Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Allen Poe’

Hill House is a great example of Gothic fiction and a Gothic location.

You’ve probably heard someone describe a work of fiction as being “a very Gothic work,” or describing a place they visited as “having a Gothic feel” (which now that I think about it, could be said of The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast). But what actually is “Gothic horror” or “Gothic fiction?” And why does it still appeal to us after more than two-hundred and fifty years?

Surprisingly, Gothic fiction has very little to do with Gothic architecture or with Goth fashion and music (for more on that relationship, check out this brief YouTube video). And while most of the genre do take place in haunted houses, not all haunted house stories are Gothic, or vice versa. As this very helpful Tor.com article points out, “Some genres build the house. Others come along and decorate it. Gothic horror is a very decorative genre.”

So what is Gothic fiction? Well, to be honest, it’s a genre that arose out of another genre that was a response to a popular movement. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment movement emphasized discarding superstition in favor of science and reason. Some artists didn’t care for this philosophy and turned to Romanticism, which emphasized emotion and the self, as well as a veneration of the past, nature, and in some cases the supernatural. Gothic arose out of Romanticism, with artists and authors combining elements of the latter with horror, death and the supernatural, starting with The Castle of Otranto in 1764 by Horace Walpole, and followed by the works of Poe, Mary Shelley, Byron, and many others.

To put it simply, Gothic fiction could be considered the love-child of 18th and 19th century Romance stories and horror stories.

But that’s how Gothic fiction came to be. How do we identify it? Well, the horror novel Kill Creek by Scott Thomas (which I highly recommend), itself a Gothic novel, gives a great run-down of some of the common elements of the genre (I hope Mr. Thomas doesn’t mind me using them):

  • Emanation from a single location. The source of the evil is often a single location, usually a house. A great example of this is The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It is the book’s main location, and it is the source of the evil in the story.
  • A sense of forbidden history. There’s a dark history associated with the location or something related to it. Again, a great example is The Overlook, which has been the setting for murders, suicides, and all sorts of horrid deaths and events, all of which have been swept under the rug for the sake of the hotel’s reputation, and later gets drudged up by Jack (and the hotel).
  • An atmosphere of decay or ruin. Things are rotting or falling apart, or seems to be anyway. It’s in the very air, almost. And it doesn’t have to be physical; it can be mental too. Just look at Jack’s mental state as The Shining progresses, if you need an example.
  • Corruption of the innocent. This one speaks for itself. The evil wants to destroy good and innocence and replace it with evil. Dracula, a great example of Gothic fiction, has the titular character turning good and innocent people into bloodsucking vampires. This is corruption of the innocent in its best example, and why vampire fiction is often grouped with Gothic fiction (did you expect another Shining reference?).

Dracula is another great example of Gothic literature, even if it’s not confined to a single location.

But those features aren’t universal among Gothic stories. They’re common features, but not there in every one (Dracula doesn’t just kill in one single place, after all). So what else makes a Gothic story? Well, there’s something I’ve noticed about Gothic stories: along with the atmosphere of decay, there’s also a veneration towards the darkness and to beauty. Remember, Gothic fiction rose from Romanticism, which venerates nature, emotion and beauty. So while we’re feeling an atmosphere of terror, there’s also this sense that the author has a respect and love of the darker elements along with the Romantic ones.

Of course, this is just scratching the surface of what constitutes Gothic, and I could go on for days on the subject if you let me. The best summary I can do for this post is to say that Gothic fiction are horror stories with a particular group of tropes, a veneration of darkness and horror, and Romantic appreciation for aesthetic and the fantastic world. And even that feels incomplete.

So what appeals to us about Gothic fiction, and has allowed it to survive and evolve whereas other niche genres like Westerns went out of style in less than sixty years? Well, there’s no easy answer there either. The Tor article says that the rules and expectations of the genre can be learned and make it appealing to readers. I’ve heard some people say good Gothic horror has an atmosphere unlike other genres, and that keeps them coming back. My opinion is that, in addition to those theories, Gothic can evolve because its main tropes are relevant no matter what age we’re in, especially the houses. But on a deeper level than that, most Gothic literature takes the childhood idea of home, a big place we feel safe in, and turns it inside out into a giant house of fear that is still somewhat beautiful and appealing. That is a strange inversion that can be attractive to readers, and may explain why we keep writing and reading Gothic stories over two-hundred and fifty years after Walpole started the genre.

However you define Gothic fiction or whatever its appeal is, there’s no doubt that it is a popular and influential genre that we’ve all experienced at lest once in our lives and remember. And perhaps by understanding it better, we can keep Gothic horror going for many more years to come. And I certainly wouldn’t mind that.

What elements of Gothic fiction did I miss here? What about it appeals to you?

What Gothic stories would you recommend for anyone interested in the genre?

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Well, it’s been a year since I last had a Lovecraft binge (see Parts 1, 2, and 3 for my previous binges). And while I didn’t read any actual Lovecraft stories in the year (holy cow, that long?) since my last binge, he was certainly never far from my mind. I read a lot of fiction influenced or modeled after his work, including the Lovecraft/YA novel Awoken* (read my review here), shopped around my own Lovecraft-themed story The Red Bursts (still working on that), and wrote an article about why there’s not more adaptations or even a cinematic universe based on his work. No, surprise, after all that I was ready for another dive into his work. And boy, did I enjoy the eldritch swim.

So if you’re not familiar with HP Lovecraft (and I’d bet good money that you’re not), he was an early 20th-century author whose ideas and stories proved very influential on storytellers like Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Allan Moore, among others. He’s considered the father of cosmic horror, the idea that humans are basically ants in our universe, that there are beings and truths so great and terrible that even glimpsing them can cause madness and death. It’s pretty bleak stuff, if you think about too much about it (which I have).

So this time around, I read “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Lovecraft’s only finished novel, “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “History of the Neconomicon” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” as well as several fragments, one letter excerpt, and one parody story, but I won’t go over those. And I got to say, these were definitely some of the most enjoyable of Lovecraft’s stories. They were consistently creepy and kept me engrossed in the story, as well as with the most accessible language (dude liked to pretend he was a contemporary of Poe, rather than a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway). Or am I just used to his style now?

The interesting thing about these highlighted stories is, they also mark Lovecraft’s shift from pure horror to science-horror. Sure, he’s done that before–“Herbert West: Reanimator” is the story of two men trying to discover the key to bringing back the dead using science, a theme also explored in “Charles Dexter Ward,” but more thriller and magical than science-fiction–but here there was definitely a more sci-fi element in his work. “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” both involved aliens, with the former involving a sort of alien infection and the latter involving aliens that have been visiting Earth for centuries.

Why did Lovecraft make this shift? Well, around the time these stories were written–late 1920’s and early 1930’s–was also the birth of science fiction as a proper genre. Pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories were huge sellers, and since pulp rags like these were where Lovecraft normally published his work, he would’ve been aware of the young genre and its exploration of humanity’s possibilities through space exploration, technology, and aliens. It’s no surprise that he’d take elements from those stories and give them a freaky twist. And lo and behold, it led to Lovecraft writing some of my favorite works by him (especially “Colour Out of Space.” God, that was freaky, considering that what happened in that story could maybe happen in real life).

Honestly, I’m glad I decided to check out HP Lovecraft two-and-a-half years ago. Sure, his early works can be hit-and-miss, but as time went on, he got better. And by this point in his bibliography, he was very good at writing stories that stayed in your mind. It’s a shame he didn’t achieve more of a following during this time, because maybe then we’d have more works by him (sadly, he died in 1937 at barely forty years of age), and he’d be more well-known today.

And while I’m done with my latest binge, I’m looking forward to my next one, whenever that is. Especially if the stories from this point on are as good as the ones I read this time around. And seeing as At the Mountain of Madness is the next story in my collection, I’d say that’s a definite possibility.

Have you read these stories or others by Lovecraft? What are your thoughts on them?

*Funny story about Awoken: so I follow this woman named Lindsay Ellis on YouTube (check out her channel here) who does a lot of videos on our media and culture. Yesterday she uploaded a video about whether or not the hate over the Twilight franchise was warranted. During said video, she mentions she and friend/frequent collaborator Antonella “Nella” Inserra wrote Awoken as a parody of Twilight, only with Lovecraft characters instead of vampires. My mouth hit the floor. I had no idea that the novel was a parody of Twilight, let alone written by those two women under a pen name. Though now that I think about it, it explains quite a bit.

I reached out to both women on YouTube and Twitter, letting them know that I read the novel, my ignorance of its authorship, how much I actually liked it, and that I reviewed it on this blog. They asked for a link, and I sent it to them. Since then, I’ve gotten hundreds of views from their readers/viewers on that one review, and the number of reads is still growing. Wow. Didn’t expect that. Pretty cool. Probably won’t last a week, but it’s still cool.

Also, I learned about Poe’s Rule: if you write a parody of something, unless you ad a healthy dose of comedy, people will think it’s serious fiction in a particular style. Which is apparently what happened to me, as these readers are telling me. Good to know.

So I recently got back into reading The Complete Fiction of HP Lovecraft, after about a year’s gap since I last dove into his work on my Kindle. I actually got from 15% to 32%, which for a 1112-page book is pretty good, if you ask me.

Now, if you don’t know who HP Lovecraft is, he was kind of the King of American Horror between the reigns of Edgar Allen Poe and current monarch Stephen King, though he didn’t really achieve any sort of fame or influence until after his death. When I read him last year, I found his style old and outdated, and while some of his stories were actually pretty creepy, others were just strange or boring (see my thoughts in Thoughts on Lovecraft: Part 1).

So what were my thoughts one year later, having read several more stories? Well, he still prefers to write like a contemporary of Poe, one of his main influences in writing, which I find still rather irksome (I could parody it here, but I did that well enough in Part 1, so why try and repeat it?). I’m not that big a fan of that style, as I find it stuffy and somewhat boring, so occasionally that made for an annoyance to get through.

And Lovecraft is still a proud and unrepentant racist and xenophobe. Seriously, “The Horror at Red Hook” manages to drag so many non-white ethnicities, including Kurds and Yazidis, through the mud.

And he’s the only author I’ve ever met who’s used the word “eldritch,” meaning sinister or creepy (why didn’t he just use those words?).

But other than those problems, the tales I read in this section of the book were much better than the ones I read in the last one. Sure, the short story “Azathoth,” which was the first mention of the Elder God, is actually just a fragment of a novel Lovecraft never got around to finishing, which was annoying. Imagine, I get to the end of that short piece, and I was like, “Wait, that’s it?” Thank goodness for Wikipedia, which explained to me why I shouldn’t be so angry.

And there was that story, “Imprisoned with the Pharoahs,” which got a little dense with the language and made it annoying to get through, though as a fictional account of one of Harry Houdini’s adventures, it is pretty cool in retrospect.

But other than those two, these were very good stories. They were creepy, dark, and had some pretty nice twists and turns in them. I can see why a few of them have been adapted several times into movies or radio plays and the like. “Herbert West–Reanimator” is a fun tale about one man’s growing obsession with overcoming death and extending life (very Frankenstein), and how that obsession causes a domino fall of events that shows the readers the price of obsession. “The Lurking Fear” felt like a Stephen King novel from an earlier age, filled with elements of insanity, the supernatural, and insane tastes. And “Shunned House” needs to be made into a movie by Blumhouse Productions, because it is freaking scary! It’s a vampire novel that hearkens back to the days when vampires were barely human, and is probably the best of the stories by him I’ve read so far. Imagine a movie version, with James Wan in the director’s seat! No one would see it and think of vampires with Twilight or any of that other sentimental crap out there ever again.

Eek! Rats in the walls! Now I can’t sleep.

Also, “The Rats in the Walls” is great if you want to scare anyone around a campfire. Just saying.

You know, the more I read of Lovecraft’s work, the more I see why he’s been so influential. Sure, his early stories could be rather pointless or silly, and never approached scary, with the exceptions of a few, like “The Tomb” and “The Temple.” But as time went on, as tends to happen, he got better. He figured out what worked and what didn’t. He learned how to get into our heads and make us tremble, make us wonder. He pushed the envelope for his day, introducing elements of cannibalism, satanism, gods that care nothing for us except maybe as snacks. And he did it so well.

And even now, after I’ve decided to take a break from him, I still find myself getting inspired by him. I’ve already gotten a few new novel and short story ideas from his stories, particularly “The Lurking Fear.” I have no idea when I’ll write them, but I think that when I do, they may even chill me.

So yeah, I think I’m definitely a Lovecraft fan now. Last year I wasn’t so much of a fan, but now I think I am. He’s definitely grown on me. And I think I may visit him again someday, perhaps even before the end of the year. Especially if he gives me so many good ideas. And if you like a good scary story and can handle some old-timey writing style, then I suggest you visit Mr. Lovecraft too.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got my own stories to work on, so I’m going to get on that. In the meantime, I hope you have a scarily good time, my Followers of Fear. Until next time!

It seems that my prayers have been answered. Either that or I and the many people lobbying for this video to come have finally gotten what we desired.

Anyone who spends enough time on YouTube will probably come across the Epic Rap Battles of History videos. They are funny, have more history than the History Channel does these days, and are really well done. Several of them, such as the Adolf Hitler vs. Darth Vader series, the Doctor Who vs. Doc Brown battle, and the famous Donald Trump vs. Ebenezer Scrooge Christmas special, have become viral sensations. And in a stroke of creative genius, these guys have put out what has to be my favorite video yet: Edgar Allen Poe vs. Stephen King!

The video stars slam poet and rapper George Watsky as Mr. Poe, while Zach Sherwin (aka MC Mr. Napkins) plays his Royal Scariness King. It’s a delightful back-and-forth between the two horror greats, with Poe even rapping in trochee (the form of verse The Raven was written in) and King making references to both his and Poe’s work, as well as poking fun at a certain kid’s movie’s protagonist’s name. Plus the soundtrack is just perfect. But why just read me praise it? Check it out below:

Awesome, right? And it’s very hard to choose a winner, though I have to go with King (he’s got the best disses). Funnily enough, Mr. King himself had some different thoughts:

Mr. King, don’t put yourself down. Frankly, I thought you were sharper than Annie Wilkes’s axe. And I look forward to reading Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes, once I can find the time to do it. In the meantime, can I interest you in one of my books?

Who do you think won? Why? And who would you like to see in another rap battle?

Personally I’m hoping for Walt Disney vs. Stan Lee or Freddy Kreuger vs. Jack the Ripper (yes, that is disturbing. But would you expect any less from me?).