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Gumbywan

Randolph "Dilda" Carter

A rant about books, horror, and the weird.  I sometimes take on my love/hate relationship with goodreads and Amazon.

Currently reading

Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories
Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, William Shatner
Progress: 140/336 pages
Pavane
Keith Roberts

The Horror, The Horror

I'm a huge fan of horror fiction, all kinds.  I do tend to favor the more esoteric sorts of fare that don't really have a concrete and neat conclusion, but not always.  I can appreciate a good thriller full of monsters, haunted houses, creeps from beyond the grave, space aliens.  I have to admit I'm kind of tired of the big three though:  zombies, vampires, and werewolves.  I'm also a little snobby and avoid the Dean Koontz, Preston Child, and Bentley Little fare.  I like a well written, as in higher literary aspirations, as well as a creepy, eerie, or weird story.  I will just read a suspenseful monster fest for fun however.

 

Horror is another one of those shamed genres like Romance, Westerns, Crime, SciFi, and Thrillers.  For some unknown reason Mysteries seem to somewhat escape this literary pariah status.  No matter how well written and thoughtful a horror novel is it will be shunned by the true literati (= snobs).  The only novels that escape this fate are those that are written by writers that are already considered literary writers and not classed with the genre outcasts.  Therefore a Colson Whitehead can write a post-apocalyptic zombie book and the literati will accept it as "experimental."  BS flows nonetheless, such novels are sure to be overrated within the genre because of their literary cachet.  Thus Gravity's Rainbow, as much a genre novel as anything, is classed literature, while Misery, every bit a literary novel, is not.

 

Wherefore does this nonsense arise, I ask?  Partly it is reliance on the short story in the horror genre.  The short story is actually the lifeblood of the horror genre and it has always been the red headed stepchild of what is considered true literature once the novel became the dominant fiction literary form.  Short stories are almost a literary genre unto themselves, treated as a sort of sub-literature or novelty for short attention spans.  This persists even though snob rags like The New Yorker have printed stories and novellas as high brow fiction for decades.  They get away with this by pretending the writers of these shorter bits are really serious novelists just moonlighting in shorter magazine fare.

 

Now that we've disposed of this bit of silliness, what is left?  Well I think the shunned status is partly also caused by horror being about unreality that largely doesn't conform to a defined "art" category like surrealism say.  "Literature" is supposed to be about real or possible things.  This obviously is not always true, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, and Franz Kafka are again notable exceptions.

 

However I think the main reason horror literature is snubbed is because these fears that we entertain are formed in early childhood and somehow intellectuals think we should be largely beyond these things as adults.  To enjoy, or maybe I should say, savor and ponder these symbols and subjects is considered a sign that we haven't grown up.  After all grownups don't believe in ghosts, monsters, aliens, or haunted houses.  The fact that these can be deep seated symbols worth considering is dismissed.

 

Many horror writers and fans attempt to artificially jump out of the genre by referring to it as "dark fiction" as scifi tried to unsuccessfully re-brand itself as speculative fiction in the '60s and '70s.  I'm from Chicago and I believe you should call a spade a spade; used cars are not pre-owned cars.  Like Bentley Little, if a horror writer tries to tell me he/she is a dark fiction writer bad things will result.  Horror fans who want to be called dark fiction fans have an inferiority complex when it come to their "literature" brethren but this doesn't justify painting over the genre label.  Get used to it, you are a horror fiction fan and certain types aren't going to want to discuss your reading list whatever you brand it.

 

Labels are useful things.  They help us to define and choose what we want.  They provide a convenient place in say a bookstore to filter what we want to look at.  If all books were filed together the shopping experience in a used bookstore would be infinitely more difficult.  Dark fiction isn't an accepted genre, so filing said books in with regular fiction is silly no matter how inferior the writer/fan feels for having to shamefully go to the horror section, even for a literary masterpiece.  There is little purpose beyond snobbishness for shucking the horror label.

 

The horror, the horror.