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nine Peter Straub and the New Horror with Amelia Beamer Horror is a house that horror has already moved out of. —Peter Straub, ‘‘Horror’s House’’ Horror has always been a notoriously di≈cult genre to define. Sometimes it’s described in simple terms of formulaic conventions of plot and character (often conflating fiction and film), sometimes entirely in terms of its socalled ‘‘a√ect’’ (horror is whatever scares you). As has often been noted, it’s the only popular genre actually named after the fear, terror, and similar emotions intended to be produced in the reader.∞ Film scholar Linda Williams identifies horror (at least in film) as what she calls a ‘‘body genre’’—a genre intended to produce a literal bodily response in the audience. Her other examples were melodrama (intended to cause weeping) and pornography (arousal), though we might add comedy (laughter) to this list. Even Terry Heller, whose 1987 study The Delights of Terror remains one of the more sophisticated theoretical discussions of literary horror, described his topic as ‘‘a group of works that seem to share the main purpose of frightening their readers.’’≤ The website of the Horror Writers Association (formerly Horror Writers of America), a professional writers’ association, proclaims that horror’s ‘‘only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread.’’≥ It’s possible that this traditional single-minded approach to horror even dates back to Poe himself, who in a famous 1842 review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, argued in favor of a kind of short fiction characterized by ‘‘a certain unique or single e√ect to be wrought out,’’ and that every single word or sentence in a tale should lead inevitably to the ‘‘outbringing of this e√ect.’’∂ But horror, or at least horror writing of any degree of narrative complexity, has never really been limited to a single e√ect—or a√ect—and it might be argued that such a single-minded approach to sensation almost catastrophically 152 WRITERS narrowed the range of the field, leading it toward self-parody during the commercial boom and bust cycle of the 1970s and 1980s. Even then, however, a small but highly visible group of ‘‘literary’’ horror writers sought to expand and deepen the narrative possibilities of the field and in recent years, in both literature and the media, this newer sort of horror has experienced a kind of rebirth, one example of which is Peter Straub’s 2008 anthology Poe’s Children: The New Horror, published in advance of the two hundredth anniversary of Poe’s birth and including several contemporary writers and stories not generally associated with horror as a genre (Dan Chaon, Kelly Link, M. Rickert, John Crowley, M. John Harrison, Ellen Klages). Another sign of this rebirth is the di√usion of horror tropes into other modes, from comedy to romance to literary fiction. On the media side, this might be viewed as the Bu√yization of horror (from Joss Whedon’s highly complex and successful tv series Bu√y the Vampire Slayer, 1997–2003), with horror tropes repurposed as comedy or even romance, to much commercial success in the case of Bu√y and certain of its successors. The ‘‘paranormal romance’’ has even grown into a commercially viable subgenre of its own in the wake of this trend, with its own formulas, its own websites, its own awards, and (as of 2006) even its own annual ‘‘best of’’ anthology.∑ An intriguing theoretical model of traditional horror as a genre or mode of storytelling can be found in John Clute’s 2006 book, The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror. It’s a fairly powerful model. In attempting to elucidate a vocabulary for understanding horror, using mostly terms of his own invention, Clute defines horror as following a recognizable grammar or structure, comparable to the passage of the four seasons ending in winter. ‘‘Sighting,’’ or ‘‘a glimpse of terror to come,’’ is related to Freud’s uncanny, and hooks the protagonist into the emerging narrative; ‘‘thickening,’’ which begins to realize the portents of sighting, moves the unwilling protagonist deeper into the ‘‘su√ocating tangle of plot’’; ‘‘revel,’’ occurs when ‘‘the field of the world is reversed’’ and the terrifying truth is made manifest; and ‘‘aftermath’’ represents the recognition that the newly revealed world is ‘‘no longer storyable,’’ and that the story must end.∏ Innumerable examples of horror in both fiction and film subscribe to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819571045
Related ISBN
9780819569363
MARC Record
OCLC
726747951
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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