The Demise of Horror is Greatly Exaggerated

Today’s bit of ridiculous bloviation is a piece in the Guardian asking whether horror is DOOOOOOMED because it’s not literary enough. To which I say: What?

Of course literary authors are writing horror. Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver is on PW‘s top ten best books list for 2012, and it’s very much a horror novel. Justin Cronin’s The Passage is post-apocalyptic horror, complete with jump-and-startle moments familiar to any horror movie fan.

Of course authors who come from within the genre are writing superbly creepy horror novels that are of equal quality to any “literary” title. Some names off the top of my head: Glen Hirshberg. Ted Kosmatka. Sarah Langan. Robert Jackson Bennett. Laird Barron. Lee Thomas. Peter Straub. I omit CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan only because she hates to be called a “horror writer” but she writes wonderful dark fiction that any horror fan would love and any New Yorker reader would appreciate.

Also, how exactly is a commercial genre doomed if it stays commercial? Isn’t the whole point of commercialism that you sell a lot of books? Is this some new meaning of “doomed” with which I was previously unacquainted?

Prose quality is not the only measure of a book, or of a genre–but if it were, horror would measure up just fine.

Hat tip to Andrew Porter for the original link.

7 thoughts on “The Demise of Horror is Greatly Exaggerated

  1. Alana Joli Abbott

    Horror themes have clearly also begun to pervade other genres, reaching a wider audience than horror readers. I don’t consider myself a horror reader, but I read an awful lot of books that feature the types of monsters from creature features that used to be considered horror only, as well as plenty of books with dystopian themes that resonate with a horror audience. So horror is certainly not doooooooomed, regardless of its literary merit or commercial success; it seems to me the genre is growing and changing, as any healthy genre should.

  2. D. M. Campbell

    Fox’s comments are spot-on. The whole point of commercial fiction–or any fiction for that matter–is that it be read. As Samuel Johnson observed, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

  3. Claudia Putnam

    Interesting. How do you define literary? Do you mean simply “well-written”? Or do you mean innovative in terms of language, POV, structure, or similar?

    What made The Passage seem literary to you?

    What of Peter Straub’s work would you define as literary, and would you also define that as horror? I think of Koko as literary, for example, but IMO that is a great Vietnam novel, and while surrealistic in parts, I don’t see what makes it a horror novel, any more than any of the other great Vietnam novels are horror novels.

    Daphne du Maurier was at times a stunningly innovative writer, as in The Parasites, but that is not a horror novel, as I recall, either. Some of her stuff (The Birds) was horrific, but most of it was just spooky. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of hers, but I don’t think she wrote horror, mostly. Bringing her up because she’s one of the great literary writers who sometimes is classified as horror.

    I look forward to investigating some of the authors you mention above. I’d also recommend Michael Gruber’s three early novels, starting with Tropic of Night. Slow start, but worth it. Not sure I’d call him literary, though people do, and yes, he has his disappointments, but the books are so very interesting I’m willing to forgive. Same with The Good Son, which may be the most flawed of all of them (and less woo-woo). I read just about everything he writes.

    I’m always hungry for literary horror and hope there actually is more out there. Some people have mentioned Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake collection, but I haven’t had a chance to read it.

  4. Bob @ Beauty in Ruins

    I think horror, as a genre, goes through periods of dilution. An author waters it down, blends a little romance with it (for example), finds a fan base, and suddenly a trend is born.

    Unfortunately, it’s those short-lived, watered-down trends that seem to be so visible, and which seem to prompt these “horror is dead” sentiments. What the people obsessing over the trends don’t seem to realize, however, is that real horror continues to live and thrive in the background, supported by the authors and fans who have a real love for it.

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