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"Every branch of human knowledge, if traced up to its source and final principles, vanishes into mystery.….”
You may have become acquainted with the term ‘weird fiction’ through popular culture, word of mouth, via literature, films or video games. Perhaps you’ve been an avid reader of the genre since childhood.
Whatever entry point ---You will no doubt have observed that the writings of H.P Lovecraft and other well known writers of the weird, have been receiving great acclaim in the 21st Century. Weird fiction itself seems to be going through a kind of “Silver Age” or Renaissance of sorts. With horror films like ‘Annihilation’, ‘The Ritual’ and ‘They Remain’, all based on weird fiction stories, to name but a few—and more in the works……TV series like ‘True Detective’ which were filled with references to ‘The King in Yellow’ and Thomas Ligotti’s pessimistic fiction-- creating a renewed spark of public interest— On top of myriad 'Lovecraftian' style video games. There’s never been a better time to write or read this fascinating genre, which often crosses boundaries with those of ‘Cosmic Horror’, ‘Science Fiction’, ‘Fantasy’, ‘Decadent Literature’ ‘Surrealism’ ‘German Expressionism’ ‘Gothic Literature’ ‘Grand Guignol’ ‘Cyber Punk’, and more.
Works by new and popular weird authors are coming out all the time. Perhaps you are already familiar with names like these;
H.P Lovecraft, Michael Cisco, Thomas Ligotti, Brett McBean, Laird Barron, Ramsay Campbell, Algernon Blackwood, Poppy.Z.Brite, Stephen King, M.R James, Robert Chambers, William Hope Hodgson, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alan Moore, David Wong, T.E.D Klein, Ira Levin, Sheridan Le Fanu, Brian Lumley, Chuck Palahniuk, Mark Z. Danielewski, Neil Gaiman, Robert Bloch, Bram Stoker, China Mieville, Jeff VanderMeer, K. J. Bishop, Steph Swainston, Leonora Carrington, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Clive Barker, Ambrose Bierce, Frank Belknap Long, Arthur Machen, Robert E Howard, Ray Bradbury, Robert Aickman.
If not …. you're in for a real treat, if so.. there’s hundreds more fantastic horror and weird writers to explore.
Once a month there's usually a Weird Fiction novel going, and a short story for the more casual reader. Coming up this will extend to a fortnightly film club!
For those who are totally new to the Weird Fiction Genre. I’ve prepared a short history, which includes (At the conclusion) a list of recommended startup reading, and some half decent films based on Weird Fiction novels or short stories.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WEIRD FICTION GENRE
Weird Fiction is often left for definition by those who write, film or read it.
In ‘Weird Tales’, the pulp magazine in which the genre was popularised, letters of complaint in the back often cited ‘Too much science fiction’ or ‘Too much fantasy’ as an issue with certain issues 'not being proper weird fiction'. The truth was, the blurring of genres was always what made Weird Tales so unique, encompassing everything from the ghost or monster tale, to alien colonisation, metamorphoses-- or many other supernatural manifestations. Perhaps the most popular figure to rise from the pages of Weird Tales was Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who’s stories about ancient and hideously tentacled aliens who colonised earth aeons ago, only to return to play apathetically with the fates of man— was one of the most prominent to attempt to define the genre himself. His essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ contained a lengthy history of the macabre and the supernatural, and is certainly a good primer for those who are looking to expand their favourite classic authors;
H.P Lovecraft’s - Supernatural Horror in Literature Essay:
For those without the patience for such verbose and adjective filled descriptions, typical of Lovecraft's temperament, I will attempt to surmise the rise of the weird tale here, in a shorter word count.
Lovecraft equated the origins of Weird Fiction to the earliest folklore of all human kind; from the strange funeral rites in the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, to the Ancient Greek conception of Hades and the underworld, the human mind has long inhabited imaginary spaces. What could be a more potent example of the earliest Weird Fiction than Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'. One of the most influential pieces of art ever, the "metamorphoses" told the Greek myths, utilising the unifying theme of transformation. Men turning into Asses, Gods turning into Bulls, or punishing mortals and changing them into spiders filled the Ancient Greek legends. Equally rich and strange stories abound in the Scandinavian Eddas, The Hindu Mahābhārata or the Chinese legends of the Three Kingdoms for example.
But lurking beneath the fanciful stories of ancient myth, a deep paranoia lurked, a cosmic horror which pervaded existence. This can be seen in the terrible debauched cults of Dionysus, and their hideous chants in plays like Euripides "The Bacchae".
Another prominent figure in horror literature, Dennis Wheatley, is often viewed with some stigma. Unlike Lovecraft, who kept a sceptical distance from his own mythology, Wheatley was an avid believer in the figure of Satan, from the bible. He wrote many horror/supernatural stories, and also released his own treatise on the supernatural in 1971, which is available to read on Open Library;
Alongside Lovecraft's secular essay on the supernatural, this work provides a useful insight into the true superstitions and fears which have helped humans to create weird and supernatural fiction since our neanderthal origins. In 'The Devil and all his Works', Dennis Wheatley traces all human art to invisible influences; from the earliest historic cave paintings of the 'Horned God', Wheatley sees the sinister manifesting in everything from tribal dance, to mesmerism, to clairvoyance to telepathy and other pseudo sciences.
In Wheatley's theory of the universe, all human stories and art are an attempt to gage with this supreme negativity which takes many forms. Wheatley's demiurge manifests as myriad human gods throughout history, from the rise of the Sumerian civilisation and supposed 'Garden of Eden', he cites the invisible influence of entities like the Babylonian "Pazuzu"... Marduk (Who he equates with the Biblical Moloch), The Cult of Mithras, born out of the Ancient mystery religions--moving in competition with Christianity in its foundations;
Whilst Wheatley does frequently stray from common sense logic, his work does provide deep insight into the genuine beliefs and fears which have lurked in human myths since antiquity, particularly in Europe and the West. Among Wheatley's more insane claims, include referencing the "Ancient Aliens" theories in Erik Von Daniken's ‘Chariots of the Gods’, (Stories of aliens building the Pyramids and founding secret cities in lost Atlantis). H.P Lovecraft also loved to propagate stories of alien beings in his stories, but had no belief in anything supernatural, proudly proclaiming himself an atheist. Wheatley on the other hand, saw all cultures of the world manifesting the stories of darker times before the reign of man. Citing personal feelings, for instance to speak of 'Having a deep sense of evil' when being inside an Aztec pyramid Wheatley's view is profoundly subjective). For Wheatley, the story of 'Quetzelcoatl', for instance, is one more manifestation of the Satan myth, likewise the Ancient Persian's Zoroastrianism, and its demiurge Angra Mainyu-- is another sinister machination of the archetypal arch-fiend.
Thousands of pages could be spent tracing different civilisations, and cultures and their many myths, and how they do or don't qualify as weird fiction. But Weird Fiction, in the sense that we conceive of it today, owes its true origins primarily to Gothic Literature, which was itself a product of the locations and themes in Europe during the Middle Ages.
As Lovecraft points out in his essay 'Supernatural Horror in Literature', The Middle Ages or 'Dark ages' encouraged a variety of superstitions, magical beliefs, and stories about ghosts, witches, werewolves, vampires and ghouls-- all growing out of the spreading of local urban legends, and superstitious fears.
Epic works like those of Dante Alighieri brought religious doctrine concerning hellfire, out of the imagination and into clarifying vision. Though this didn't necessarily prove the existence of an afterlife, they provoked great terror, and wonder. But in later medieval periods, moral preaching gave way to more fanciful myths, like those of the Holy Grail and the Knights of the Round table, such as in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.
From such excitement, and a belief in the existence of magic, all manner of alchemists; such as Nostradamus, Trithemius, Dr. John Dee, Robert Fludd, and the like—were born. Which continued to provide great inspiration for strange literature. A great deal of Lovecraft's own fiction were concerned with the mythology propagated by Margaret Murray in her book ‘The Witch Cult of Western Europe’, which carried on the tradition from the Middle Ages, of belief in a secret cabal of satanic practitioners, hailing since the dawn of human civilisation.
In 'The Devil and All his Works' Dennis Wheatley centres his research on a similar topic. Wheatley claims that inherited wisdom from Ancient Mystery religions, (For instance the Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah) would eventually inspire dissident movements from the Catholic church, such as Rosicrucianism, Alchemy and eventually 'The Renaissance' and 'the Enlightenment'. These theories were not unique to either of these two authors, they were common superstitions that had existed for centuries.
The common myths surrounding the Secret Society of Freemasonry, claims they had carried on the satanic flame of Ancient mystery religions, which has been repeated ad nauseum in popular culture. Those familiar with the "Da Vinci Code", or modern You Tube conspiracy videos have no doubt stumbled on some form of this folklore, at some time. The stories of evil satanic cults, date at least as far back as the time of The Crusades, when the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jaques De Molay was tried and burnt at the stake by the Church. There are plenty who continue to believe erroneously, that the money that the Knights Templar made from the Crusades was eventually pushed into the development of Freemasonry.
Great writers of classical fiction, like Alexander Dumas, were equally responsible for cementing the reputation of Adam Weishaupt's notorious 'Illuminati'. A small group, begun as a hoax, and disbanded in the same century - The Bavarian Illuminati did eventually infiltrate the Freemason order, and create their own hierarchal system, before being banned and shut down by the Bavarian governement in 1788;
Three works of Alexander Dumas in particular that deal with the French Revolution include; "Memoirs of a Physician" (Or Joseph Balsamo), "The Queen's Necklace" and "Ange Pitou"---- This trilogy deals quite explicitly with a meeting of the Illuminati-- a parade of robed men, with flaming torches, who meet in the German countryside to plan the overthrow of the French monarchy. Dumas, who was himself acquainted with Royalty, (And a staunch monarchist) genuinely believed in the truth of these ideas, and was throughly against Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the ideas of the revolution. The idea that Cagliostro, (or Joseph Balsamo), an Egyptian Freemason and self proclaimed magician was the head of this coup de tat, (And thus responsible for the French Revolution itself), in his affair with the incident surrounding the queen's necklace, does still permeate certain conspiracy circles.
The influence in fiction can still be seen today, in strange works like Arturo Pérez-Reverte's 'The Dumas Club', in which a Necronomicon-style satanic book; 'The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows' is sought by the member of an Alexander Dumas appreciation society. The story was also translated into an intriguing movie called 'The Ninth Gate' starring Johnny Depp. Just to flout a few more of these interesting connections in the fabric of satanic folk lore, it may be worth noting that the notorious occultist Alastair Crowley, once dubbed by the press; 'The most evil man who ever lived' ---believed that he was the reincarnation of Cagliostro. Crowley is often cited as being the influence to modern fiction, and popular culture. He was a member of the "Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn", which featured many prominent weird fiction writers, including; Algernon Blackwood (The Willows), Arthur Machen (The Great God Pan), and W.B Yeats, (one of the founding fathers of modernism in literature).
Obviously this history includes a little tongue in cheek, I hope nobody takes me too seriously. This all being little more than a fun game of connections in the literary world, we now return to the origins of Weird Fiction, in the Gothic tradition. In 1764 Horace Walpole published, The The Castle of Otranto; which is often cited as the first true Gothic novel. The story was born, in many ways, out of a certain nostalgia for the castles and knights of medieval folk tales, and errantry romances.
Following many trashy attempts to copy Walpole, Ann Radcliffe eventually mastered the genre, with her prolific stories, including perhaps her most popular 'The Mysteries of Udulpho'. This story upheld the most frightful and well written the genre would have to offer. In fact, Ms Radcliffe, (extremely prolific), wrote her own essay regarding the Supernatural in poetry. This essay, was in fact the inspiration for Lovecraft's own 'Supernatural horror in Literature';
In this essay, Radcliffe attempts to define the human need for the supernatural, and how poetry can handle it, from the imagery in Shakespeare's "Hamlet", (as he is visited by his father’s ghost), to Milton’s "Paradise Lost", who's heroic figure of Lucifer, is described by Ms Radcliffe, as one on who’s ‘brow sat horror plumed’.
Next most prominently came Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk (1796). But after some time, the Gothic genre had become so absurd, the only thing which seemed right was a fair parody, by none other than the witty Jane Austin. In "Northanger Abbey", Austin provides a rebuke of the gothic genre, via her protagonist Catherine Morland, who sets out to be a Gothic protagonist herself, she observes;
"I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and most of them with great pleasure. 'The Mysteries of Udolpho,' when I had once begun it, I could not lay it down again; - I remember finishing it in two days - my hair standing on end the entire time."
Austin herself, provides something of a recommended reading list, for the Gothic, in Northanger Abbey, during the conversation between Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe;
“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! — What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
Lovecraft charts this prolific period in human myth and storytelling, citing inspiration building from the chaotic visions of William Blake, to the grotesque witch-dances in Freemason poet, Robert Burns’s “Tam O’Shanter”
"Much of the power of Western horror-lore was undoubtedly due to the hidden but often suspected presence of a hideous cult of nocturnal worshippers and their strange customs...."
"This secret religion, stealthily handed down amongst peasants for thousands of years despite the outward reign of the Druidic, Graeco-Roman, and Christian faiths in the regions involved, was marked by wild “Witches’ Sabbaths” in lonely woods and atop distant hills on Walpurgis-Night and Hallowe’en, the traditional breeding-seasons of the goats and sheep and cattle; and became the source of vast riches of sorcery-legend, besides provoking extensive witchcraft- prosecutions (of which the Salem affair forms the chief American example). Akin to it in essence, and perhaps connected with it in fact, was the frightful secret system of inverted theology or Satan-worship which produced such horrors as the famous “Black Mass”
What follows this period in literature history, is a drastic change in Gothic fiction, which would forever alter English literature, not to mention provide the plant pot, within which Weird Fiction would grow. William Beckford, inspired by 'Tales from the Arabian Nights', wrote 'The History of the Caliph Vathek'. This triggered a desire for the exotic flavours of cultures outside of Europe. Or in Lovecraft's words; "In the Orient, the weird tale tended to assume a gorgeous colouring and sprightliness which almost transmuted it into sheer phantasy." This would eventually manifest in certain elements of Decadent fiction, but first, Edgar Allen Poe rocked the American Continent with his strange tales of Mystery and the Imagination.
Poe was more focussed on human psychology than the paranormal, as tides were changing, and the scientific revolution and enlightenment had forever changed society's world view. Poe would have a huge influence on Charles Baudelaire, who translated his works into French. Baudelaire's work 'The Flowers of Evil' is still considered a literary classic, and he gave birth to the Decadent Movement, in which writers like Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray) would become famous throughout the world.
Meanwhile, in Bohemia, Czech writers who were exposed to the work of the Decadent Movement saw in it the promise of a life they could never know. They were neither aristocrats nor bored bourgeoisie. They were poor and hungry for something better, and relished in the fiction. This also swung back to America, with 'Bohemianism' becoming the vogue word for the relaxation of Victorian morals. Many journalists took up the title of 'Bohemian' in the 1850's before the outbreak of the American Civil War, including authors such as Ambrose Bierce.
As well as being a prominent writer of weird fiction, Bierce was known for acts of political heroism. He once famously made a stand, turning down bribes from his employer William Randolph Hearst. Hearst, an infamous newspaper baron, (famous for his sensational headlines, which were dubbed 'The Yellow Press') (That's eras version of fake news). In another incident with Ambrose Bierce, the author and journalist was attributed the gift of prophecy, when his poem included the sentence, that a bullet was "speeding here to stretch McKinley on his bier." Shortly afterwards, US President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz;
The poem caused such a scandal, that William Randolph Hearst was accused of being somehow involved in organising the Presidents assassination. Hearst was even kicked out of the luxurious Bohemian Club, of which he had been made a member, over the McKinley scandal. Those who follow conspiracy folklore, will know of 'the Bohemian Club' as the site of the alleged 'Satanic Ritual' secretly filmed by Alex Jones and Jon Ronson, as it appeared in Jon Ronson's 'The Secret Rulers of the World' documentary;
Ambrose Bierce (Who penned 'An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge') also disappeared under strange circumstances, during a holiday to South America. It is not know to this day what happened to him. At the risk of joining too many dots in urban legend, conspiracy and creating tenuous links--- We may perhaps look at one more fascinating connection. Hearst's Yellow Press coincided with the Yellow Nineties, named after the notorious decadent 'Yellow Book' (featuring Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley), (A hub for decadent and Weird Fiction) which most critics believed served as the inspiration for Robert Chambers famous weird fiction series; ‘The King in Yellow’.
If we fast forward through some seminal horror of the nineteenth century, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" metamorphosing into bat, beast and wall crawler-- marked a pivotal change in fiction, not in the least because the film industry started to take over as a dominant medium, with it's adaptation in 1931. Shelley's "Frankenstein", "The Mummy", and "The Wolf Man" would all soon become campy screen stars, with memorable names like Bella Lugosi, Boris Karloff and later Christopher Lee stealing the show. But this is a sidetrack from the true golden age of Weird Fiction, happening around the same period ---because everybody knows, that the genre really owes its legacy--- to the pulps.
Pulp Fiction was born out of advances in the printing press, and pioneering titles, such as 'Argosy', "Amazing Stories", and most of all ‘Weird Tales’ began to focus on a certain style of fiction, which owed its allegiance to both the macabre themes of Poe and the Gothic, the strange oriental fascinations of Decadence, Science Fiction and the changing technological world.
For a very brief history of pulp magazines, read this article;
Weird Tales, when carried by eccentric publisher Farsnworth Wright, allowed a certain breed of writer to flourish. Many contributed to the pages over the years, the most famous of which came to be known as the Lovecraft circle, and included writers like Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith, Howard Wandrei, and August Derleth, not to mention a young Robert Bloch (Eventual author of Psycho, who Hitchock would borrow from--- to revolutionise modern cinema, and begin the 'slasher' genre--- which would permeate the horror genre in the late 20th Century).
Writers in the Lovecraft circle borrowed themes and ideas from each other, pastiching others work, and creating literary hoaxes in order to make each others stories seem more authentic. The most influential tropes and motifs utilised in Weird Tales magazines, included evil spell books like ‘The Necronomicon’ (Which H.P Lovecraft wrote his own hoax history of).
The Hoax nature of The Necronomicon continues into the modern age, with multiple authors creating them in the 1970’a including most famously, The 'Simon Necronomicon':
References to this mythical work remain littered throughout popular fiction and horror films;
Other motifs in 'Weird Tales' surrounded the combined mythology of the ‘Lovecraft circle’ who shared folklore around their mythical alien entities ‘The Old Ones’ --- often utilising animal imagery- such as a giant frog (Tsathogua), or squid like tentacles (Cthulu). Some modern critics site the tentacled motif as a psychological unconscious slip. A Freudian substitute for genitalia, (with such people claiming that Lovecraft, a known hermit and recluse, was truly afraid of sex, and this was the basis for all of his neurosis). Kind of a Victorian, born out of his time, which would at least go far to explain his verbose prose. Indeed, sexual themes have always run concurrently alongside Weird Fiction, and not always in a healthy manner. This article from 'Weird Fiction Review' provides an interesting history of sex in weird fiction:
Sexism, and sexploitation is a common theme in some earlier weird fiction stories, which can make some modern audiences uncomfortable. This wasn't the only flaw in Lovecraft's own work, who was notoriously bigoted, and was known to include racial stereotypes and derogatory terms in his work and letters. Gothic novels like J. Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula also used intrusive supernatural elements in narratives that played to popular Victorian sexual subtexts and fears; at the same time Decadent writers and artists like Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley and Aubrey Beardsley more directly sought to shock or titillate audiences, pushing against the sexual mores of the day. Arthur Machen, who wrote the iconic novella “The Great God Pan" hinted at implicit sexuality, which caused a huge uproar in London, and the collected edition of Machen's work was sold under the counter in some shops, alongside The Yellow Book and other erotica.
There does appear to be some link between the Marquis De Sade, (creator of sado-masochism/ renowned sexual adventurer), and the birth of Gothic Literature. If only in the fact, that Castle of Otranto was published only 20 years before De Sade’s "120 days of Sodom". But the Victorian desire for escapist suspenseful horror and that eras well known sexual taboos --would undoubtedly be linked in more ways than one.
Perhaps it is only another tenuous link, to trace the subject matter of “The 120 Days of Sodom” with the birth of the Gothic. De Sade's book, is a racy novel about murder, pedophilia and sexual perversion, and traces the sexual adventures of four French libertines who rape, torment, and finally kill young victims at a chateau in Germany’s Black Forest. Could there be any link here to one of the founding texts of Gothic literature, and 'truly horrid novels' as mentioned by Jane Austin in Northanger Abbey, "Necromancer of the Black Forest"???
It seems unlikely, but pretty fun to speculate over. The aforementioned essay on the link between sexuality and Weird Fiction, also sites the link between pulp magazines themselves, and the widely disposable pornography magazines of the time. The covers of Weird Tales were often covered in scantily clad women, and stories within the pages were often designed to titilate. i.e Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone”; which includes Howard's invented Necronomicon-esque book Unaussprechlichen Kulten or 'Nameless Cults', aka The Black Book, by Friedrich von Junzt. Howard was primarily famous for his Conan series, which often included the protagonists sexual conquests. "The Black Stone" includes scenes of an orgastic satanic ritual which takes place upon a stone altar. Weird Tales also featured the first instances of tentacle erotica (C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau”), and bizarre, inhuman females seeking to mate (Clark Ashton Smith’s “Mother of Toads,”), among others. The strange interpolation continues into modern times, with bizarre subversive works, like Guilermo Del Toro’s exploration of sex with his Innsmouth creature in the film ‘The Shape of Water’.
After Lovecraft’s death in 1937, Weird Tales began to stagnate, however a small group of dedicated followers kept the authors work alive. Particularly his protege August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, who started Arkham House, and began printing Lovecraft’s stories for the masses, (among many other Weird Fiction writers). This kept the flame of weird fiction alive into the modern era, which also explains the bias toward Lovecraftian stories in the genre, up until the more recent renaissance. S.T Joshi and Derleth often picked Lovecraft's heirs by hand, for instance Ramsey Campbell, a Lovecraft fanboy who created his own deity "Glakki of the lake".
History of Arkham House
These days, there are a myriad of small press and publishers within the weird fiction genre. Many authors choose to self publish, but there are also various giant publishing houses. The most expensive, 'Centipede Press' prints luscious quarto books, with beautiful hard covers, (If you can afford them);
Other prominent publishers of Weird Fiction included Tartarus and Subterranean press;
The correlation between smut and the horror genre, has by no means ended with the death of the pulps. Indeed, authors like Stephen King and Robert Anton Wilson (Of "The Illuminatus Trilogy" fame), and Hunter S Thompson-- all got their start by being printed in Playboy;
Back in the time of the decadents, genres of fiction were only capable in the hands of famed "purveyors of smut", such as Leonard Smithers;
So much for a short history.
I'll try to wrap this up.
There are literally hundred of authors, particularly modern authors who warrant a mention in terms of the genre, however my intention is only to provide a simple background. We'll be delving further into the state of Weird Fiction today, and over the 20th Century. After all, we'll need to save something to talk about at the Meetups. The strange has permeated television in its history, from "The Twilight Zone" to the modern technology phobic "Black Mirror". Thousands of other series' which I won't name for the sake of brevity would no doubt fall into the category of 'Weird'. (The Twilight zone actually became quite a hub for prominent authors of Weird Tales magazine back in the day, and flashback episodes included works such as ‘An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ (written by aforemention disappeared Weird Fiction writer, Ambrose Bierce.)
H.P Lovecraft was one of the primary agents in providing a definition for the Weird Fiction genre. For some time, most people have taken him at his word, and Lovecraft's definition has held a rigorous hold. For Lovecraft, Weird Fiction's origins lay in the past, and was something 'real authors' would occasionally turn their hand to, for an occasional dalliance. He noted that Dickens wrote several eerie narratives; Browning, the hideous poem “Childe Roland”; Henry James, The Turn of the Screw; Dr. Holmes, the subtle novel Elsie Venner; F. Marion Crawford, “The Upper Berth”; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wall Paper”; whilst the humourist W. W. Jacobs 'produced that able melodramatic bit called “The Monkey’s Paw”.'
To Lovecraft; "The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains.... A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos, and the daemons of unplumbed space."
However, this definition is evolving and changing in modern times. Modern fans appreciate wider, less limited historical literature trends than Lovecraft. This article ‘Weird Fiction - A Primer’ gives some good insight into the modern state of the weird, and the merging of surrealism, world literature and the macabre-- to include influences such as Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges, Absurdist theatre like Eugene Ionesco's 'Rhinocerus', Surrealist masterpieces such as Boris Vian's 'Froth on the Daydream', African Ghost tales like those of Nuzo Onoh, Belgian author Jean Ray, and Indian weird fiction authors, such as Manjula Padmanabhan.
Some of the recent attention trained on weird fiction can be attributed to Jeff VanderMeer. His acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy shows off weird fiction’s range, encompassing elements of science fiction, Lovecraftian terror, paranoid conspiracy thrillers, and body horror. He’s written about literature as it relates to the first season of True Detective, and has acted as an advocate for authors who deserve a wider audience, including Michael Cisco and Thomas Ligotti.
The new weird is a literary genre that began in the 1990s and developed in a series of novels and stories published from 2001 to 2005. M. John Harrison is credited with creating the term "New Weird" in 2002. The writers involved are mostly novelists who are considered to be parts of the horror or speculative fiction genres, but who often cross genre boundaries. Notable authors include K.J Bishop, Steve Cockayne, Paul Di Filippo, M.John Harrison, Thomas Ligotti, Ian R.MacLeod, China Mieville, Alastair Reynolds, Justina Robson, Steph Swainston, and Jeff VanderMeer, among others;
As we move into the recommended reading list, the most obvious starting point is Jeff and Ann Vandermeer--- who created the extensive and thorough anthology; 'The Weird- A compendium of strange tales'. The introduction to that book also provides a tidy overview of the genre, if you haven't absorbed enough here.
FURTHER READING: Other notable essays on the genre for the extremely enthusiastic;
The Weird Tale - S.T. Joshi
The Modern Weird Tale - S.T. Joshi
Danse Macabre - Stephen King
RECOMMENDED READING LIST
The Weird Compendium is great for an overview of the genre, although the Vandermeer bent may differ from others tastes, there are many classics within these pages;
My own list will inevitably come down to taste, although i’ve tried to lean towards the most universally popular of the genre, as well as some extremely unique ones which define that particular theme better than any others.
This is a very small list, and doesn't comprise of anything much in terms of anything after Lovecraft's pulp era. This list is only meant as a very basic primer. I had planned to include more of these authors within the groups, but feedback so far has suggested that focussing on the modern-- is more interesting to the core members so far in terms of the Meetups. Any feedback provided in regards to these choices will however be taken on board.
The Graphic novel I would highly recommend alongside The Weird anthology, and these titles, would be Alan Moore's "Providence". This strange and unique work pays tribute to many Wyrd authors, chronicling the life of H.P Lovecraft and those around him in the weird fiction circle; including cameos from Lord Dunsaney, Robert E Howard, Robert Bloch, ST Joshi, August Derleth, Robert Chambers, and many others. For Weird Fiction fans it is a treasure trove of references and subtle winks and nods.
As is typical of Moore, utilising conspiracy and popular movements, the story even propounds the popular, yet absurd, conspiracy that Lovecraft’s Freemason grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, owned the actual Necronomicon, which Lovecraft had read from--- thus suggesting that true visions of the great outer aliens 'The Old Ones' had initially inspired Lovecraft's fiction.
Hopefully these stories will be a good start for newcomers. I may update this list to be a more inclusive and longer list, as time goes on;
Alan Moore - Neonomicon
Alan Moore - Providence
Ludwig Flammenberg- Necromancer of the Black Forest
The Castle of Wolfenbach -Eliza Parsons
Alexander Dumas - Memoirs of a Physician
Nathaniel Hawthorne - The House of the Seven Gables
Edgar Allen Poe - The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
Edgar Allen Poe - A Tale of the Ragged Mountains
Oscar Wilde - The Canterville Ghost
M.R James - Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you my lad
Robert. W Chambers - The King in Yellow (The Yellow Sign, The Repairer of Reputations)
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa - The Hell Screen
E.F Benson - Caterpillars
Franz Kafka - The Metamorphoses
Leonora Carrington - The Hearing Trumpet
Lord Dunsany - The Sword of Welleran
ETA Hoffman - The Sandman
Washington Irving - The Money Diggers
Sheridan Le Fanu - The Familiar
Frank Belknap Long - The Hounds of Tindalos
Daphne De Maurier - The Apple Tree
Gustav Meyrink - The Golem
Jean Ray - Malpertius
The Devil Plant - John Murray Reynolds
Hugh B Cave - Murgunstrumm and others (Anthology)
Ambrose Bierce - An occurrence at Owl Creek bridge
F. Marion Crawford - The Upper Birth
F. Marion Crawford - The Screaming Skull
Guy De Maupassant - The Hand
Fitz James O’Brien - What was it?
Walter Delamere -The Vats
Walter Delamere - Out of the Deep
Guy De Maupassant - The Hand
Algernon Blackwood - The Willows
Algernon Blackwood - The Wendigo
Algernon Blackwood - Ancient Sorceries
Arthur Machen - The Novel of the Black seal
Arthur Machen - The Great God Pan
Arthur Machen - The White People
Howard Wandreii - The Red Brain
Howard Wandreii - The Fire Vampires
Howard Wandreii - The Tree Men of M'bwa
William Hope Hodgson - The House on the Borderland
H.P Lovecraft - The Call of Cthulhu
H.P Lovecraft - The Shadow out of Time
H.P Lovecraft - The Shadow over Innsmouth
H.P Lovecraft - The Dunwich Horror
H.P Lovecraft - At The Mountains of Madness
H.P Lovecraft - From Beyond
Clark Ashton Smith - The Hashish Eater
Clark Ashton Smith - The Colossus of Ylourgne
Clark Ashton Smith - The Coming of the White Worm
Robert E Howard - The Black Stone
Robert E Howard - Pigeons from Hell
Robert E Howard - The Tower of the Elephant
August Derleth - The Lurker at the Threshold
Dennis Wheatley - The Haunting of Toby Jugg
Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson - The Illuminati’s Trilogy
Thomas Ligotti - Nethescurial
Harlan Ellison - I have No Mouth and I Must Scream
Robert. W Chambers - The Harbour Master
Guy De Maupassant - The Horla
Thomas Ligotti - The Last Feast of Harlequin
Nuzo Onoh - The Follower
Laird Barron - The Men from Porlock
T.E.D Klein - The Events at Poroth Farm
The Hell Screen - Ryonsuke Atogawa
...................... (To be updated)
These comprise mainly of authors prior to World War Two, as we will be covering more contemporary authors in the meetings. There are many modern weird authors to work through, if you want a quick glance at some, in the interim, then you can check out my personal reading list, which has a lot of newer authors on it, and there are many podcasts and websites to find new authors, such as The Outer Dark Podcast, The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast and the Lovecraft Ezine among others.
RECOMMENDED WATCH LIST
Here is a very short list of some films which could be considered weird fiction, and aren’t terrible. (Let’s be honest there have been some extremely mediocre translations of Weird Fiction authors over the years). This is by no means a complete list, but it is a good start for those who are interested.
George Melies - The Astronomers Dream (1898)
George Melies - The Conquest of the Pole
George Melies - The Devilish Tenant
George Melies - The Infernal Cakewalk (1903)
The man who Laughs (1928)
Two Monks (1925)
(UNIVERSAL MONSTERS excluded for space)
In the Palm of your hand (1951)
The H Man (1958)
The Human Vapor (1960)
The City of the Dead (1960)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
The Haunted Palace (1963)
The Raven (1963)
Diary of a Madman (1963)
The Tomb of Ligea (1964)
Dark Intruder (1965)
Monster of Terror (1965)
The Skull (1965)
The Whole Wide World (1966)
The Shuttered Room (1967)
Torture Garden (1967)
Whilst and i’ll come to you (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Destroy all Monsters (1968)
The Oblong Box (1969)
The Dunwich Horror (1970)
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Space Amoeba (1970)
The Stalls of Barchester (1971)
Horror Express (1972)
Kolchak the Night Stalker (1974)
Salems Lot (1975)
The Last Wave (1977)
Altered States (1980)
The Shining (1980)
Evil Dead (franchise) 1981
The Thing (1982)
The Dead Zone (1983)
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Children of the Corn (1984)
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Uncle Silas (1987)
The Curse (1987)
They Live (1988)
Pet Sematary (1989)
The Resurrected (1991)
Needful Things (1991)
Dark Water (1993)
The X Files (1993)
Necronomicon - book of the dead (1993)
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
The Master and Margerita (1994)
The Crow (1994)
Castle Freak (1995)
Event Horizon (1997)
The Phantom of the Opera (1998)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Fight Club (1999)
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Donnie Darko (2001)
From Hell (2001)
The Call of Cthulhu (2005
V for Vendetta (2005)
Pickman’s Muse (2010)
John Dies at The End (2012)
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
The Host (2013)
Banshee Chapter (2013)
Under the Skin (2013)
Final Prayer (2013)
The Babadook (2014)
We are Still Here (2015)
The Void (2016)
They Remain (2018)
If you think other stories belong on any of these lists, then please let me know in the chat, and I will do my best to update them as we go along.