Witches, in one shape or form, by one definition or another, have a long literary history and are a constant source of inspiration. I spoke to Marion Gibson, Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literature at the University of Exeter, to put together this reading list of witches in fiction, starting with the relatively modern Young Goodman Brown in 1835. Clearly, this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list, but a cherry-picked selection that will likely be of interest to our readers. Marion is the author of an introductory book on the study of witchcraft, the themes of which we discuss in the first episode of the Sublime Horror podcast.
This is the first in a new series where we round-up the most interesting new (UK) releases in horror and cross-over horror fiction. “Cross-over” is worth specifying because a number of the books here wouldn’t be shelved under “horror” in the average bookshop but alongside other literary fiction, so it’s all the more important we call them out. One of the aims of Sublime Horror is to remove some of the artificial boundaries between what is “genre” and what isn’t, which I hope will bring new books to the attention of readers who might otherwise fall into one camp or the other. The first book on this list is a brilliant example of what I’m referring to.
The horror film, as a genre, emerged in 1931 with the release of the Universal-produced Dracula and, later that year, Frankenstein. It wasn’t until this time that the language of horror entered the popular vernacular and that a framework of a genre had been defined. But by no means were these two films the first to use horrific elements; elements designed to evoke the uncanny, use the supernatural as an artistic and emotional tool, and to shock audiences. It is this pre-1931 period of American cinema that Kendall R. Phillips’ book A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema (which was included in the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker non-fiction award) focuses on, a period of proto-horror that set the foundations for a genre to come.
The supernatural has long been a convenient way to address socially taboo topics, especially during the nineteenth century when ghost stories became increasingly popular. Indeed, the ghost story very much became a Christmas tradition, which you can read more about in our review of Spirits of the Season. For women writers during this period, the short story became an empowering form, giving women both a professional and social voice. This is the theme of a new collection of ghost stories by Victorian women writers edited by Melissa Edmundson, featuring ten great representative authors. Naturally, her book is the best place to start if you’re looking to explore these stories – buy the book here. If you’re looking for further reading, I spoke with Melissa about what other books she would recommend; here are her choices.
“Mortal Echoes: Encounters with the End” is another great collection from the British Library that provides the reader with an intimate experience with the otherwise unfathomable: our own mortality.
Mortal Echoes: Encounters with the End is the second book I’ve reviewed in the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series (read my review of Spirits of the Season), which aims to revive long-lost material from the library’s vaults in the genres of horror, the gothic, and weird fiction. This collection focuses on death, stories which bring us face to face with our own mortality.
Spirits of the Season: Christmas Hauntings is a marvellous collection of Christmas ghost stories by 19th century and early 20th century writers, some of whom you will expect to see in a collection such as this (M.R. James, for example) but some you might be nescient of. Whilst I am publishing this review after Christmas, these are stories I would urge you to read whatever the time of year (but are especially haunting in these dark, winter months).
Peter Meinertzhagen talks to Marion Gibson, professor of renaissance and magical literature at Exeter University, about witchcraft. Answering questions such as: how old is witchcraft? what defines “a witch”? and are there still witches today?
This is the first Sublime Horror podcast. There are a few audio glitches as I try and figure out the best way of recording remotely over Skype, so the quality isn’t as fantastic as I’d hope. But Marion is fascinating to listen to regardless and I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Any book that claims to share in Dracula’s legacy is going to have a difficult task ahead of it and, as the reader, one cannot help but compare one against the other.
Positioned on the front cover as a prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracul purports to tell the true story of the origins of the original book and its creator. However, Dracul’s co-authors – Dacre Stoker (Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew) and J. D. Barker, an American author of suspense thrillers – feel that the appropriate way of doing this is to construct a fictional narrative in which Bram Stoker, his family and acquaintances, are wrapped up in a real world of vampires.
The final book in James Lovegrove’s The Cthulhu Casebooks triptych of Holmes & Lovecraft mash-ups brings the series to a grand betentacled finale and leaves you wondering why the collision of these two worlds works so well.
James Lovegrove has, in recent years, made a name for himself writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches for Titan Books. The last three, making up The Cthulu Casebooks series, however, have gone beyond pastiche and attempt to rewrite the canon by infusing the eldritch world of Lovecraft with the rationalist one of Sherlock Holmes.
On the surface, it makes absolutely no sense.
The bloodline of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles is as enduring as the ancient blood drinkers about whom she writes and, with the publication of 1976’s Interview with a Vampire, is largely to blame for Twilight and the rest of its handsome and un-horrifying brood.
Fans of the series forgive me, for I am entirely new to it and may make observations that are obvious to you, knowing as I do only of the influence it has had on popular culture, the fiction of the vampire, and their chiselled new image. Once, the vampire had no need for mirrors, but you get the impression Rice’s regularly enjoy tending to their hair. “Almost all vampires are beautiful. They are picked for their beauty.”