Longevity of supernatural horror

Sargeant_Fox

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I'm posting this here and not in the Horror section because I think it's pertinent.

I recently finished reading T. E. D. Klein's Dark Gods, with a 2021 "Author's Note". In it Klein makes the provocative statement that "[supernatural horror] enjoys a unique longevity. In support of this, I would bring up writers like Robert Hichens, Robert W. Chambers, W. W. Jacobs, A. E. Coppard, Clemence Dane, Marjorie Bowen, Richard Marsh, even L. P. Hartley, popular and prolific authors in their day, whose only stories remaining in print and still anthologized, or at least that are still read, tend to be their supernatural tales.”

Do you agree with this?

If it's true that some writers, once known predominantly for their realist fiction, are now only remembered for their horror tales, why do you think that's the case?
 
I'm posting this here and not in the Horror section because I think it's pertinent.

I recently finished reading T. E. D. Klein's Dark Gods, with a 2021 "Author's Note". In it Klein makes the provocative statement that "[supernatural horror] enjoys a unique longevity. In support of this, I would bring up writers like Robert Hichens, Robert W. Chambers, W. W. Jacobs, A. E. Coppard, Clemence Dane, Marjorie Bowen, Richard Marsh, even L. P. Hartley, popular and prolific authors in their day, whose only stories remaining in print and still anthologized, or at least that are still read, tend to be their supernatural tales.”

Do you agree with this?

If it's true that some writers, once known predominantly for their realist fiction, are now only remembered for their horror tales, why do you think that's the case?
Disagree. This sounds silly.
 
Not at all sure about this. The argument of why we remember the authors in that list falls a little flat, given I've barely heard of any of them, with the exception of L. P. Hartley, who I only know for his non-supernatural fiction.
 
Not at all sure about this. The argument of why we remember the authors in that list falls a little flat, given I've barely heard of any of them, with the exception of L. P. Hartley, who I only know for his non-supernatural fiction.

Jerome K Jerome who wrote Three Men in a Boat wrote supernatural Fiction . Recently they published a an anthology contain his supernbatauk tales titled Three Men In the Dark
 
Which only goes to further disprove the hypothesis… most only remember JKJ from his famous travelogue up the Thames. He only penned a couple of ghost stories in that modern collection. Supernbatauk is quite the typo incidentally - I think you may win some sort of prize!
 
It might have to do with the idea that supernatural horror is part of escapist literature, but that implies that the longevity refers to the genre rather than specific authors.
 
It is true of Dickens. What story is Dickens most famous for? Pretty obvious what that is. No contest, bah humbug.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous Sherlock Holmes story and it is the one with an implied supernatural aspect.


Boris Karloff said horror "has its roots in the fairy tale, and the fairy tale has its roots in the soil of humanity."
It has some kind of appeal that transcends the ordinary.

I am willing to wager that Lovecraft's ascent in literary significance is matched with Hemingway's decline.
He should have written a ghost story.
 
One of my favourite supernatural horror stories.


MIss Haversham is effectively a living ghost, 'haunting' one room still bedecked in her wedding dress, cobwebs hanging everywhere.

Obviously there are other genres that stand the test of time, but nine so effectively I tbink as the supernatural.

Bram Stoker is best remembered for Dracula, Mary Shelley for Frankenstein, Dickens for Christmas Carol, RL Stevenson for Jeckyll and Hyde, Conan Doyle for Baskervilles. Edgar Alan Poe and M R James are best remembered for their supernatural tales - even though they both wrote in other genres. And the list goes on.

The thing about ghost/horror/supernatural stories is that the passage of time usually enchances, ratger than detracts, from the tale being told.
 
Not at all sure about this. The argument of why we remember the authors in that list falls a little flat, given I've barely heard of any of them, with the exception of L. P. Hartley, who I only know for his non-supernatural fiction.

Not even W. W. Jacobs? "The Monkey's Paw" is one of the most popular horror stories of all times; even The Simpsons spoofed it.

Chambers is nowadays famous mainly for The King in Yellow, a book well known within horror circles due to its influence on Lovecraft. Recently Chambers enjoyed a resurgence of interest after he was reference in the True Detective TV show.

Marjorie Bowen, despite her prolific career, owes a lot of her meager posthumous fame to her horror. August Derleth long wanted to publish her at his Arkham Press, which happened five years after his death: Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales. The Bishop of Hell, which contains her own horror stories selected by herself, has also been reprinted a few times since 1949.

I don't think Klein's theory is wholly worthless; of course it's not going to work in every case, but I think there's something to it when it comes to authors who in their lifetime were famous for realistic fiction, only to dwindle. I know for a fact I'd rather read a second-rate horror story from the 1920s than a second-rate realist story from the 1920s. It's interesting how in recent years it's become fashionable to release individual collections of the non-realist fiction of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Gaskell. I'd imagine that for a lot of readers James is already only the author of The Turn of the Screw.
 
Fear is arguably the most primitive of all of human emotions; it's also one of the most powerful. Not only the fear of what may happen, but the relief when it has subsided. Which makes it an emotion that we remember, and which stays in our subconcious.

It's unsurprising then that we are more likely to recall, or associate an author, with these type of stories than with others.

Having said that... nearly all (if not all) of the stories mentioned in this thread refer to the greatest supernatural stories ever written. So it is again unsurprising that we would associate these authors with those stories.

If we look at authors like HG Wells, Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl who all wrote ghost stories, none compare with their greatest stories and so they aren't remembered for them.
 
If we look at authors like HG Wells, Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl who all wrote ghost stories, none compare with their greatest stories and so they aren't remembered for them.
But they are still known for "supernatural" stories.
A story about aliens invading the earth is still supernatural when you think about it.

An invisible man is supernatural (until you meet one).

It doesn't have to involve a ghost--just something beyond the natural.

But Shakespeare was smart to add a ghost in Hamlet.

Was there a ghost in the Iliad? I know they had deities and talking horses and rivers.
Oh yeah there is.
Homer had the bases covered.
 
But they are still known for "supernatural" stories.
A story about aliens invading the earth is still supernatural when you think about it.

An invisible man is supernatural (until you meet one).

It doesn't have to involve a ghost--just something beyond the natural.

But Shakespeare was smart to add a ghost in Hamlet.

Was there a ghost in the Iliad? I know they had deities and talking horses and rivers.
Oh yeah there is.
Homer had the bases covered.


Most stories will contain several genres, but (in my opinion) it's the predominant one that defines it. A number of Shakespeare's plays feature ghosts or spirits, but I wouldn't class any as supernatural.

In the same way War of the Worlds and The Invisible cover several genres, but the overriding one is Science Fiction.

Ray Bradbury's best remembered book is Farenheit 451, but he also wrote Something Wicked. HG Wells is best remembered for War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, but he also wrote The Red Room and The Stolen Body.

Just a couple of examples where an author's best remembered story isn't one of their (predominantly) supernatural tales.
 
To re-quote the original proposition:

“popular and prolific authors in their day, whose only stories remaining in print and still anthologized, or at least that are still read, tend to be their supernatural tales.”

This clearly does not apply to Dickens, Conan Doyle, RL Stephenson, Shakespeare, whose works are still widely read and in print, whether horror, supernatural, thriller, or not.
 
This clearly does not apply to Dickens, Conan Doyle, RL Stephenson, Shakespeare, whose works are still widely read and in print, whether horror, supernatural, thriller, or not.

Shakespeare doesn't make sense here because he predates the division between realist and supernatural on which Klein's point, I think, hinges. Conan Doyle and Stephenson were mainly genre writers, whether supernatural or not, and are mainly remembered for genre work. (I think Klein's point would have made more sense if he had replaced "supernatural" with "genre", but he's a horror writer and was making this point in a horror book)

Dickens is, of course, a first-rate novelist, a world classic, who has outlasted his time. In my view, Klein's point applies well to second-tier authors, those who were somewhat or even very famous in their time, only to plunge into oblivion after death. I think Klein's vindicated by anthology series. Lately I've been slowly reading the "British Library Tales of the Weird" series. It's a series that collects fantasy stories from the 19c onwards. Each volume is a hodgepodge of famous and unknowns. Often the mini-bios to the unknown authors go like this: "Such and such wrote a lot in his lifetime, but nowadays he's only remembered for this story we're reprinting here." And I notice this happens a lot to writers who in their time were mostly realists. History doesn't seem to have a lot of love for second-tier realists: either you're a Dickens, a George Eliot, a Hardy, or you're screwed. But if you wrote a middling fantasy or horror story at some point (and many of the BLTW stories are pretty middling), you have better chances of still being read just for that 100 years later.
 
Elizabeth Gaskell wrote the very fine ghost story "Old Nurse's Story," but I don't think that is what she is most remembered for. Her outstanding novel Wives and Daughters and her very good novel North and South surely must remain alive -- of course BBC adaptations have something to do with that.

Henry James's Turn of the Screw is alive and well, but I wouldn't write off "Daisy Miller," Portrait of a Lady, etc.
 
Not even W. W. Jacobs? "The Monkey's Paw" is one of the most popular horror stories of all times; even The Simpsons spoofed it.

Chambers is nowadays famous mainly for The King in Yellow, a book well known within horror circles due to its influence on Lovecraft. Recently Chambers enjoyed a resurgence of interest after he was reference in the True Detective TV show.

Marjorie Bowen, despite her prolific career, owes a lot of her meager posthumous fame to her horror. August Derleth long wanted to publish her at his Arkham Press, which happened five years after his death: Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales. The Bishop of Hell, which contains her own horror stories selected by herself, has also been reprinted a few times since 1949.

I think Klein is pretty much on the nose for many of the more commercial writers, among whom Jacobs, Bowen and Chambers would number.

I don't think Klein's theory is wholly worthless; of course it's not going to work in every case, but I think there's something to it when it comes to authors who in their lifetime were famous for realistic fiction, only to dwindle. I know for a fact I'd rather read a second-rate horror story from the 1920s than a second-rate realist story from the 1920s. It's interesting how in recent years it's become fashionable to release individual collections of the non-realist fiction of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Gaskell. I'd imagine that for a lot of readers James is already only the author of The Turn of the Screw.

I suppose it all depends on how recent you mean by "recent." From what I see, Gaskell's Gothic Tales collection is the most recently published -- ISFDB says 2000 (Penguin; Gollancz published a shorter collection in 1978). I have a collection of James' supernatural stories from 1980 which, per ISFDB, is a variant edition of The Ghostly Tales of Henry James, first published in 1949. The Wharton collection was first published in 1937, then reissued in 1973 and again every few years since.

I think we can generalize that supernatural tales, and maybe more broadly still, Gothic tales and crime/mystery stories (or maybe just tales of horror or terror and mayhem?) seem perennially popular, often as what remains visible and viable of a once popular commercial writer's oeuvre. For more critically regarded writers, they act as a sort of adornment, often drawing readers who might otherwise find the writer too challenging or intimidating -- I'm thinking of Faulkner's Knight's Gambit, his "mystery" collection; or The Travelling Grave by L. P. Hartley. I'm also thinking of Evelyn Waugh's "The Man Who Liked Dickens" or, the first story I read by him, "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing," and Ring Lardner's "Haircut"; a really good writer of short stories in his time, I don't think Lardner's anthologized as often now as in the past, except for that story.
 
I think we can generalize that supernatural tales, and maybe more broadly still, Gothic tales and crime/mystery stories (or maybe just tales of horror or terror and mayhem?) seem perennially popular, often as what remains visible and viable of a once popular commercial writer's oeuvre.

I agree with you.

For more critically regarded writers, they act as a sort of adornment, often drawing readers who might otherwise find the writer too challenging or intimidating -- I'm thinking of Faulkner's Knight's Gambit, his "mystery" collection; or The Travelling Grave by L. P. Hartley. I'm also thinking of Evelyn Waugh's "The Man Who Liked Dickens" or, the first story I read by him, "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing," and Ring Lardner's "Haircut"; a really good writer of short stories in his time, I don't think Lardner's anthologized as often now as in the past, except for that story.

I think some editors see the "genre" work of the great names as gateways to their more "serious" work. I applaud that because it has helped unearth good stuff neglected due to bias.
 

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