Note: This posting contains mature subject matters which may be unsuitable for some readers . You have been warned.
Anything qualified as a horror novel is instantly shoved into the borderlands of genre fiction. It’s considered low-brow by those with more “literary” aspirations. Many contemporary authors have escaped the label: Joyce Carol Oates, Stewart O’Nan, and Donna Tartt have all flown free of the pigeon holes that will most certainly limit readership. But consider this: some of the authors in your high-schoolers classics literary studies write horror. Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Henry James and William Golding ( if you think Lord of the Flies isn‘t a horror novel, you haven‘t read it.) have risen to the top of literary posterity. Why? Because their stories truly resonate with the moral and psychological tragedies which are part of the human experience.
I am a horror snob. I have to give a damn about the characters, or the story has to tell me something I don’t already know, or it must make a statement that resonates with the all-too human fears and understandings of this world…or against those fears and understandings of this world. I have an interminable list of criteria which tells me what I like and don’t like, but it comes down to this: I hate poor writing regardless of the genre.
These authors named herein are some of the finest horror authors you have never read. To write with skill and resonance is difficult enough, but to scare your readership into thinking about one or two implications of the world and human experience with good writing is pretty damn tough. Some of the authors listed herein are not even considered part of the genre and will never be considered part of the genre. Many of these authors have proudly declared their allegiances to posterity. They have been ignored by or lost to a new generation of students of the shadows. If you’re tired of the same old mash-up, give these bold individuals a try. They are, by the way, not listed by any ranking. The list is alphabetical, and will cover several blog postings.
Robert Aickman is one of the most acclaimed British authors you’ve never read. A World Fantasy Award winner and notable British conservationist; his short stories received acclaim in England long before his death in 1981. His two most notable collections are Cold Hand In Mine and Painted Devils. The original editions of these works were illustrated by Edward Gorey. As of this writing, these two collections are still available in the U.S., though I’m not sure if they contain the Gorey illustrations.
Aickman is often termed as a writer of strange stories similar to M. R. James ,but there is a foundation of disciplined intensity in these tales; a focus that holds a powerful rage of the psyche beneath their literate and finely crafted surfaces. To finish reading just one of Aickman’s strange stories is to feel as if you have just emerged from a powerful dream filled with tension and menace.
Charles Beaumont was born in 1929, as Charles LeRoy Nutt. Beaumont’s bizarre upbringing by an emotionally disturbed mother prepared him to become a writer of macabre cautionary tales spiked with black humor. Beaumont was the writer behind 22 outstanding episodes of The Twilight Zone. The Hunger, and Other Stories kicks off with Miss Gentilbelle, a biographical tale wherein the insane mother dresses her son as a girl and punishes him by killing one of his pets. Infernal Bouillabaise is a bit of twisted humor about murder plans gone wrong. Beaumont is often considered old-school. I consider him as maniacal laughter in the dark.