Literary Horror and Other Unnecessary Labels
By Kurt Newton
Whoever said horror fiction had to be crude? Whoever said you can’t have horror without art? Somebody must have said it because it’s all I see when I read blogs discussing the current state of the horror genre. You’d think there are only two types of practitioners vying for supremacy in the horror world. In this corner…with their wine and cheese meet and greets and their intellectual discussions…the highly educated, the well-read…the Highbrows! And in this corner…with their blood and guts and their sexual excesses and their aversion to multisyllabic words…the self-professed, the self-published…the Lowbrows! The Highbrows shout: “You’re ruining the genre!” The Lowbrows growl: “Shut your piehole you uppity-assed dick-twittlers!” The Highbrows glower condescendingly with eyebrow raised (as only a Highbrow can do). The Lowbrows hawk and spit and flip them the finger.
I mean, come on. Literary Horror? We actually need a label now to define what’s been around in popular fiction since Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein first bowed in 1818? From Edgar Allan Poe to Hans Christian Anderson to Bram Stoker to H.P. Lovercraft to Ray Bradbury to Richard Matheson to Shirley Jackson to Ira Levin to Stephen King to Clive Barker to Phil Intheblank …we’ve been blessed with literary horror and now suddenly we need to distinguish between what’s literate and what’s not? Shouldn’t that be the job of the reader? When a reader picks up a book (either physically or virtually), won’t a quick skim of the inside cover or the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter be enough to tell them what they’re in for? If not, then shame on the them.
The Highbrows want to “save the genre”. Save it from what exactly? The inevitable revolution taking place in the publishing industry? The fact that more and more readers are getting their fixes online? The fact that twenty years ago desktop publishing opened up reading, writing, publishing and art to a segment of the population that would otherwise not have had the means or the access? The Greeks believed certain knowledge should be accessible only to those intelligent enough to understand it. Could the Greeks also have been uppity-assed dick-twittlers? And how much does monetary compensation play a roll in determining what is good and what is not in the eyes of the elite? (That’s a whole other essay.) Could it be the Highbrows are nervous they’ll one day find themselves on the same tiny island with Lulu-published Neanderthals? Does the genre really need saving? Or is it simply in transition? Once the dust settles won’t the fight really be about the words and not each other? Won’t it be about producing the best example of what you’re rallying for, instead of wasting time and energy on what you’re rallying against?
A hundred years from now there will be a revised list of horror writers who made a difference, and it will include those who let their work do the talking, not just their mouths. The size and shape of their brows will be merely a footnote.
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