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  1. #1
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    "The Weird", an anthology

    The Weird is a collection of 110 stories (including some novellas) selected by editors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer to represent the development of, yes, the "weird" tale over the past century or so. The included tales are of a generally good or better quality (as is to be expected, Vandermeer himself being a writer of note in the current "New Weird" school), and not a few are gems. Owing to its diversity, the book offers a number of interesting views of the "weird tale" phenomenon (plus an solid Introduction by the editors, an interesting "Foreweird" by Michael Moorcock, and a curious "Afterweird" by China Miéville).

    There has always been some question whether horror fiction is a constituent part of "fantasy" fiction or is a category parallel to it. My own feeling is that the two do not much overlap, despite the doings in horror tales being "fantastic" in nature (that is, involving doings outside real or supposed laws of nature); the crux, I suggest, is that horror tales have a specific and relatively narrow goal, which is to evoke a sense of horror (or terror) in the reader, while fantasy tales can and at their best do involve all the many complex thoughts and feelings that fiction in general seeks to evoke in readers. Curiously, "the weird" cuts across that bound: it encompasses tales that are fairly plainly "horror" tales, but also includes fantastic tales that are not "horror" per se in their nature. The late Robert Aickman, a paragon of the weird-tale author, called them simply "strange stories" (he is well represented in this anthology by his indeed strange story "The Hospice"), and those "strange stories" are the ones I feel best fit into "fantasy" rather than horror (though all such distinctions are necessarily quite hazy).

    In The Weird, the least effective stories are the ones most plainly of the "horror" variety, and correspondingly the most effective are the "strange" (but not overtly horrific) tales. Most of the weaker horror stories are those from the period between the wars, a time when pulp magazines flourished. That era's work is by no means uniformly of the "and then it . . . !!" sort, but too much of it (to me) is. Such tales suffer especially from being anthologized, and most especially chronologically, because they become repetitious, endless repeats of the same dull hammer thump banging on our distaste for the squishily monstrous.

    A pleasing aspect of this collection is that it includes a good number of translated works, making available authors who did not write in English (Kubin, Sakutaro, Schulz, Mitra, just to name off the first few that occur), and some of the very best tales here are from such authors. There is also a sampling of authors who, though writing in English, are not yet well represented in the Western literature (such as Amos Tutuola).

    All in all, this is an excellent collection, and should, for almost every reader, be a good starting point from which to develop an appreciation of a number of fine authors not previously known (a reader who is well familiar with virtually all the authors included here would be a nonpareil indeed). Though by and large, the contents here are samplers, consisting of individual short stories or more or less standalone extracts from longer works, there are a few novellas that are complete and just by themselves justify acquiring the book (perhaps the most notable being Leena Krohn's Tainaron: Mail From Another City).

    If there is any complaint to register about this work, it is a sheerly mechanical one: at 7-3/4 by 9-1/2 inches and well over 1100 pages--roughly 3-1/2 pounds' worth--it is very literally heavy going. My lady, who has small and slightly arthritic hands, simply could not comfortably manage reading it. A two-volume version might have made more sense.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the work for the library of any aficionado of the fantastic in literature.

  2. #2
    In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, "You realize, of course, this means war?"

    Or maybe not. We've had this discussion before and while I agree there is horror that isn't really fantasy, there is quite a bit that is. Horror being an emotion, it cuts across genres, as you concede with "weird," and many writers who strove for the weird achieved not just awe but dread, not least among them Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and, for some of us at least, Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.

    Quote Originally Posted by owlcroft View Post
    [I][...]There has always been some question whether horror fiction is a constituent part of "fantasy" fiction or is a category parallel to it. My own feeling is that the two do not much overlap, despite the doings in horror tales being "fantastic" in nature (that is, involving doings outside real or supposed laws of nature); the crux, I suggest, is that horror tales have a specific and relatively narrow goal, which is to evoke a sense of horror (or terror) in the reader, while fantasy tales can and at their best do involve all the many complex thoughts and feelings that fiction in general seeks to evoke in readers.
    Just as there is a lot of horror that tries for the big "BOO!" and doesn't achieve any "Boo!" there's plenty of fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons and remains as prosaic as a suburb. If you're only reading horror that tries for the big "BOO!" then all horror will seem one-dimensional. But if you read books that incorporate horror and don't acknowledge that they are both horror and whatever else they are, you're falling into the "It's good so it can't possibly be horror" trap.

    While it's possible that you just don't care for the sense of awe and dread that comes from the horror story that is also fantasy, yet in the past you've admitted to enjoying Aickman, Machen, Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Carroll and Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood among others. And, really, is there a better example of horror/fantasy cross-over than some of Jonathan Carroll's work? You also cite Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House as a great work of fantasy, yet it is very decisively a haunted house/ghost story as well as a psychological profile.

    [By the way, I cut part of this I meant to keep: I've heard of Tutuola for years and chanced on two of his books not long ago. I do look forward to reading them.]

    Curiously, "the weird" cuts across that bound: it encompasses tales that are fairly plainly "horror" tales, but also includes fantastic tales that are not "horror" per se in their nature. The late Robert Aickman, a paragon of the weird-tale author, called them simply "strange stories" (he is well represented in this anthology by his indeed strange story "The Hospice"), and those "strange stories" are the ones I feel best fit into "fantasy" rather than horror (though all such distinctions are necessarily quite hazy).

    In The Weird, the least effective stories are the ones most plainly of the "horror" variety, and correspondingly the most effective are the "strange" (but not overtly horrific) tales.
    For you as a reader. I haven't read the entire collection yet, but I'm going to bet that the majority of the list of stories at the following link -- several of which are discussed in the rest of that thread -- are probably among those you liked least.

    The Weird
    Scroll to the bottom of post #61

    Most of the weaker horror stories are those from the period between the wars, a time when pulp magazines flourished. That era's work is by no means uniformly of the "and then it . . . !!" sort, but too much of it (to me) is. Such tales suffer especially from being anthologized, and most especially chronologically, because they become repetitious, endless repeats of the same dull hammer thump banging on our distaste for the squishily monstrous.
    Aickman is generally acknowledged as a horror writer. While I'd tag "The Hospice" as more satire than horror -- although a couple of the images near the end certainly evoke a dread of death -- other stories like "Ringing the Changes" and "The Inner Room" are certainly horror stories as well as weird, the former evoking the Wild Hunt as I recall, the latter inviting a psychological reading.

    For instance, in that thread I link to above, I go on rather extensively about Michael Shea's "The Autopsy," and if there's a better example of the squishily monstrous, I'd be hard pressed to cite it. And yet I think it a fine story, one that harks back to older s.f./horror and remains both frightening and yet does more than just frighten.

    [...]If there is any complaint to register about this work, it is a sheerly mechanical one: at 7-3/4 by 9-1/2 inches and well over 1100 pages--roughly 3-1/2 pounds' worth--it is very literally heavy going. My lady, who has small and slightly arthritic hands, simply could not comfortably manage reading it. A two-volume version might have made more sense.
    That's a sound suggestion. In the past Tor has done this with The Dark Descent. One of the recent Otto Penzler anthologies also did this, coming out in three mmpbs that had decent sized print and were less cumbersome to handle.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the work for the library of any aficionado of the fantastic in literature.
    Even though I haven't finished it, I agree.


    Randy M.

  3. #3
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    I must get this, it's been published years ago and I keep seeing it hailed as the one of the best works in editing and putting together a repsentative sample for the genre. As regards the weight, I'll look for it in the Sony ebook store so I don't have to worry about weight and width.

  4. #4
    Next to Arch Stanton ezchaos's Avatar
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    I bought "The Weird" over the summer and have loved it. I read the first 20 or so stories in a row and since then have jumped around to whichever stories catch my interest. Every story has been enjoyable and when I've finished most them, I have to pause and just say "Wow!". Some of the standouts for me which I can recall were "Sredni Vastar", "The People of the Pit", "The Mainz Psalter" and "The Shadowy Street". This volume will be providing a lot of enjoyment over the coming years.

    I wanted to get a paper copy of this book but when I saw how big and awkward it was, I just opted for the ebook version.

  5. #5
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    To war! To war! We're going to go to war! ("Duck Soup")

    Just as there is a lot of horror that tries for the big "BOO!" and doesn't achieve any "Boo!" there's plenty of fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons and remains as prosaic as a suburb.
    Those things are so, but I don't think they're germane. The crux is the writer's intentions. My argument has always been that in any flavor of speculative fiction--which I define as any tale in which one or more rules of nontrivial consequence, whether natural law or human societal, work differently than has ever been observed in consensus reality--the point of the difference in the rules is not just to generate zippy wallpaper for the story but rather to allow the author to better or more readily say what he or she has to say about Life, The Universe, and Everything (also known to travel on passports saying "The Human Condition").

    Fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons can be of that flavor (as with Lord of the Rings, to take a blindingly obvious example), or it can be something, as you well put it, as prosaic as a suburb, wherein the "magical" elements have no real relation to the heart of the tale and are just there to provide pretty window treatments (so to speak). But that is a distinction between well-crafted and poorly crafted fantasy fiction. With the horror tale, it seems to me that the basic intent of the author is qualitatively different: it is not primarily to comment on Life, The Universe, and Everything, but rather is focussed on creating a single emotion and mood. A skilled horror writer can craft a definite feeling of unease and even fear, but that is like a fine brandy compared to a meal: it may be elegant to the taste, but it does not, and cannot by its nature, nourish. (I know, I know, arguing by analogies is a slippery slope).

    That is my distinction: the ultimate goal (or nominal goal) of the horror writer as opposed to the fantasy writer; the second is just larger than the first. That does not disparage horror: Heaven knows fine brandy is a wonderful thing. But it does, i feel, provide a reasonable critical tool with which to meaningfully divide "horror" fiction from "fantasy" fiction.

    The "weird"--or "strange stories"--seems to me a category that includes both types, horror and fantasy. You correctly point out the "It's good so it can't possibly be horror" trap, but I don't think it's "good" or "bad" that is the distinction. A fantasy, as I use the word, can contain aspects of horror or terror, but it is by its nature larger than that. The Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House is well-stocked with horror (actually, as the Wikipedia article on it points out, terror rather than horror), but though commonly called a horror story, the book's focus is not at all on the terror of the supernatural, but rather on the terror of a human psyche that is badly damaged: it is a psychological study, and has a lot, indeed, to say about The Human Condition, and that saying is enabled by the supernatural framing, which is exactly what fantastic fiction ought to be: insights enabled by the fantastic elements.

    Is Robert Aickman a horror writer or a fantasy writer? To me, he is probably as borderline a case as there is. His works most often do not evoke "horror" in the reader so much as a deeper (and more affecting) sense of profound unease, bordering on (and occasionally crossing into) fear. That sounds like an elegant variation on horror, but there is also the issue of his protagonists' responses to the strange events they experience, and a colorable case can be made that he is exploring a deal more than merely how to get his readers to squirm.

    Well, this is all, I suppose, sempiternal.

  6. #6
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    sounds as though horror is being a bit discredited with remarks like "I suggest, is that horror tales have a specific and relatively narrow goal, which is to evoke a sense of horror (or terror) in the reader, while fantasy tales can and at their best do involve all the many complex thoughts and feelings that fiction in general seeks to evoke in readers."

    I didn't realize horror writers had no desire to involve complex thoughts that may stray from horror solely.

    I wouldn't tell them that.

  7. #7
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by owlcroft
    With the horror tale, it seems to me that the basic intent of the author is qualitatively different: it is not primarily to comment on Life, The Universe, and Everything, but rather is focussed on creating a single emotion and mood.
    You realize you sound exactly like the folk who say that fantasy stories never comment on Life, the Universe and Everything and simply are escapism and that is the only goal of writer and audience and if a fantasy story does in fact comment, it is not really a fantasy story. Horror writers may use fantasy or other elements like SF or simply suspense and psychological elements to create indeed an emotion or mood. But they do that to use the mood to comment on Life, the Universe and Everything, and to look at complicated issues related to fear, but also love, hatred, revenge, sacrifice, greed, social institutions, etc. Many horror stories are darkly satiric, using horror to illuminate aspects of life, light and dark, that we otherwise would ignore or sweep under the rug. In horror, those things literally come back out of the rug. Which is why horror elements are often used in other stories, like Life of Pi and Lord of the Flies. The goal is not that narrow or simplistic and horror is a tool for the larger story.

    That's why horror confuses people as a concept, wondering if dark fantasy and weird fiction is really horror, etc., because the scope of what creates the horror mood and in what ways is fairly wide. But just as the presence of suspense elements does not limit the substance of mysteries, the romance of romance, the guns of Westerns, the fantastic elements of fantasy, the spaceships of SF, so too does horrific events not limit the substance of horror and instead is a tool. Weird stories are conceptually stories of strange dread and macabre. As such, they are a literary movement within horror, shaded towards dark fantasy but not required to use fantastic elements to create the unease of dread.

    I thought they were going to do a series of these anthologies, but I guess they tried to do a whole timeline in one go. It's a really good deal for that many stories. I'm guessing I've read some of them, but the international scope sounds great.

  8. #8
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    But wait! There's more!

    Someone on another forum (not even an SF&F forum) just recently pointed me at a couple of other anthologies that sound excellent (and which I now have on order), to wit Black Water and Black Water 2, edited by Alberto Manguel. Reviewers seem to love them.

    As to whether horror stories are or are not more limited in auctorial purpose than fantasy stories, well, differences of opinion are why they race horses. As I said, I do not disparage or minimize horror any more than I do brandy; but I still think that fantasy is a meal--whether well- or ill-cooked being another matter--and has intrinsically broader goals than horror.
    But they do that to use the mood to comment on Life, the Universe and Everything, and to look at complicated issues related to fear, but also love, hatred, revenge, sacrifice, greed, social institutions, etc.
    That just does not seem to be my experience, and I daresay that that I have by now had a pretty good cross-section exposure. But different people can read different texts in different ways, so I'm not going to flog this point.

  9. #9
    I got this ebook when it came out, I totally forgot about it.
    For no reason I don't like Vandermeer, so skipped over it when I was looking for something to read.

    My tbr pile is too big, so probably due to that as well.
    Thanks for the review. I've always had the opinion that Wierd writers are of a higher calibre in general than most fantasy and scifi writers.

  10. #10
    Don't you hate when you start a fight and run out of time to counter-punch?

    Anyway, Eric, I disagree with you in part because your definition of horror limits the genre to stories that go "BOO!" For now, here are a few examples of horror with broader scope than just "BOO!":
    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (the relationship of man to God, the relationship of creator to created, father to son)
    "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James (ghost or psychological disorder? either way this examines the consequences of acts intended well but with fearful results)
    The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (examining and satirizing religion and science)
    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Stevenson (the conflict between civilized and primal man)
    The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore (I'd really strongly urge you to read this if you haven't -- social satire)
    "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken (psychological)
    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (no matter how you twist the definition of horror, it's a horror novel, was written as such by Jackson in full knowledge of what had come before; much of her work has a similar flavor, like "The Lottery" & "The Summer People")
    Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber (also "Smoke Ghost" & "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" & "Belson Express")
    Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (history as horror)
    The Red Tree & The Drowned Girl by Caitlin Kiernan (psychology mixed with the weird)


    One of your wiggle-room arguments dealt with psychology. In horror story after horror story, mankind is the monster. It is a part of the genre that the tropes -- ghost, vampire, werewolf, other -- often act as metaphor for types of people and their behavior. You see this used more blatantly in urban fantasy, at least that influenced by Buffy where the figures and conceits of horror were blended with teen angst frequently in imaginative ways, but it was used earlier, too, as in the Henry James story and the Guy Endore novel mentioned above.

    More later, I hope.


    Randy M.

  11. #11
    Hi, KatG.

    It's a massive book, a real labor of love, and just an extraordinary anthology. I hope, since it's from Tor, that we can expect it to be around quite a while.


    Randy M.

  12. #12
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valentino View Post
    I've always had the opinion that Weird writers are of a higher calibre in general than most fantasy and scifi writers.
    Well, caliber is a difficult word. They were "pulp" writers mainly, as we know it today, doing fiction in magazines, comics anthologies, cheap paperbacks and then also hardcovers, newspapers, etc., and without the issues of social status tied to book format that developed from the 1930's on. And they were fairly international, at least with Europe. They could come from anywhere and intersected with things like existentialism and the ancestors of magic realism, and major writers whom we don't associate with SFFH sometimes had stories in the magazines. The Weird writers as stylistic literary movement were from the late 1800's to WWII, and long before all the category markets based on content elements, but they were very influential and have a lot of descendants -- post-Weird, neo-Weird, New Weird, whatever we're calling them, in written fiction and in comics. So the anthology attempts to follow the lines of that descent from the beginning to the present day, which means a pretty wide variety of dark toned, funky, creepy fiction with a wide range of elements and settings.

    I do like big anthologies but it does take me a long time to get through them. However, for anyone interested in learning about Weird fiction, this is probably the definitive compilation for awhile. But the Black Water ones sound interesting too.

  13. #13
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    I disagree with you in part because your definition of horror limits the genre to stories that go "BOO!" For now, here are a few examples of horror with broader scope than just "BOO!"
    Well, it gets difficult here, because if I say that I do not necessarily agree that at least some of those books are fantasies with a horror element, the inevitable response is a claim that I am saying "If it's good, it can't be horror." Obviously, all these kinds of discussions--what defines genre/subgenre X--have problems, one being whether such distinctions have any significance at all, another being the distinction (if there even is one) between publishing/commercial categorization and what we might call "literary" categorization--and it might be that reader categorization is a third that is neither of those things. But I find it hard to see including Frankenstein, Moreau, or Hyde, just to pick a few familiar ones, in the category (or "genre") of "horror", though they very obviously have some elements of horror in them.

    Is, for example, Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders a "horror" book? It is not fiction, but it is apparently about rather horrible things from end to end. Or, if we restrict things to fiction, how about The Silence of the Lambs? If the argument is then that those don't count because there is nothing supernatural or otherwordly about them, does merely adding such an element make them "horror" or not? (In fact, Jekyll/Hyde is not even actually supernatural, but rather science fiction.) In other words, does including a fair dose of horrid doings deriving from a fantastical origin suffice to make a novel a "horror" novel?

    If so, there is a fairly obvious problem with denying that merely including horror suffices to define a horror novel; if not, what beyond such inclusion could be needed, and how is that whatever-else justified as a necessary component of "horror"?

    Obviously, my position is that simply dealing with horrid doings arising from something fantastical suffices to class a tale as a "horror" tale, and that no element of focus beyond that is needed regardless of whether the tale is poor or excellent. Now I concede that A is B doesn't necessarily mean that B is A, and that even if we accept that horror tales, including excellently written ones, need not have any focus beyond evoking that limited cluster of emotions, that in itself does not exclude the possibility of some horror tales with a larger scope. My argument on that point is that when a tale with some element of horror, even a considerable element, does have a substantially wider focus (or goals or however one wants to put it), by that very expansiveness it ceases to be a "horror" tale, even though marketing folk may choose to put it that section of the shelves.

    That, I am sure, is a matter--probably the matter--on which we disagree. By that, I say that Jekyll/Hyde, for instance, is a science-fiction story, not a horror story, and the same for Frankenstein and many of the others. But I suspect that we are now circling the drain, and must simply agree to disagree. But I might refer to the web site of the Horror Writers Association, specifically to their page "What Is Horror?" One statement there is Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread. Another, from a writer of such fiction, is that Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion. That's not me: that's professional horror writers advocating for their kind of work.

  14. #14
    I give up. I've tried trimming and compacting, but it sprawls all the same. So here you go, and I'll try to fill logic potholes in later posts.


    The Wikipedia page is a good summary of horror vs. terror. But when I talk about horror fiction (and, I would wager, when most readers who read horror talk about horror fiction “horror” is a portmanteau term for terror, horror, revulsion. (I’m not sure this would apply to horror fans mainly interested in film, though.) While the classic ghost story may be more genteel than a given Stephen King novel, each has a common lineage. So I have less trouble seeing Aickman as a horror writer than you do (or than Aickman did, for that matter); I see Aickman carrying on the tradition of weird/strange/ghost stories descended from Le Fanu, both M. R. and Henry James (more so Henry, though), Edith Wharton and Walter de la Mare, all of whom form a line of descent to the contemporary horror story.

    Which brings me to the crux of our disagreement:

    […]Fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons can be of that flavor (as with Lord of the Rings, to take a blindingly obvious example), or it can be something, as you well put it, as prosaic as a suburb, wherein the "magical" elements have no real relation to the heart of the tale and are just there to provide pretty window treatments (so to speak). But that is a distinction between well-crafted and poorly crafted fantasy fiction. With the horror tale, it seems to me that the basic intent of the author is qualitatively different: it is not primarily to comment on Life, The Universe, and Everything, but rather is focused on creating a single emotion and mood.
    I disagree because the basic intent of any good writer is to comment on life, even the writer who says her/his sole reason to write is to entertain; I would agree that with the horror writer whatever his/her other intentions may be, they are likely focused through creating an emotion and/or mood ensuring the comment will be about the darker side of life. But that answer isn’t sufficient because,
    1) If we discuss short fiction, then a lot of short fiction aims at creating, or at least at ending with “a single emotion and mood”, to dismiss that aim would be to dismiss other works that do the same outside of horror, like Frank O’Connor’s “Guests of the Nation” (the final emotion of which comes very close to that of a horror story) or “My Oedipus Complex” (humor).
    2) If we’re talking novels, in spite of examples like Frankenstein and Dracula, early horror novels were a bit one-note (probably one reason why most were short). But horror has evolved: I seriously doubt you care much for Stephen King, and there’s plenty to criticize, but his main contribution has been to show that a horror novel can contain, in Faulkner’s terms, “love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice” in various tones, including humor and melancholy, and still leave the reader uneasy (or revolted; apparently King really isn’t proud). Some fine novels have come in his wake, notably from Peter Straub and Ramsey Campbell. Like s.f. and the mystery before it, what is horror has changed over time. It is a more various kind of fiction than it once was.

    I’ll grant that writers from an earlier era were in the main trying for an effect. I’d say that of M. R. James, although James’ stories achieve a kind of charm similar to the charm of the Sherlock Holmes stories, whisking us away to another time and place. Other writers expanded the tool kit, especially after Henry James showed that the novella could accomplish “Boo!” and more than “Boo!” but even some writers earlier than James achieved more: As Peter Straub owes Shirley Jackson and Shirley Jackson owed Henry James, James owed Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu, roughly contemporary to Poe, was among the earliest horror writers to fold in psychological observation with his horror stories (for instance, “Green Tea”), and Le Fanu arrived at the beginning of the modern tale of horror. The seeds of the psychological horror story were there from the beginning. (See also, Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown.)

    Lovecraft may be closer to what you were thinking: His stated intent was to aim for cosmic awe. But he achieved something more by avoiding Christian symbols and incorporating modern science. Currently, if you’re not reading Caitlin Kiernan, I would say you are missing out on some of the best fantasy written in the last twenty or so years, fantasy with a decided darkness that pulls from horror conventions, especially from the work of Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, and her work frequently slips over into horror.

    A skilled horror writer can craft a definite feeling of unease and even fear, but that is like a fine brandy compared to a meal: it may be elegant to the taste, but it does not, and cannot by its nature, nourish. (I know, I know, arguing by analogies is a slippery slope).

    That is my distinction: the ultimate goal (or nominal goal) of the horror writer as opposed to the fantasy writer; the second is just larger than the first. That does not disparage horror: Heaven knows fine brandy is a wonderful thing. But it does, i feel, provide a reasonable critical tool with which to meaningfully divide "horror" fiction from "fantasy" fiction.
    I’ll partially disagree with this, too: Allowing that much of the material of fantasy and horror overlaps, much of non-horror fantasy leaves us with hope, with an appreciation of how expansive and various are the world, the universe, the possibilities before us. Much of horror leaves us with no hope, with an appreciation of how expansive and various are the world, the universe, the possibilities before us. In the former we are led to revel in the enormousness, in the latter we are invited to collapse in upon ourselves, undone by our inability to encompass it all, and fearful that the vastness is malicious or, perhaps worse, uncaring. I will agree that the palette of horror may be smaller than the palette of fantasy (though I suspect that may depend on the writer), but I strongly disagree that horror can’t be about anything but the emotion. More on this below.

    The "weird"--or "strange stories"--seems to me a category that includes both types, horror and fantasy.
    I’d agree this is one area with the most thorough overlap. Another would be Sword & Sorcery, and some of that overlaps with weird.

    You correctly point out the "It's good so it can't possibly be horror" trap, but I don't think it's "good" or "bad" that is the distinction. A fantasy, as I use the word, can contain aspects of horror or terror, but it is by its nature larger than that. The Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House is well-stocked with horror (actually, as the Wikipedia article on it points out, terror rather than horror), but though commonly called a horror story, the book's focus is not at all on the terror of the supernatural, but rather on the terror of a human psyche that is badly damaged: it is a psychological study, and has a lot, indeed, to say about The Human Condition, and that saying is enabled by the supernatural framing, which is exactly what fantastic fiction ought to be: insights enabled by the fantastic elements.

    […]
    It is a psychological study. So is Jekyll/Hyde, “The Body Snatcher,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Green Tea,” “Seaton’s Aunt,” “The Turn of the Screw,” The Werewolf of Paris (as well as being social satire), and many other horror mainstays. I do not believe that that disqualifies it from being horror, especially from an author who gave us “The Bus,” “The Summer People,” “One Ordinary Day with Peanuts” and “The Lottery.” Maybe this is a simplistic argument, but do you apply this reasoning to humor? If it makes us laugh, can it be about anything substantive? Both forms of fiction aim at evoking an emotional reaction, both draw on our human experience to prod us toward that reaction.

    The way you frame your argument really makes it appear to fall into the trap we discussed before. There are certainly examples of bad horror and bad s.f., but as with s.f. there were counter-examples even at the time those most critical of it were acting as though good and s.f. could not be used in the same sentence. Like s.f., the writing of horror has evolved and grown.

    Let’s consider your latest post:

    1) I offered a variety of types of fiction that have been considered horror over the last century, a couple are s.f. or s.f.-like, a couple are fantasy, one is more mainstream realism. In all the primary emotional responses to these works are dread and fear, through use of narrative tactics meant to evoke terror and even revulsion. Let me repeat; primary. (Blood Meridian is probably the most debatable, but McCarthy uses the tactics of the bloody horror story to make his points.) Horror is an emotion – or maybe, in the way we usually discuss it, a group of related emotions, and those emotions cut across genre.
    2) This discussion isn't big enough, we have to bring in non-fiction, too?!?! Let's not count Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders except maybe as a reference work. (*cough*)
    3) The Silence of the Lambs I’ve argued elsewhere on this forum is horror. I don’t believe horror fiction needs the supernatural to be horror fiction; reasonable folks like Bob Gray have given me a Bronx cheer, but not changed my mind. My reasoning is that TSotL uses the structure of the Gothic novel, creates scenes out of a Gothic novel, and presents Lector in particular as the larger-than-life bogeyman, implying greater than human abilities and intelligence in the service of evil, in a novel with a primary emotional trajectory toward dread and fear.

    My argument on that point is that when a tale with some element of horror, even a considerable element, does have a substantially wider focus (or goals or however one wants to put it), by that very expansiveness it ceases to be a "horror" tale, even though marketing folk may choose to put it that section of the shelves.
    My argument is that there is a difference between having a single, sole aesthetic purpose, and having a primary aesthetic purpose. The former will most often hogtie the writing and makes for hobbled and probably irrelevant stories. The latter, used well, is a tool by which the intention makes it on the page, the lens through which the story’s events are focused.

    That, I am sure, is a matter--probably the matter--on which we disagree. By that, I say that Jekyll/Hyde, for instance, is a science-fiction story, not a horror story, and the same for Frankenstein and many of the others. But I suspect that we are now circling the drain, and must simply agree to disagree.
    My contention is that J/H and Frankenstein are both. Oh, and Jekyll/Hyde is also a mystery novel, or at least Ellery Queen (half of him, anyway) claimed it was, stating it was the only mystery where the solution was more terrifying than the deeds leading to the solution. Given the structure of the novel, I tend to agree. Some of the most powerful fiction is more than one thing: for instance, one of our favorites The Land of Laughs starts like a mainstream novel using a celebrity's child as main character, moves on to mystery/thriller, transforms into fantasy and ends like a horror novel.


    But I might refer to the web site of the Horror Writers Association, specifically to their page "What Is Horror?" One statement there is Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread.
    So, you’re citing someone who implies there is nothing to exclude a horror story from doing something in addition to inciting fear or dread? Okay, maybe we do agree.

    Another, from a writer of such fiction, is that Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.
    And I agree with that statement, but suggest there are writers trying to incite the emotion of horror (terror, fear, etc.) and if that is the primary (though not sole) emotional reaction to a given story, it is reasonable to designate it a horror story.



    Last, and finally past slapping Eric’s ears: Blackwater and Blackwater II, a couple more anthologies I own but have yet to finish, are the immediate precursors to The Weird, and are terrific anthologies, wonderful and various, and Manguel’s introductions to the stories are worth the price of admission in and of themselves.


    Randy M.

  15. #15
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by owlcroft View Post
    Well, it gets difficult here, because if I say that I do not necessarily agree that at least some of those books are fantasies with a horror element, the inevitable response is a claim that I am saying "If it's good, it can't be horror."
    That's what you're saying in part, yes. If it's doing X and is complex, it can't be horror and brandy is not as good as a full meal, so anything resembling a full meal clearly can't be brandy.

    But I find it hard to see including Frankenstein, Moreau, or Hyde, just to pick a few familiar ones, in the category (or "genre") of "horror", though they very obviously have some elements of horror in them.
    Given that these are three of the most famous horror stories around, including in the academic sense, this again seems to be you setting up a set of personal criteria, or as Randy said it, you're trying to limit horror to visceral boo stories. (Which can also be complex, etc.) All three are science fiction, though of course in the old pre-tech style. Horror does not have to be fantasy fiction. It can be science fiction or horrorific human experiences like really scary serial killers, snakes, etc. If the story is structured around the scare, shock and danger of horrifying things, it is horror.

    Is, for example, Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders a "horror" book?
    It is not horror fiction because it is not fiction. It is about a horror in real life though.

    Or, if we restrict things to fiction, how about The Silence of the Lambs?
    Yes, Silence of the Lambs is a horror thriller, as is the prequel Red Dragon and sequel Hannibal. That's why the book won the Bram Stoker Award in 1988. Also, Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

    If the argument is then that those don't count because there is nothing supernatural or otherwordly about them, does merely adding such an element make them "horror" or not?
    People who would make that argument have apparently not seen the movie Alien. It's simply not relevant to horror fiction. While the majority of horror is fantastical, it's never been required to be horrorific.

    If so, there is a fairly obvious problem with denying that merely including horror suffices to define a horror novel; if not, what beyond such inclusion could be needed, and how is that whatever-else justified as a necessary component of "horror"?
    Jekyll-Hyde does not merely include horror elements (which is what happens in dark fantasy for instance); it's about horror elements -- the horror of the scientist who releases a monster from within himself by means of a drug, which causes destruction and death. That's no different from a person who releases a monster from within himself by means of a spell or supernatural situation, such as a werewolf or a vampire. They are looking at similar questions and they are all presenting a horrifying, shocking situation as the purpose of the story, in order to explore and/or comment on various issues from it. So I think we can dispense with that argument, as supernaturalness is simply not relevant.

    Obviously, my position is that simply dealing with horrid doings arising from something fantastical suffices to class a tale as a "horror" tale, and that no element of focus beyond that is needed regardless of whether the tale is poor or excellent.
    If I stick a spaceship in a story, it's science fiction. If I set my story in the American Old West, it's a western historical. If I stick a unicorn in my story, it's fantasy. (Oh wait, I forgot, according to your very narrow definition of actual fantasia, such a story would be SF, set in an alternate dimension where unicorns are just a form of natural wildlife. But let's just go with it for now.) Horror, again, is not a literary movement -- it does not have a monochrome style. It's a type of story, as is fantasy. And within horror, as in fantasy, there may be literary movements like Weird fiction and Gothic that are using horror as their main focus and have more specific elements and specific stylistic and structural approaches that characterize them as a movement. Stories never have just one focus because authors automatically write in symbols and write about many things that interest them. So for instance slasher films, which I think get often seen as the straightforwardest horror, have great fun with social commentary and satire in the context of the characters and horror danger.

    My argument on that point is that when a tale with some element of horror, even a considerable element, does have a substantially wider focus (or goals or however one wants to put it), by that very expansiveness it ceases to be a "horror" tale, even though marketing folk may choose to put it that section of the shelves.
    And again, this is exactly the argument that is made about fantasy fiction and science fiction. It's the not-X X argument. It rests on the idea that types of stories are in fact literary movements that must have not only general types of elements or main focuses but very specific styles, approaches and things to be included, such as your insistence that a horror story can only be focused on raising the emotion of horror and that this emotion cannot have any meaning beyond itself. If you are presented with stories that contradict those parameters, you just airlift it out of the type and declare it not-horror horror. And in these arguments, the stuff that is airlifted out is always the good, complex, intellectual etc. stories and the stuff that is allowed are always the stories deemed pleasant but limited by the arguer, or, depending on the arguer, declared outright trash fine for the unwashed masses to enjoy. But all fiction stories are about symbols. They are not simply mood pieces. And horror using a particular sort of element and atmosphere does not limit it anymore than any other type of fiction. It is not a literary movement; it's a literary tool.

    One statement there is Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread.
    And nowhere in there does it say that the story is then required to be only limited to that reaction in what it's doing. It's simply that the story's main focus is on to shock and horrify, which makes it horror, a type of story. What it does with that emotional reaction, with other issues the story may address or satirize, the style, the structure, etc., can vary widely. Which is again why they awarded Silence the Stoker in 1988. Nowhere in there does it say that you can't have a SF horror situation or a serial killer, etc.

    From a writer of such fiction, is that Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion. That's not me: that's professional horror writers advocating for their kind of work.
    Yeah, that writer was probably being very defensive, not liking folk who classified his or her stuff with that trash fantasy and SF, and it was probably written in say the 1990's or 1980's. The reality is that those shelves are not ghettos, nor literary movements. They are category markets that provide extra shelves for selling product in a topical display. My moving a book from SF to general fiction in a bookstore does not suddenly make it not SF or change it in any way. But people's perceptions are often that it somehow does. That's why booksellers and publishers quite often take advantage of that perception in selling and display techniques. Horror sold very well in individual titles but usually had less success in breaking new writers out to a core fan base. But over time, and with the help of Hollywood, that's changed, and now horror usually has its own category market extra shelves (ghetto) in bookstores, so I guess that writer is having a conniption fit right now. Horror is a type of story and we took to calling some of those types "genres," so now that word has a second meaning in literature, but people confuse or combine type genre and literary movement genre whenever it suits them. Horror stories use horror elements to create a scary story that can then also be about consumerism, religious faith, father-son relationships, environmentalism, puberty, political ideologies, the savagery of war, etc. The same for fantasy, SF, mystery, thriller, westerns, romance, contemporary drama, comedies, historicals, tragedies, medical stories, etc. Types of stories are not stylistic movements, period. There is no brandy, but horror stories may not float your boat whatever the style or only perhaps if they are in a stylistic movement like Weird fiction.

    Weird fiction has its monsters; that's why those stories are presumably in there. A Weird fiction collection without various forms of tentacled beings, Lovecraft's signature to the movement, would be rather strange and incomplete. But Weird really continued the tradition of Poe -- to spook, to invoke dread in its type of scare, to use stylistic techniques that were spooky and dark -- but also sometimes visceral and icky-- and to use both style and elements to be as strange as possible -- macabre. And that's an approach to horror and horror symbolism that a lot of folk really love. It's also not a separate being from much of what goes on in horror fiction, nor does writing Weird or not-Weird horror limit the author thematically and in terms of scope.
    Last edited by KatG; November 10th, 2012 at 03:36 PM.

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