In Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, Mark Dery attempts to respond to the challenge of how to write a biography about someone who, in their own words, lived a “featureless” life. A known recluse and creature of habit, Edward Gorey wasn’t the sort of person who indulged in grand love affairs or travelled the world. In fact, he seemed to be against that sort of thing entirely. When pressed about his sexuality he would scoff or dodge the question, and when asked to leave his little world of Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a touring production of his play, he would just stay home. In fact, Dery makes Gorey out to be a frustrating character: just when you think you have something pinned down about his identity or feelings on a particular subject, they change entirely. Perhaps the best way of describing Edward Gorey, Dery suggests, is either very indirectly or not at all.
Some of the best tales of horror and terror have been produced by writers whose names do not conjure up the isolated castles, decaying mansions and sheeted forms of the gothic inheritance. These authors bring fresh perspectives to well-worn tropes and often use the form to explore themes found elsewhere in their works. Such stories are valuable to scholars of the supernatural in fiction, demonstrating the potential of the genre, and to those interested in individual authors, as they provide neat examples of overarching themes in a writer’s oeuvre. Most importantly, they give the reader a tale well-told.
Peter talks to professor Kendall R. Phillips about his book, A Place of Darkness, and how horror developed in early American cinema up until the release of Dracula in 1931.
Lee Cronin’s feature debut The Hole in the Ground, which premiered at Sundance Festival in 2019, marks a recent resurgence in Irish folk-horror set in remote parts of the countryside (The Lodgers, Beyond the Woods). Despite its wider setting of an ominous and dark forest, home to an ever-shifting sinkhole which pays homage to the off-the-beaten-track caverns of The Descent (2005) and the claustrophobic woodlands of The Blair Witch Project (1999), the film’s most horrifying and violent moments are intensely domestic.
Helen Marshall is a World Fantasy Award-winning author. She has previously published two short story collections, Hair Side, Flesh Side and Gifts for the One Who Comes After, as well as two collections of poetry. The Migration is her first novel and it deftly combines horror, fantasy, and science fiction to tell an imaginative post-apocalyptic story. I spoke to Marshall about her new book, its themes and influences, the state of weird fiction, as well as her work as a creative writing teacher.
In the summer of 1948, more than three hundred letters arrived at the offices of The New Yorker in response to a short story, “the most mail the magazine that ever received in response to a work of fiction” (Ruth Franklin, “‘The Lottery’ Letters,” The New Yorker June 25, 2013). At a time when the post-World War II boom of the United States was about to decline into the paranoia and conformity of the Cold War, the story in question could not be more appropriate, nor terrifying for the American imagination.
If you read my review of Kate Pullinger’s 1999 novel Weird Sister, you will know how much I enjoyed it and how relevant its ideas are today for the very same reasons that the study of witches and witchcraft remains as relevant as ever. Professor Marion Gibson’s reading list of witches in fiction introduced me to Weird Sister and the professor is also introducing the book to new generations of undergraduates as it features on a module she teaches at Exeter University; Pullinger says she gets students contacting her every year to ask questions for their essays. I spoke to Kate Pullinger about Weird Sister, her research into the Witches of Warboys, and her experiments with digital fiction.
Argentinian author Samantha Schweblin’s novel Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017 and now her latest book, a short story collection (her debut collection in English) called Mouthful of Birds, has made the longlist for 2019.
When one begins to research medieval art, possession and the Christian practice of exorcism appear to thrive amongst pages of illuminated manuscripts and other surviving records from the Middle Ages. The theory of possession, that those who engaged with sins would be possessed by evil spirits, was believed by many.
Think of the term “haunted house” and it is likely to conjure up a variety of images, including decaying Victorian mansions or Gothic manor houses from rural England. However, mention the town of Bennington, Vermont and it is not likely to strike fear in the heart of the Western imagination the same way “Transylvania” would. Yet, it is a locale responsible for generating one of the greatest modern haunted house stories in the English literature.