Welcome to my thrilling stop on the banner TESSpecFic blog tour, the tour that dares to ask: “What is Horror”? This all started about a week or so ago when our fearless founder, Marie Loughin, posed quite the question: Just what is horror, i.e., how do you define the genre, especially as it relates to dark fantasy and other related genres? She invited each of us to take our shots and examine the question from our perspectives. In the process, we would also get to see the views of our fellow Emissaries and respond in kind. I think it’s been quite the success thus far; lots of intelligent replies and See the end of this post for the whole list of worthy posts. It’s been fun, illuminating, and above all, intelligent. I hope I can hang in with the other folks.
Before I look at what some others have said, I felt I should begin by examining my own history with the genre. My love affair with horror began at a very young age, when I saw movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Alien. This meant that, from a very young age, I associated horror with blood, guts, and physical distress. It wasn’t until I was older and a little more sophisticated that I discovered the other side of the coin, that psychological terror and dread that can be just as effective as the physical threats of slasher stories.
Don’t get me wrong, I think both are valid as measures of horror, and while the term “psychological horror” gets bandied around, to me, horror is horror – psychological or more overt. So if that’s the case, how can I call my own work dark fantasy rather than horror? I thought about it, and realized that, in my mind, horror is based in reality, if a slightly warped version of reality. Halloween? Implacable serial killer on the loose in a small town. Check. The Shining? What may or may not be a haunted hotel transforms a man into a monster. Oh hell yes, and this fits in well with Jaye Manus’s definition:
Even killing the monster does no good because the reader is left with the realization that the monster is inside us and never going away.
I like that definition, but I have to disagree with it as a broader definition of horror. It can certainly be an element, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite. Horror is all about fear – and our fears are not all directed at our own failings or the failings of our fellow man. Fear of snakes, for instance, is a primal fear, and has been used effectively in horror. Anything that is charged with negative, fearful emotion – that is horror. The most skillful authors can tap into their own fears, ones that others may not necessarily share, and convey them in such a manner that they become frightful to others. I don’t share, for instance, Clive Barker’s apparent fear of bees, but Candyman conveys it so well that you dread them when they show up, even if it walks the fine line between DF and horror.
So, all that said: what is dark fantasy? Well, according to Paul Dail and the publishing industry, it’s a sub-genre of horror, which would still make me a horror writer. I’ve tentatively accepted that, but I still feel that there are some significant differences between horror as an overall genre and dark fantasy. For me, dark fantasy is all about creating new fears – things that you might not have considered – in the context of a new world. Dark fantasy allows the author to create more expansive horizons. Ultimately, I think Charles L. Grant, the man who is said to have first created the term, put it best: “a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding.” (from Wikipedia) That Wikipedia article also says that Grant “often used dark fantasy as an alternative to horror, as horror was increasingly associated with more visceral works”, and that is exactly what I am trying to say here – horror is about the known or knowable threat, dark fantasy is about the unknowable threat.
The unknowable threat has always fascinated me, which is why I love dark fantasy. What other hazards might there be out there in the universe, ones which we don’t currently understand, or may never understand? Those are the questions I seek to answer.
Here are the rest of the posts from my esteemed colleagues, with Penelope’s post still to come:
Marie Loughin – Wednesday, 9th May
Jaye Manus – Thursday, 10th May
Paul D. Dail – Friday, 11th May
Kim Koning – Saturday, 12th May
Aniko Carmean – Sunday, 13th May
Penelope Crowe – Tuesday, 15th May