The best horror prose writer

Discussion in 'Horror' started by Fried Egg, Feb 23, 2012.

  1.  
    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    Who was the best prose writer in the field of horror? Who's the best still producing work today?

    This may well be quite apart from who writes the best stories or is otherwise most entertaining.

    And a secondary question is this: how important is the quality of prose in the field of horror?
  2.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    I was very impressed with Mary Shelley when I read FRANKENSTEIN a few years ago. Robert Louis Stevenson is pretty good also, but it's tough to beat H.P. Lovecraft. Truly a great wordsmith.
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    AnyaKimlin

    AnyaKimlin Active Member

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    For me no one has ever quite beaten Agatha Christie. Her Hound of Death makes me wonder what she would've been like as a full time horror writer. I know a lot of it is seen as overdone and cliche now, but ...

    Today hmm to be honest I don't read a lot of horror written after 1940s.
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    D_Davis

    D_Davis New Member

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    I'd say the best is Thomas Ligotti, and we're very lucky to be living while he is writing. Even though his stories are not my absolute favorite (he can be far too pessimistic for me at times), he could very well be the best writer I've read.

    As far as the importance of prose in horror goes, I think it is quite important. Although not in terms of style, strictly. I think it is most important in the way an author can turn a phrase to stick with you and get under your skin. For instance, Stephen King is not a "great" prose stylist; he can, however, turn a phrase in such a perfect manner that the horror he is describing gets under your skin and stays there for some time. He has a way of creating things and detailing them perfectly.

    Ligotti does the same, but he also has a unique style. He's in the Lovecraft tradition, but he's not so cumbersome and laborious, or clunky. There is a brevity in Ligotti's work that Lovecraft's lacks. So while they have similar qualities, I prefer Ligotti's more reductionist style to Lovecraft's wordiness.

    And I'd also add Joe R. Lansdale to the mix, but for completely different reasons. While he also has a defining style, it's not flashy or experimental in any way. Lansdale is a master of regional writing - you can just feel, smell, and taste East Texas in his books. And like King, Lansdale knows how to turn a phrase, and word something with absolute perfection.
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    dlsevern

    dlsevern Science fiction fantasy

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    Stephen King
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    D_Davis

    D_Davis New Member

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    I don't know man. I'm as big a King fan as there is, and even I admit that his prose is not great, and often times it's just barely serviceable. Every once in awhile, he writes some insanely good prose that just shocks me.

    I think this is especially true when compared to someone like Ligotti.
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    dlsevern

    dlsevern Science fiction fantasy

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    Just my opinion, I happen to feel like he is the greatest horror prose writer. I'm a big Lovecraft fan too and he is right there at the top next to King. King's work just has a lilt to it that no other writer could duplicate, for me anyway.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    As I've said elsewhere, King can write some fine prose; my problem is that so much of what he writes is larded over with pedestrianism that it often has a more journalistic quality.

    HPL is seldom actually as prolix as he is perceived as being; it's a matter of achieving a particular effect combined with a gradual introduction of ever-increasing implications and resonances. He can, however, occasionally go off on a tangent which is either prolix or a bit too far over the top ("The Hound", for instance; and yes, I realize this was almost certainly intended as parodic -- of the Huysman's sort of Decadents, for instance -- but it still is a bit much, I'm afraid). Still, I'd say he is high on the list.

    Machen certainly has a lyrical style that is often exquisite and haunting; and his best work is among the best ever done in the field. However, he, too, did his share of "journalese", which rather brings him down a bit in an overall rating.

    Poe, of course, certainly deserves close consideration, as does Hawthorne at his best (e.g., "Ethan Brand", "Young Goodman Brown", "The White Old Maid", etc., or some of the novels). Bierce, too, was quite a wordsmith at times; and even where he was not consciously attempting a style of that sort, he was an extremely careful craftsman... almost pedantically so.

    I'd probably go for Walter de la Mare, though, for the best prose style in horror, when dealing with classics, as his abilities as poet certainly are also in evidence there. The same may also be said for the best of Clark Ashton Smith's work ("e.g., "A Night in Malnéant"; "The Uncharted Isle", etc.), but some of his prose works are less successful. At his best, though....

    Modern writers? I'd tend to agree that Ligotti deserves to be considered, especially given such controlled prose as one finds in the collection The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales, or several pieces in Grimscribe or Songs of a Dead Dreamer. However, I would also say Wilum Pugmire often approaches such an ideal, though his prose is also often very strange and dream-like, and the logic of his tales is often even more so. But he has done some absolutely exquisite tales and prose-poems in the field, as well.

    Joe Pulver is also showing a considerable ability with prose, as is Stanley C. Sargent (both writers often influenced by Lovecraft, though seldom to the point of pastiche). Michael Shea has also done some excellent work in the form, too; and Ramsey Campbell has his share as well.

    It is difficult to really pin down such a possible candidate, as there have been a number of very fine prose artists in this field, both old and new; if anything, we are seeing a resurgence of truly talented writers in this genre of late years, many of whom have a flair for memorable prose....
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    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    For me, prose style is very important when it comes to horror. Probably more so than any other genre. I find it such an integral part of my reading pleasure that it is rare that I will enjoy a horror story at all if the prose is merely serviceable.

    Of the older horror writers, I would agree to some extent with the previous mentions of Ambrose Biece, H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith but in the case of Smith, while I think he has excellent prose, I actually find it more suited to fantasy than horror generally. But the best in this category would undoubtedly be Algernon Blackwood whose prose I find most ideally suited to crafting a fine horror tale.

    Of recent authors, my knowledge is still quite sketchy but Thomas Ligotti definitely has to be up there with the very best the genre has ever had to offer. I also found Jonathan Thomas to be of a high standard too.

    But I wouldn't want to forget Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman, both of whom have subtle, understated prose styles that are exceptionally well crafted I feel. Particularly Aickman who, If I had to select a single best horror prose writer above all others, would exceed even the masterful Ligotti as being my favourite of all, in the horror genre at least.
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    dlsevern

    dlsevern Science fiction fantasy

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    Pedestrianism? I had to look that one up just to make sure I wasn't missing anything. If I'm taking your meaning correctly, you are saying that King is ordinary and undistinguished. If that is the case then I say you are wrong, at least in my eyes, the last thing King is, is ordinary. Now undistinguished, I hope so, I'm not very fond of the distinguished types. I still don't see what any of this has to do with prose though.

    Please explain about the journalistic quality that you mentioned, I'm not sure I'm understanding you on that one.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    His prose is often undistinguished, flat, affectless; there is far too much fat (e.g., his inclusion of enormous amounts of inessential mundane detail -- an overabundance of "product placement" mentions, character actions which contribute nothing to moving the narrative forward nor to building an atmosphere nor, for that matter, truly creating a memorable charcter, etc. -- which goes far beyond that necessary to establish verisimilitude), and so forth.

    And, despite the claims of various people for his originality or creativity, I find that an enormous amount of his work is actually very derivative of older and better writers -- not simply hommage, but a rehashing of the materials without actually adding anything particularly notable to the mix.

    Again, this is not entirely the case, and when he is good, he can be very good; but these are the faults I've found with his work, which I describe by the term "pedestrianism". Fact is, I would like to like King more -- certainly he's someone I'd have no problem sitting down with over a beer, and I admire his work ethic -- but critically speaking, I've found myself less and less impressed the more I've read, both of his own work and that of others. He just doesn't stand up in comparison to so many others, certainly not when it comes to the verbal magic of good prose....

    F.E.: I think my hesitation when it comes to Blackwood is that he can, at times, be quite angular and awkward with his actual prose; sometimes even in his best work, and at these times he, too, lacks that verbal magic. Yet, oddly, he is certainly often one of the best for creating a truly weird atmosphere ("The Willows", "The Wendigo", Incredible Adventures, "A Psychical Investigation", "Episode in a Lodging House", etc.); and at times yes, his prose genuinely sings. But then, he also was so incredibly prolific, that a fair amount of his work -- especially later in his career -- has a strong journalistic tinge to it, so that it, too, is flat and flavorless....

    Oh, and I meant to include in my list of modern writers: Caitlin R. Kiernan. She isn't always at the top of her form, but when she is, her prose is quite superb....
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    paranoid marvin

    paranoid marvin Run VT Erroll!

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    Poe for sure. This opening passage

    True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

    is as good as anything I've read. Not necessarily the most enjoyable - but the most enjoyable.

    As for King, I'm sorry I cannot say I woud regard his work as 'horror'. Some very good storytelling , and quite suspenseful, but not what I would call horrific.
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    D_Davis

    D_Davis New Member

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    That's a whole other can of worms.

    One man's horror is another man's comedy.
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    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    One man's horror is another man's bore --- and one man's bore is another man's classic.:) (Sorry.)
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    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    J.D.

    As is always the case, one can only form a judgement on what one has read and I'm sure you've read far more of Blackwood's material than I have. Although I think I see what you mean in that it is not so much in his way with words as such that makes him shine so much as a writer than it is the way he constructs the narrative. But I still find his prose very pleasing to read, in a way that I seldom feel with other writers.
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    dlsevern

    dlsevern Science fiction fantasy

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    Look man, no offense, but I just do not agree with you on any of your exhausting explanations, seriously, I didn't realize our answers should be in the form of essays.
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    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Active Member

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    Ok, here's a short answer: Clive Barker in Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart. Barker strikes a spot-on balance between the workmanlike prose of some modern writers and the overly florid writing of many older horror novelists. Read the opening page of "Rawhead Rex" to see what I mean.

    Also, Ramsey Campbell, who in his better work uses unsettling description to depict the world, discomforting the reader while providing fresh and original images. Also, Campbell's use of flawed, sympathetic characters and mundane settings makes his horrors all the more shocking.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2012
  18.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    I don't agree with everything J.D. says either but you can learn a lot from his essays.
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    D_Davis

    D_Davis New Member

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    It makes me sad that in this day and age, especially on a forum about reading books, that people think more than a few paragraphs is an essay.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    De gustibus....

    Dask: Thank you... and, to me, that's the point of such discussions: to make one's arguments as clearly as possible, in order to aid communication and find just where we agree or disagree; we may not come to an agreement, but (in my experience) it generally leads to more thoughtful answers on everyone's part, with a corresponding rise in respect for each other as they hone their arguments. Besides, such debates can lead to a refinement of one's own views; sometimes leading to a change in those views; sometimes reconfirming them, but from a more informed perspective....

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