Wednesday, October 3, 2012

History of the Horror Novel

There's nothing like October to make us think of things that go bump in the night. But where did it all start? When did authors start writing books and stories for the sole purpose of scaring the readers?

Books that we would most likely consider horror by today's standards were actually the "women's fiction" of the time. In the late 1700s, women wrote books for a primarily female audience that featured kick-butt heroines (of a sort) fighting off creepy creatures in a gothic setting. Vathek by William Beckford (Arabian woman who is captured by the demented, demonic Vathek and forced to marry him instead of the man she loves--shades of Phantom of the Opera!) came out in 1786 and then a series of other similar works, including The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (lovers trying to escape The Inquisition) followed throughout the rest of the century.

But what contemporary readers consider to be the first "true" horror novel is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Or the Modern Promethesus The first edition was a three book set bound in leather (and a copy sold at auction in 2007 for an estimated $125,000.)

Frankenstein, of course, was a morality play of the 'evils that men do'. But then along came Bram Stoker, who took horror into the supernatural range with Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and H.P. Lovecraft added in ancient, other-worldly evil with his Cthulhu reality.

There was a swelling of the genre when Stephen King's Carrie hit the stands and a thousand other writers from Peter Straub's psychological terror, to Robert Bleiler's grisly, gory slasher stories took center stage.

But then the genre changed. Other genres started stealing pieces of horror's homestead. "Dark Fantasy" was born that complicated the story and added romance, drama and angst. Laurell K. Hamilton was an early addition to this new genre, before it really was a genre. Her first works in the Anita Blake series were actually spine labeled as horror.

Now there's paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark fantasy taking up the space where "horror" used to reside. But I doubt it's done. The pendulum has yet to swing again. What's your favorite horror novel, the one you go back to time and again to raise the hairs on your neck?

And who wants to get back to the old style of horror, where it's just man against . . . well, against things that go bump and scream in the night? Raise your hand. Mine's up! :D

1 comment:

  1. The Alienist was a book which really got to me. Real horror is in crimes against the human soul. If a horror writer can tap into that arena, I think horror might make a decent comeback.

    I never really took to paranormal romance or dark fantasy. There's too much spin on darkness as a seductive tool. A truly dark and evil unknown should play out to have a detrimental effect on the reader's psyche and should question the sanity of the author. :)