October: Fantasy/Horror Crossover
Deborah J. Ross, Warren Rochelle , Valjeanne Jeffers,
Andrea K Höst , Carole McDonnell, Sylvia Kelso, Chris Howard
The Generosity of Horror
As a genre horror has always seemed to move easily among fantasy, SF, romance, thrillers, and mysteries, influencing them, spilling tropes, blood, and useful plot devices along the way. I don’t consider myself much of a horror reader, not since the eighties and nineties anyway. I dabbled in Straub and Koontz, re-read a bunch of Lovecraft and Poe, and went through a King phase with The Shining, Stand, ’Salem’s Lot, Firestarter, and a bunch of others, but haven’t picked up anything King this century. I love Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box, but still haven’t read Horns. (I do love Locke & Key). So, with me, horror is something I see from—and in—what I read most: fantasy and science fiction.
And what I see is that horror moves among them with ease.
Take Alien, the movie, (“In space no one can hear you scream”) and then look at the sequels, which are pure action SF, with multi-mouthed H.R. Giger monsters, bad-asses with exotic guns, cool technology (for the time), a nightmarish dead colony backdrop, and a pure horror ending. Did one of the aliens manage to get on board—planted in Ripley’s stomach—to bring death and destruction back to Earth?
Did he say his name was Alucard? You can’t walk a block these days without running into a damn vampire. They’re everywhere, in every genre. I think there are even cookbooks, parenting guides, and self-help videos by, for, and themed around blood-sucking fiends. That’s because even if Dracula came to life in the gothic horror old-world landscape, he didn’t waste time packing his bags and moving into the English countryside, Tokyo, rainy corners of Washington state, and Manhattan. And he didn’t leave any tropes behind. His casket was full of them. The trope of the “Alucard” name—Dracula spelled backwards—shows up everywhere, including the fantasy book series I mentioned in the last fantasy round table post (In the first book Sabriel, Kerrigor is the clever new name Rogirrek pulls out of some deep firey level of…well, out of somewhere anyway).
Bookstores as accomplices? Here’s something I didn’t really notice until the theme for this month’s Fantasy Roundtable came up. In the big brick-and-mortar stores, like Barnes & Noble, the horror books don’t have their own set of shelves. King, Straub, and the others are shelved with standard literature and fiction. While romance and F & SF have their own special places in the store, horror has to sit beside John Grisham and Victor Hugo. And horror doesn’t seem to mind. The first book I picked up from one of my favorite authors, Caitlin R. Kiernan, was Murder of Angels, and the book was in the mainstream fiction section just up from Stephen King and just this side of Kafka. Now what’s interesting is that all of Kiernan’s books have since moved to the fantasy and SF shelves. I think that’s damn nice of horror—along with the publisher, book stores, and people who stock the shelves.
Is horror generous? Yes, I think so. When it comes to sharing, playing well with others, lending a helping hand (sometimes rotting), the genre of horror is the first to stand up and say, “yes, you can have some of my zombies” and “I would use a really creepy abandoned hospital here.”
When a writer asks how useful are horror tropes, structures, and plot devices in my fantasy and SF work? The only answer is: apocalyptically useful.
Deborah J. Ross
Revisiting Nightmares: Fantasy/Horror Crossovers and Trauma Recovery
|Nightmare by Abildgaard
Fantasy and horror have a natural affinity, one that goes back to the pre-literate times when people sat around the campfire, terrifying each other with stories of ghosts and skin-walkers and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night or that-are-not-quite-dead. Supernatural elements infused these tales with delightful spine-tingling shivers. One might speculate that way back then, the entire world must have seemed a perilous place, filled with phenomena beyond human understanding. I think that does a discredit to peoples who might have a much lower level of technology than we do but were nonetheless extremely sophisticated in their conceptualization and emotional understanding of the world around them. For all our computers and skyscrapers, we are just as enthralled by the uncanny and that jolt of adrenaline.
|Nightmare by Gauguin
Of course, as individuals we vary in what is pleasurable to us. One person’s fun may be the trigger that causes months of terrifying nightmares for another person. This is especially true for people who have themselves been the victims of trauma, whether the assault has come in the form of physical violence or from psychological or emotional abuse. Reading horror or dark fantasy is not an approved method of psychotherapy, but encountering these stories mindfully can shift our perspective. Good fiction of any kind does not “stay on the page” but has the power to change the way we see ourselves and our lives. Horror, by its focus on frightening elements, carries a particular emotional punch.
Like so much genre literature today, the distinctions between fantasy and horror are often driven by the requirements of marketing, with blurry overlapping areas like dark fantasy. One might otherwise lump them all together as “literature of the macabre,” today’s incarnation of the 19th Century Gothic novel. I doubt that Edgar Allan Poe would have thought of his work as either fantasy or horror, although he might have been quite delighted with macabre.
Horror, with the exception of purely psychological horror, represents a subset of fantasy. This subset is of course a spectrum, from fantasy with slightly “dark” aspects to horror that includes or relies upon fantastical elements. I would go even further in arguing that shadows —elements that partake of the spookier side of the supernatural, or inversions of everyday expectations—are what give good fantasy much of its appeal. For every Hobbiton, there is a Mordor, and not even Lothlorien with its Mirror of Galadriel is without danger. Shadows give shape to light, and risk heightens the value of the hero’s journey. After all, what is more dangerous and suspenseful than a journey into lands and times when the dead can walk (and wreak revenge), humans can take the form of animals (and vice versa), and malevolence is a real and present force.
Some stories have no point other than to horrify; they are unrelentingly gruesome and bleak. The portrayal of—adulation of—futility against overwhelming evil is not limited to the horror genre. Existentialist despair, as well as depictions of the depth of human pain and the height of human malice, have their place in the canon of literature. Fiction allows us to view and explore frightening events and to grapple with appalling things in the company of trusted companions.
Horor not only delivers a certain emotional palette but a resolution that is satisfying for the neutral reader and can be helpful to the person wrestling with their own experience of fear. Here the overlap with fantasy plays a special role, for fantasy by its very nature alters the rules of ordinary reality. The “contract with the reader” includes the premise that impossible things can and will happen, both horrible and wonderful. Fantasy is also particularly suited to the use of symbol and archetype to deepen emotional resonances.
Good fantasy, including good horror, has a moral compass. Just as mystery stories result in the re-establishment of order through the discovery of the wrong-doer and consequent victory of justice, so other genre forms have as their foundation a world that makes sense. Magic has its rules, price, and limitations. Horrendous things happen, but they do so for a reason and we as readers learn what that reason is. It may be an incomprehensible or superficial reason—because the Elder Gods are so alien that they drive men mad, or because the Duke of Darkness wants to rule the entire world, or simply because Lord Voldemort gets up every morning and chants, Evil, evil rah rah rah—but the reason exists, and if we are willing to go along with the premises in this particular story, we will discover its underlying logical structure.
This is where fiction and real life differ, because in real life, all too often we have no clue as to the motivation of the person who has harmed us, if indeed it is a person and not a force of nature, and if the person is known, or we are left with pieces of evidence and even more conjecture that we cannot assemble into any kind of rationale.
I mentioned “trusted companions.” One of the most crippling things about personal trauma is the sense of isolation. Not only do we feel powerless, but all too often, our experience is that no one else can truly understand what it was like. In fiction, on the other hand, we are never alone. Even if the protagonist is isolated and has no allies, the two of you—reader and hero—are in the adventure together. The hero discovers her own strengths, whether they be determination, courage or ingenuity, particular skills, or anything else. And she is not always cast solely on her own resources. Even if the “trusty sidekick” dies a horrible death before the end, for a time, the journey is shared and the hero can draw on the loyalty and abilities of her mentor, her friends, even the people who depend on her.
We learn by role modeling, and as we journey with the hero through fear and peril, we see how one character manages to endure and even emerge stronger and more self-confident. All too often, trauma survivors feel not only powerless but incompetent, seeing only what they have not been able to prevent and not what has allowed them to survive. It’s easier to see our strengths as well as our failures in another person, or in this case, another character.
Fantasy comes in shades of frightfulness, everything from sweetness-and-light unicorns to the overwhelmingly gruesome. The reader—forearmed with a certain amount of information about any given story—has the ability to control how dark and terrifying the territory they venture into. The lingering effects of a personal experience of trauma or abuse involve the past loss of power and the fear that nothing we can do will prevent it from happening again. Navigating the borders between fantasy and dark fantasy, and dark fantasy and horror, allow us to decide what is pleasurably shocking versus what is beyond our present ability to tolerate, as well as how far and at what pace we want to proceed. What is overwhelming at one time in a person’s recovery may at some later point become the landscape for facing previously unimaginable fears. Depictions of violence (particularly in video games) have often been accused of promoting these very behaviors, although the exact opposite argument might be made. However, in the case of a trauma survivor, horror and dark fantasy can serve as a means of desensitization, of diminishing the paralyzing effects of the real-life event. Because horror and fantasy are part of a spectrum, we have the power to begin within our comfort range and venture forth in incremental stages, only as far and as fast as we choose.
It can be said of both fantasy and horror that they function on different levels of the human psyche. Perhaps the most superficial is their quality as literature, and like any other genre, this varies from superb to abysmal. However, both tap into the imagination and deep emotions—it might be said of horror that this is its purpose—in ways that give them value apart from purely literary considerations. People read both for a variety of reasons—escapism, intellectual stimulation, entertainment, wonder, an emotional joyride—but these genres are also journeys through our own inner landscapes. The crossover borderlands invite us into the territory of our fears.
Deborah J. Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with Jaydium and Northlight and short stories in Asimov’s, F & SF, Realms Of Fantasy and Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace. Now under her birth name, Ross, she is continuing the” Darkover” series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy The Seven-Petaled Shield, forthcoming from DAW. She is a member of Book View Cafe. She’s lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, plays classical piano, loves horses, and is active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.
This month’s topic is the intersection of horror and fantasy. If you’d ask me, I’d probably tell you that my favorite kind of fantasy is time travel, followed by alternate realities, followed by sword and soul. Yet, the shows I often watch more on TV tend to be horror, which is the kind of genre I rarely buy. I probably watch Horror because it’s so ubiquitous.
For me, horror is about the lack of control, the intersection where the real and the monstrous meet, the place where the human mind is overwhelmed. So, I like stories that are about changed nature (creature features, and the like), demonic possession (which is also about a kind of changed nature, as well) and about psychological meltdowns where the mind reaches its own limit.
A couple of examples:
Fever in the Blood by Robert Fleming
File Size: 514 KB
Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Kensington Books (May 1, 2006)
Fever in the Blood is about Eddie Stevens who is overwhelmed with hatred and anger.
. . .and the anger spills over into…well, murder. He’s experienced seeing his family murdered and experienced being used by a Harlem congressman who “rescued” him. Can a human retain his humanity while holding all that anger and rage inside?
I found this novel by Robert Fleming hard to read, scary to read, because rage freaks me out. How many of us have said in some trial, “I can’t take it anymore”? How many of us have felt on the verge of losing our minds? In the novel, Eddie Stevens is aware of being at his limits and he is even vaguely aware that it is wrong to go about murdering folks…but still murder is his only way of staying sane. What he does when he reaches his limit is what is frightening. I’ve seen so many true crime shows where serial killers talk about continually resisting the urge to kill until they couldn’t resist it anymore? That kind of inner stress makes us ask deep questions about good, evil, rationalizations, evil, pain, the demonic.
Another kind of horror I like is where we see what is behind the walls of reality. Often, behind the walls is chaos. Even for non-Christians, there seems to be some great evil pushing at the fabric of reality and get a glimpse of what the world is really made of, of what’s really happening outside of our human ken. Horror makes us feel as if the world that we know is not only fragile but that things are not as they seem; we sense that there is more to reality than we know. Not just scientific stuff to discover but irrational, primordial ancient things. Chris Howard’s Dryad (also called WinterDim) is like that.
Winterdim (print edition) or Dryad (ebook) by Chris Howard
Print Length: 662 pages
Publisher: Lykeion Books (November 9, 2011)
The events of this story take place in a world when something from outside the human ken (something from the WinterDim, which exists just outside our world) has broken fully into the world. In his saltwater series, Chris Howard wrote of mermaids and of the watery world. In this story, he explores, plays with, and examines the world of wood-nymphs. Dryad is a story of apocalypse, a bursting into this world of what is outside it.
In that story, Theodora Viran is a dryad. But Chris Howard describes dryads with a twenty-first century imagination. What would it be like if the woods and trees were really alive? What does it mean when we think Gaia and Father Nature are alive? What does it mean to have a mother who hibernates in winter? And then there’s the WinterDim and the unveiling of what is hidden, and the changing of the character’s view of the world.
Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction,
and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and
at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by
Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower. http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com
The Fantasy/Horror Crossover
When I think of horror, SF and Fantasy together as genres I tend to see a big bog between two slippery hillsides. You can’t get from one hill direct to the other – SF and fantasy usually don’t mix: their license to suspend disbelief comes from mutually opposed sources, science and magic. But both genres can slide down into the bog, representing the horror genre, as fast as you can say “demon”—or “alien.”
The big difference between hills and bog is that the hill genres have the bog as an option—or in more common terms, they can offer the reader wonder as well as horror. The bog doesn’t do wonder. Even if treasure is buried there, the emphasis is on the dead men’s bones accompanying it. Comedy there may be, and entertainingly black, too, but wonder, no.
This doesn’t mean that the bog is any worse than either hill genre, or that such traffic should be prevented by border guards. Indeed, where would the hill genres be without the darkness option? Someone like Nietzsche once remarked, either of Homer or Greek mythology, that, in paraphrase, the greater the light, the blacker the shadows it casts—you’ll excuse the vagueness, I haven’t turned up the quote for years, and it’s too long to resort to Google, even if I cd. remember it right. Nevertheless, the idea rings true to me. The greater the wonder a fantasy text can evoke, the greater the horror it MAY evoke. And a fantasy text with unrelenting light and wonder wd. be somewhat like a medieval Christian heaven: great if you’re immortal, but if you’re still under the sun, eventually conducive to eyestrain and headaches rather than alleluias.
This assumes that the writer of such a roller-coaster story is “in control”—well, intentionally sliding up and down the hill, because who of us is ever “in control” of a story as we write? But unintentional slides can produce awkwardness, bathos, and at worst, audience hilarity when you wanted shudders. I recall a local Hamlet where the ghost walked a “battlement” above and behind the stage. Fine, except that ghost shd. be uncanny, inhuman, silent, unconnected to earth. As this one walked, the audience cd. see his feet shuttling below his robe. They cracked up, and the performance never recovered.
Evoking the spookiness of wonder’s dark side is not easy, either. It helps to recall the dictum of Old Gothic best-seller Mrs. Radcliffe: “terror and horror are so far opposite that the first . . . awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them . . .” And for Radcliffe, terror’s power lies in “obscurity and uncertainty.” That is, let the reader imagine horrors and outdo your efforts, rather than present the monster full frontal and fail to raise a shiver.
|Peake’s Sketch of Flay
I recall a classic example in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary—the first time the male lead enters the monster’s swamp, he and his guide hear a strange noise “like loons laughing.” That’s all. But it chilled my neck much more than the eventual revelation of the Winnebago, yellow eyes, clawing hands and all.
Successful chills, though, can slide a fantasy story into the bog faster than you expect. “Slick,” my first published short story, was intended as a wry SF/fantasy form of water erotica. (Much later, I realized it’s actually a modern Bunyip tale.) In one scene, the narrator has a close encounter with the unknown in broad daylight. By a waterhole, in a breathless, sultry midday, with a horse that starts cracking its nostrils as if in panic, and yet there’s nothing to see. I only intended to foreshadow the actual encounter, which is not horrific, but the accepting editor (blessings remain on his name) commented that he expected a monster, either there or at the final revelation. Hmmmn. I had slid further into the bog than was meant.
Examples of bog-tripping abound in fantasy, but for me the Grandaddy of bog-skaters remains Mervyn Peake, in his truly epic cycle, Gormenghast. Peake’s language reeks of the bog in its old Gothic form, though his characters’ names—Steerpike the villain kitchen boy, Abiatha Swelter the chef, Doctor Prunesquallor, Titus Groan himself—shout the vitality of Dickens’ or Poe’s caricatures.
It’s this vitality and the language it sparks that consistently whips Peake up from the bog and across the hills of fantasy, into moments of wonder the fiercer for the surrounding dark. Here’s a piece that’s stuck in my mind for 40 years, from the x-pages struggle of Swelter the chef and his mortal foe Flay, fought with cleaver and sword in “The Hall of Spiders” among the heights of Castle Gormenghast. As Flay watches Swelter’s death-throes in a temporary lake of rain-water on the roofs:
[he] turned his eyes and found them staring into a face—a face that smiled in silver light from the depths of the Hall beyond. Its eyes were circular and its mouth was opening, and as the lunar silence came down as though for ever in a vast white sheet, the long-drawn screech of a death-owl tore it, as though it had been calico, from end to end. (Titus Groan, *Blood at Midnight* chapter)
It’s literally horrific, though the terror is in not knowing what or who the face is; yet simultaneously, the depiction of moonlight is Other and beautiful enough to invoke wonder as well.
Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia. She writes fantasy and SF set in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some short stories in Australian and US anthologies. Her latest short story, “At Sunset” is in Luna Station Quarterly for September 2012.
Rather than focus on a particular crossover author or piece of writing, I just want to make a general comment this month. I’ve come to think of all horror as dark fantasy.
It all started while I was teaching the advanced writing studio in speculative fiction at Metro State UniversityóDenver. Students write fantasy, horror, alternative history, and magical realism. Anyway, the textbook I finally settled on offered short stories from science fiction and fantasy, but divided this last section into dark and high fantasy. So much for the long standing abbreviation sf/f/h. No “h” here.
The longer I thought about it, the more it made sense. After all, the vast majority of horror involves some level of fantasy. Ghosts, zombies, vampires, werewolves, even traditional (dangerous) faeries abound. Dracula popularized the folktales of vampires. Ghost stories have been told in every era. Zombies seem to be more recent phenomenon, at least their popularity. My students think they represent mindless consumerism while my hairdresser thinks they’re about having to deal with stupid people in the world.
Two horror/science fiction crossovers that spring to mind are Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both feature the mad scientist who tests the bounds of human knowledge, reinventing Goethe’s Dr. Faustus, more a fantasy crossover because it evokes the devil, a creature from another reality.
But what about all those mass murder movies, where some guy dons a mask and grabs a chain saw? Are those fantasies? Not on the face of it, but isn’t the one vital element of any fantasy an element of the fantastic? All those creatures I mentioned are fantasticónot real in the sense that we encounter them in everyday life. Those who do are prescribed medication or make their living on the fringes of society reading palms or predicting fortunes. Or they keep quiet about it. Because the fantastic is Other. It suggests to us that this is mundane reality does not account for everything, that there are enticing and wondrous possibilities that can be caught just out of the corner of one’s eye or by entering that wardrobe in the attic. Or in the case of horror, not wondrous, but terrifying, so strange as to bend the mind, be unbelievable at first. Mass murderers have that element of the fantastic. Dexter survives by living in the shadows. Who could believe he really does what he does? Anyone crazy enough to pick up that chainsaw is definitely Other. And not in a good way.
So—da dah—All horror is fantasy. Yeah?
Theresa Crater has published two novels, Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moonand “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age: Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at http://theresacrater.com
I Write Fantasy, Some SF—and Horrors, Do I Write That, too?
I write fantasy, and occasionally, science fiction. I teach both as well at the University of Mary Washington. I teach both genres as being connected. As Le Guin says in her oft-cited essay, “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown”: “fantasy [is] the ancient kingdom of which science fiction is a modern province” (Language of the Night 107). I teach creative writing, too, and a lot of my students try their hand at genre fiction. For a long time I told them to write whatever they wanted—just not horror—because I don’t write it myself.
That prohibition has fallen by the wayside, but as I was thinking about what to write for this month’s fantasy blog topic, fantasy and horror crossovers, I remembered a race of black, scaly reptilians who had a diet of human brains and hearts—and that I had conjured them up, taking their name, Fomorii, from the Irish invasion myths. They are some seriously bad guys in two of my novels, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon, 2007), and its sequel, The Called (Golden Gryphon, 2010).
Horrors! Does that mean I write horror, too? Do I crossover?
Fantasy and science fiction I can define, more or less, anyway.
Fantasy is about the impossible; science fiction, the possible. But, as anyone who is a student of either or both genres—or of speculative fiction, in general, these simple definitions are limited and do not encompass the full range of either genre. To expand the definition and the distinction between the genres, I would add fantasy is about magic, and science fiction is about the scientific, the plausible.
How would I define horror? According to The Encyclopedia of Fantasy horror, as opposed to fantasy and science fiction, “is a term which describes an affect. A horror story makes its readers feel horror.” John Clute’s article goes on to note two important distinctions. Horror stories can be set in “entirely mundane worlds” and in “any of the regions of the Fantastic.” He notes the crossover: “Fantasies which convey a sense of horror are better called Dark Fantasy and supernatural fiction “with a horror ‘feel’” are better called Weird Fiction.” Clute emphasizes that the world of the horror tale is “shaped primarily to convey an affect of horror” for both the protagonist and the reader. “This shared horror is evoked in the text through the joining of two simultaneous elements: the recognition of a threat to one’s body and/or culture and/or world; and a sense that there is something inherently monstrous and wrong.” This wrongness is an “invasive presence” (478). As is noted in the Wikipedia article, “Horror Fiction,” “Horror fiction, also horror fantasy, is a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, scare or startle viewers/readers by inducing feelings of horror or terror” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_fiction). The reader is thus both horrified and terrified.
So, have I crossed over? In The Called the Fomorii, who are invading our universe, not only have a diet of brains and hearts, they enslave changelings to suck out their magic for power. Non-magical humans are a food source. These monsters kill without guilt or remorse; so do their human minions, as happens to Ethan Vance, the Governor of North Carolina when he displeases Magon, the head Fomorii one too many times:
Ed [Magon's human lieutenant] held out the knife to Magon, who touched it once, twice, thrice, with an extended talon. Then he turned back to Vance. The screams hammered his skull, his locked teeth. They exploded in his brain. The first bite of the knife didn’t hurt at all. Blood trickled down his chest as he felt Ed cutting into his skin . . . Before Vance died, he saw his heart, still beating, dripping, in Ed’s hand. His blood covered Ed’s hand and arm like a long red glove. (206)
Clearly, humans are in danger of bodily harm and if the Fomorii win and their invasion succeeds, our culture will be in harm’s way as well. Things are monstrously wrong. Is this passage horrific and scary? I would like to think so. But, one passage doth not horror make. There are other horrific passages, of course, but the world of The Called is not “shaped primarily to convey an affect of horror” for both the protagonist and the reader.
According to Joanna Penn in her blog post, “Dark Fantasy as a Writing Genre: What is it, anyway,”: “If something is fantasical (sic) or paranormal and deals with the darker side of life, darker emotions and psychological stresses, but doesn’t have, as its primary intention, the desire to scare readers, then it isn’t horror but would certainly qualify as dark fantasy” (http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2009/07/19/dark-fantasy).
The darker side of life, darker emotions and psychological stresses, and fantastical—yes, that does, to me, describe a lot of my fiction—that and they tend to be love stories of one kind or another. Dark fantasy it is, then. So, I am not crossing over. Visiting? Borrowing? Sometimes, but I would like that it is more what the story calls for, what the narrative insists must happen—what has to happen to tell the truth.
That’s the crux of it, I think.
Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. His story, “The Boy on McGee Street,” is forthcoming this October in Queer Fish 2 (Pink Narcissus Press, pinknarc.com)
Andrea K Höst
When I think back to things which have frightened me, one of the first which springs to mind is a scene from the movie Romper Stomper. A quiet night in a Melbourne train station, a couple of kids on skateboards in the subway tunnel, and then Hando.
Hando is not (sadly) a creature of fantasy, but a neo-Nazi skinhead. And yet he is a being outside the norm, frightening and awful because he does not fit with the rules we know, because we cannot predict his behaviour – he is uncontrollable and dangerous and Other.
The addition of fantasy to horror opens the door to bogeymen. To uncertainty, to not knowing what’s going to happen next because the danger is now more – or less – than human. To fates worse than death. To breaking rules. To Escher-esque mazes of no escape. To evil beyond comprehension, vast and unstoppable, tentacular but hidden, defused by the occasional jump-scare until finally the Big Reveal and we look the monster in the face and die, or be The Last Girl.
And all those things – the Elder Gods, the unstoppable brain-eaters, the blood-drinkers, the identity-stealers, the globs of ambulatory goo and dreams with form and substance and gloves made of knives – those monsters are comforting.
They are safely false, those monsters, just a story, demonstrably impossible. Fantasy is horror’s comfort, the safety valve of release and relief, the not-real which ends with the movie, the book.
They are not Hando.
They are not us.
Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia. She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue. See: www.andreakhost.com
Fantasy and Horror Synergy: Salty and Sweet
The fantasy genre of fiction is defined as one in which magical or supernatural themes and settings are present, excluding those plots and themes which rely on science. In comparison, horror is defined as a genre based upon terrifying or fighting plots and settings. These elements can be supernatural (e.g. werewolves) or realistic (e.g. serial killer) elements. Actually they can be both as, for example, in the case of the supernatural serial killer, often found in Dean Kootz’s novels.
In reading the above definitions, there is obviously a bit of overlap. Yet many writers take great pleasure in coloring outside the lines. Why? Isn’t it confusing? (“Is it horror? Is it fantasy?”)
I would venture to say that the science fiction/fantasy genre or to use the more cumbersome term, speculative fiction, has such a fluid realm of sub-genres that horror and fantasy often bleed into each other (yes the pun is intentional)…like paint on a canvas.
When an artist is painting a masterpiece, does it worry him or her if the lines are blurred? Wouldn’t this after all make a more believable and gorgeous landscape?
In my own Immortal series, I gleefully smudge the lines between genres of erotica, horror and fantasy, as many of my fellow writers have observed. Derrick Ferguson author of the Dillon and Fortune McCall series recently described my work as “imaginatively experimental.”
Other authors, whose work I’ve greatly enjoyed, mix fantasy and horror; and have done so with a quite bit of success.
Author Tananarive Due, who is dubbed as a horror writer, mixes fantasy quite skillfully in My Soul to Keep. This novel begins with the tale of “Jessica,” a young woman who falls in love, only to discover that the perfect man of her dreams is 400 years old…and the member of an Ethiopian sect of Immortals.
This saga spans continues through three more novels (The Living Blood, Blood Colony and My Soul to Take) all are built upon a fantasy setting— spiced with bone-chilling horror and suspense.
D.K. Gaston, author of The Friday House, and Lost Hours, while not described as a horror author has elements of it deftly woven within his plots. Tad Williams does the same, when he inserts a larger than life sociopath in his epic fantasy series, Otherland.
The fantasy framework of these novels is in fact necessary in order to construct “the world right beneath our noses,” that is the mainstay of speculative fiction. When horror is present, it adds a delightful bit of scary suspense to the mix—like popcorn and chocolate. And hey, who doesn’t enjoy a little sweet with their salty from time to time?
Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College, science fiction writer and the author of the Immortal series, The Switch II: Clockwork (books I and II), Grandmere’s Secret, and Colony. She has been published in numerous anthologies including: Steamfunk! and Genesis Science Fiction Magazine. Contact Valjeanne at http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and www.vjeffersandqveal.com.