romanticism and a symbol of revolt against rationalism. Scholarship developed, and 19th cc. architects in Europe and North America began to produce Gothic buildings of great correctness as well as some of high imagination. Gothic was also applied to municipal and industrial buildings, but by the 1880s the movement gave way to greater eclecticism.


    So - think dark, subdued, moody, misty/foggy, remote/isolated, often based on ancient buildings or religious settings perhaps - graveyards, mausoleums, tombs, churches, castles etc. The architectural style of high stone (not brick) buildings and complicated architectural styles are often, but not always, the setting for such stories, - though the stories themselves have to be 'macabre or mysterious events - unexplained events, murders, ghosts, demons, devils, body parts etc.

    Not sure myself that they have to be 'in medieval settings' (as suggested above - many of these stories are Edwardian or Victorian, and indeed have been suggested as the dark side of Victorian culture, obsessed with death and a possible afterlife, with even sexual elements to it too. Bram Stoker's Dracula (the book, not necessarily the film!) shows this.

    Here is quite a good comment about Gothic Fiction too -

    Often criticized for its sensationalism, melodramatic qualities, and its play on the supernatural, the Gothic novel dominated English literature from its conception in 1764 with the publication of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole to its 'supposed' demise in 1820.

    The genre drew many of its intense images from the graveyard poets, intermingling a landscape of vast dark forest with vegetation that bordered on excessive, concealed ruins with horrific rooms, monasteries and a forlorn character who excels at the melancholy.

    A fabled spectre or perhaps a bleeding Nun were images often sought after by those who fell victim to the supernatural influences of these books.



    There's a nice dictionary of gothic terms used in fiction, here though not exclusive.

    Hobbit
     
  3. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    Thanx, Hobbit! :) That pretty well clears things up for me now. The definition was pretty much the way I interpreted it to be, but I just wanted to make sure. :D
     
  4. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    No problem, Zsinj.

    As a point of interest I have heard readers claim that parts of the Elric series as being Gothic.

    Not sure I agree with that, personally, but I think I can see what they're getting at.

    Any thoughts yourself?

    Hobbit
     
  5. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    Yes, in reading it, I've found that it is indeed VERY gothic. That's one of the reasons why I love it so much! It has all the components of a gothic horror story, a doomed, tortured prince, dark satanic temples, cathedrals, and fortresses, mysterious, unexplainable happenings, terrifying encounters with monsters, demons, the undead, werewolves, wraiths, ghosts, and all other creatures of darkness, etc. So yes, I would say that he Elric Saga is DEFINITELY gothic.
     
  6. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    LOL..... now you put it like that..... :D

    I was thinking more of the Victorian gloomy ghost story. :)

    ...but there are spirits, aren't there - and possession etc etc....

    Quite often the simple answer I seem to see (particularly in movies) is that Gothic = Gore.

    Might be interesting to see how Halle Berry's Gothika turns out...

    Hobbit
     
  7. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    There are spirits, yes, but I haven't seen anything about possession yet.
     
  8. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    The possession of Stormbringer the blade and its effects on Elric could be considered that... possibly?

    Hobbit
     
  9. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    Oh yeah! **HITS SELF IN THE HEAD** DUH!! Why didn't I consider that?!! :eek:
     
  10. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    LOL..... don't worry, it happens to all of us....

    *shuffles major errors under the carpet* :D

    OK - lets widen it out a bit here. Has anyone any thoughts on 'definitive' gothic novels or stories?

    I'm going to suggest obvious ones here to start - Bram Stoker's Dracula.

    What about HP Lovecraft?

    Or Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series?

    Or - trying to be a little more contemporary - Laurell K Hamilton / Anita Blake?


    Any other suggestions?

    Hobbit
     
  11. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    BTW, Hobbit, another thing I wanted to add about Elric's sword Stormbringer is that I read recently in "The Vampire Book" by Dr. J. Gordon Melton that the Elric stories could be considered, in a way, to be vampire stories, because Elric basically looks like a vampire without the fangs, (Elric said himself in the strories that many had mistaken him as a vampire) and his sword sucks the blood/souls/lifeforce out of its victims just like a vampire sucks the blood/souls/lifeforce out of its victims. In fact, all the Elric stories written by Moorcock up to 1997 are listed in the back of the vampire book as part of the "vampire bibliography.

    But anyway, back to the topic at hand. I haven't read that many gothic horror/dark fantasy novels yet, allthough I certainly plan to in the future, but the two that I have read, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, are definitely gothic in my eyes.
    Dracula is gothic in every sense of the word. It has every element of a gothic horror novel you could ask for included in it. And Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is gothic too, maybe not so much as Dracula is, but it is still very gothic what with the whole macabre scientific expirements/graveyard/horrfying monster/brooding doom and gloom atmosphere it has in it.

    Also, isn't another element of goth (and this is going to be tough for me to explain because it's much more easy to feel than put into words) when like for example this dude is exploring a dark, demonic, foreboding fortress/ temple and he hears this terrifying, heart wrenching screaming coming from the darkest, deepest depths and either he finds out what/who it's coming from, and when he does it terrifies the reader out of their socks, or he dosen't find out and what the screaming was remains shrouded in dark mystery, and therefore can sometimes terrify/disturb the reader even more than if the dude had found out where the screaming was coming from? Is this an element of goth?

    Also, the LOTR Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy by Tad Williams, and The Otherland Series by Tad Williams had what I felt were gothic elements in them. Now granted there not straight up gothic horror, they're fantasy, but they definitely had, at least in my opinion, some gothic themes to them, especially the works by Tad Williams.
     
  12. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    Thanks for the info on Elric there - yes, definitely a vampyrric relationship, in form and outlook.

    If we were running a Class 101 on Gothic, then usually Stokers' Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson's Jeckyll and Hyde are seen as seminal.

    As far as your question on Gothic goes, then I'd agree. a lot of HP Lovecraft is like that - unspeakable/unmentionable terrors, etc.

    And as for 'screaming unmentionable terrors', I'd say a lot of Goth music fits there too. :D

    Hobbit
     
  13. Zsinj

    Zsinj Registered User

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    Not another Cradle of Filth hater! :mad: :p :D
     
  14. lajdadusahfuiha

    lajdadusahfuiha New Member

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    What Does Gothic Mean?

    Gothic can mean many things. If you are describing a person, it means characterized by gloom and mystery and the grotesque.
     
  15. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    That’s weird. Not gothic ... well, okay, sometimes gothic is also weird ... but it's weird that within a week I saw this and a friend of mine asked me about what 'gothic' meant. He’s mainly a reader of mainstream literary works – fan of Cormac MacCarthy, Faulkner, Hemingway, and so on – but he was reading Straub’s Ghost Story at my suggestion and reading that brought up the question.

    He looked in the Oxford English Dictionary which defines ‘gothic’ as applied to literature thus, "Of or designating a genre of fiction characterized by suspenseful, sensational plots involving supernatural or macabre elements and often (esp. in early use) having a medieval theme or setting.
    "The novel typically regarded as the first of this genre, The Castle of Otranto (1765 ) by Horace Walpole, is subtitled ‘a Gothic story’ ..."

    I think that covers it fairly well. That ‘or’ between supernatural and macabre allows for inclusion of works as diverse as Titus Groan and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as well as more overtly supernatural stories.

    The Miriam-Webster Dictionary definition offers a useful twist: "of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents"

    The mention of violence is useful. Most gothic works either feature scenes of violence or allude to violence that occurs off-stage. The plots often spring off of violence done in the past, which brings to my mind the so-called Southern Gothic like Flannery O’Connor’s short stories and William Faulkner’s Light in August or Absalom, Absalom.

    Note that each definition mentions setting, which I think is important whether we are considering Frankenstein’s or Dracula’s castle, or Jackson’s Hill House or Lovecraft’s New England hills or Faulkner’s Yaknapawtawpha County or Fritz Leiber’s cities or King’s Maine or Poppy Z. Brite’s New Orleans … Either the setting itself is evil or at least dangerous, or something residing in the setting brings evil or danger to it.

    What neither definition touches on, though, is that most writers writing gothic attempt to create a mood of imminent doom and impending despair.

    I have two theories about gothic, the first is generally held true in literary circles, I think, the other … it’s possibly an idiosyncratic view:

    1) Gothic is a response to the Romantics. It’s inaccurate and simplistic to accuse the Romantics like Keats and Wordsworth of cheery optimism, but they put great faith in nature. In a sense, the gothic writers like Coleridge and Poe also foregrounded nature, but by emphasizing death and corruption.

    2) The gothic in the literature of the 18th and 19th century metamorphosed into the noir of the 20th century: Instead of castles with labrinthine passages there are modern cities with labrinthine alleys and byways; instead of gallant men rescuing women there are tough-guys rescuing dames – I’m not forgetting the femmes fatales in noir, and neither did Keats with his “Le Belle Dame sans Merci”; and instead of supernatural threats there are evil men who don’t need no stinkin’ supernatural anything, just guns. There are exceptions to that last: I think gothic and noir meet in the writings of Cornell Woolrich. If you read his work, you don’t find a lot of difference in his writing between his straight crime stories and his stories featuring the supernatural. He only wrote one supernatural noir novel, though, Night Has a Thousand Eyes which I highly recommend.


    I return you now from my pontificating to your regularly scheduled discussions.

    Randy M.
     
  16. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Just to chip in $0.02...

    There's also the modern gothic -- basically austere, grim, with a touch of the spiritual/magical. Probably the best illustration of the modern gothic idea is Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" -- the movie deliberately contrasts the classic gothic with modern gothic. His "Batman" is a great blending of classic and modern gothic as well (really all of his work is great modern gothic.... :))

    Authors like Douglas Coupland and Jeffrey Eugenides can be understood as modern gothic.
     
  17. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Good points. Roger Corman's Poe movies strove to be gothic in all caps, and it seems like everything Burton does has more than a touch of gothic.

    Should we confuse the issue by mentioning the Gothic Romance? That, I think, was a publisher catagory for writers like Phyllis Whitney whose work stemmed from Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and maybe more directly the work of Daphne du Maurier, notably Rebecca. It certainly used the settings of gothic novels, like castles, and Rochesters with various psuedonyms. That catagory looked like it had died out, more or less in the 1980s or '90s, though the supernatural fantasy/romance apears like something of an updating.


    Randy M.
     
  18. Ponerology

    Ponerology Registered User

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    Indeed, I'm currently looking at modern gothic; I have decided on 'urban fantasy', so Neverwhere by Gaiman, King Rat by Miéville, short stories by King and Barker. I enjoy the steampunk interpretations, too, especially in the graphic novel area.

    I don't believe that Gothic is completely separate from horror. I think that horror owes a debt to the 17th, 18th century gothic, and in the 19th century particularly the development of irony, parody and dark humour made its gift to modern authors.

    Personally, I'm hunting down a defintion of 'gothicization' of London- a thread I have just started. I also ask- must romance be involved for a tale to be gothic? :confused:
     
  19. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Agreed, though there isn't a complete overlap. For instance, while Titus Groan is arguably Gothic, if would be difficult to support the argument it is horror. Gothic also infuses the mystery genre -- for example, The Hound of the Baskervilles, also to a degree the Uncle Abner stories by Melville Davison Post, and much of Cornell Woolrich's work, which is a cornerstone of what became noir. And, according to Brian Aldiss, s.f. springs from the Gothic novel, in particular Frankenstein.

    Depends. Is Poe Gothic? Hawthorne? In Poe there's sorta, kinda the hint of romance -- certainly Usher's tender feelings for his sister are ... suspect? Hawthorne was a bit more open about romance, see "Rappacini's Daughter," among others. On the other hand, I don't recall a romance in the much more modern work, Perfume by Patrick Susskind, nor in Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, both of which are to some degree Gothic (the former more than the latter, though).

    I think the inclusion of a romance or love story -- I'm assuming that's what you're talking about rather than Romanticism -- is one way an author can contrast the supposed potential and bright new beginning of young love/marriage with the reality of danger lurking all about. It can be a ploy to gain reader sympathy and when done poorly feels very formulaic. When done well, it really will gain reader sympathy -- would The Haunting of Hill House be as effective without Eleanor's search among her cohorts for love, if not romance? (Or is that two separate things so not really applicable to your point?)

    Randy M.
    (sorry if the dots aren't getting connected; mostly offering a brain dump for the purpose of conversation)
     
  20. NickeeCoco

    NickeeCoco Reader Staff Member

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    I know this is a little off the current topic and referring to a post from 2008, but as for modern gothic and films go, I'd also suggest Guillermo del Toro. Pan's Labyrinth is a perfect example, I think.

    There is also a Japanese trend for gothic video games. I'm currently playing Folklore on the PS3 which would really fit the bill. It follows the story of two characters who have to travel to the underworld for different reasons. Also, older games such as the Fatal Frame series.