Sunday, February 3, 2013

STL #106: The Horror Project Overview

The most sustained reading project I have undertaken in recent memory (since my dissertation, maybe) has the investigation into horror fiction from this past year. This project started just prior to summer break, continued through October, and hasn't officially ended (though has tapered off.) I love the sense of discovery that comes not just from finding out about a writer or musician you hadn't known, but discovery the codes, histories, and networks of associations of a genre you hadn't known about or paid attention to before. Obviously, I have known that horror fiction existed for a long time, but I haven't read much aside from the canonical, which just means Frankenstein in this case. Part of my inspiration was to have a summertime counterpart to my "big book" that I start the year off--but instead of delving into the more scholarly or important, I wanted a place to explore my more ...esoteric?...side. [not the word I'm looking for].

I began by compiling a reading list (based on lists by writers I respected and those of a few anonymous bloggers (like me)), of which the following is a version (though not I think the tiny printout I carried with me to the library:

  • Peter Ackroyd             Hawksmoor (1985)
  • Kingsley Amis             The Green Man (1969)
  • William Peter Blatty   The Exorcist (1971)
  • Robert W. Chambers             The King in Yellow (1895)
  • Shirley Jackson             The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  • Henry James             The Turn of the Screw (1898)
  • M. R. James  Ghost stories
  • Stephen King Carrie
  • Stephen King  The Shining
  • Kathe Koja The Cipher
  • Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
  • Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligetti
  •  Short Fiction by H. P. Lovecraft
  • Arthur Machen             The Great God Pan
  • Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian
  • Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
  • China Mieville, King Rat*
  • Richard Matheson             I Am Legend (1954)
  • Joyce Carol Oates. Nightside
  • Bram Stoker             Dracula (1897)
  • Peter Straub             Ghost Story (1979)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss

  • This list can be sliced up in a few different ways. There's certainly a "classics" subgroup, stretching from Stevenson (or going back to Poe or Shelley--in any case I didn't read anything earlier than The King in Yellow from 1895) to H.P. Lovecraft.  Then there would be a modern-commercial period, of novels that have supernatural/ghostly/monstrous subject but exhibit trappings of the mainstream mid-century novels in character development and plot structure. These writers would include Ira Levin, Robert Marsco, and Kingsley Amis on holiday). These writers are not particularly beholden to genre conventions, so you would need to add another category for Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King (or you could start it with Lovecraft, but that doesn't fit my present purpose). You could then top it off with a postmodern-weird group of writers conscious of genre conventions but also stylistically sophisticated. I think this would cover many of the later writers, though of this lot (including Mieville, and Ligetti) I only got to Kathe Koja. Because I am pressed for time this week, I will cut it short and let this serve as an introduction. Next week I'll start with three writers I classified as classic: Robert W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, and H.P. Lovecraft.