Sunday, 27 April 2014

Supernatural Horror in Literature

H.P. Lovecraft
Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927, revised prior to 1937)
In the interest of achieving a better understanding of horror fiction, having been left underwhelmed and unusually opinionated by a Clive Barker comic book, I turn to this, a brief history of the genre as of the 1920s or thereabouts by an author of pants-shitting tales that I've enjoyed without reservation.

Weirdly, I bought this book from Bill Lewis in about 1988, and have thus now had it in my possession for a quarter of a century without ever actually having read it, despite it being only a little over one hundred pages in length. Similarly, during these twenty-five years, I've read very few of the authors discussed by Lovecraft in this book - one of the few being Bram Stoker whose Dracula struck me as immensely overrated - which inspires me to wonder just what I've been doing this last couple of decades, and whether or not, without realising it, I may actually be a bit of an idiot. I suppose I got there in the end, and it's probably a little harsh to beat oneself up over a general lack of curiosity where horror fiction is concerned, but nevertheless, it strikes me as strange.

Anyway, it's been suggested by somebody or other that both Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula were, in part, attempts to address the issue of life after death, the fate of the human soul following the supposed death of God as brought to term by the industrial and scientific revolution of Charles Darwin and others. By extension, I wonder if the developments here discussed and described by Lovecraft might represent a similar response by the wider literary world: just as science-fiction attempted in part to extrapolate futures from the increasing body of present scientific knowledge, horror fiction, or at least the gothic novel, was likewise a reaction, processing the unknown newly revealed in so much as the advent of science had begun to expose just how much we really didn't know; or an effort to reintroduce mystery, or at least uncertainty, into what some may have regarded as an increasingly mechanistic world, which at least explains all those symbolist painters who, it might be argued, were sort of doing the same thing but with paint.

Such interpretations are what I take from reading Supernatural Horror in Literature rather than being indicative of anything directly stated by Lovecraft himself; from which I conclude that which I already suspected, namely that mere shock effect, stories in which kidnapped hitch-hikers have fully functional human bumholes grafted onto their faces - the written equivalent of death metal - represent a mere microcosm of the horror tradition, and one that should probably be ignored just as anyone who enjoyed Tolkien's Hobbit should probably steer clear of those shitty films. Clearly there is a great deal more to this genre than one might gather from the current appetite for the gratuitously vile, and this extended essay presents a fascinating and fairly broad view of that which has since been unfortunately eclipsed by a shower of generic intestines, at least from where I'm standing.

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