Weird fiction

H. P. Lovecraft, pictured in 1934

Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. China Miéville defines Weird Fiction thus: "Weird Fiction is usually, roughly, conceived of as a rather breathless and generically slippery macabre fiction, a dark fantastic (“horror” plus “fantasy”) often featuring nontraditional alien monsters (thus plus “science fiction”)."[1] Weird fiction is distinguished from horror and fantasy in its blending of supernatural, mythical, and even scientific tropes. Weird fiction either eschews or radically reinterprets ghosts, vampires, werewolves and other traditional antagonists of supernatural horror fiction.[1][2][3] Edgar Allan Poe is seen as the pioneering author of weird fiction; Sheridan Le Fanu is also seen as an early writer working in the sub-genre.[1] British authors who have embraced this style have often published their work in mainstream literary magazines even after American pulp magazines became popular.[4] Popular weird fiction writers included Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany,[5] Arthur Machen,[6] and M. R. James.[7] The writers who wrote for the magazine Weird Tales are closely identified with the weird fiction subgenre, especially H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch. [1] Weird fiction is sometimes symbolised by the tentacle-a limb-type absent from most of the monsters of European folklore and gothic fiction, but often attached to the monstrous creatures created by weird fiction writers such as Hodgson, M. R. James and Lovecraft.[1][2]

Although "weird fiction" has been chiefly used as a historical description for works through the 1930s, the term has also been increasingly used since the 1980s, sometimes to describe slipstream fiction that blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

History

H. P. Lovecraft popularized the term "weird fiction" in his essays. [1] In "Supernatural Horror in Literature," Lovecraft defines the genre:

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

The pulp magazine Weird Tales published many such stories in the United States from March 1923 to September 1954. S. T. Joshi describes several subdivisions of the weird tale: supernatural horror (or fantastique), the ghost story, quasi science fiction, fantasy, and ambiguous horror fiction and argues that "the weird tale" is primarily the result of the philosophical and aesthetic predispositions of the authors associated with this type of fiction.[8][9]

Although Lovecraft was one of the few early 20th-century writers to describe his work as "weird fiction,"[4] the term has enjoyed a contemporary revival in New Weird fiction. For example, China Miéville often refers to his work as weird fiction.[10] Many horror writers have also situated themselves within the weird tradition, including Clive Barker, who describes his fiction as fantastique,[11] and Ramsey Campbell,[12] whose early work was deeply influenced by Lovecraft.[13]

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