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    March 2007
    M T W T F S S


Posted by anthonynorth on March 6, 2007

The horror story no doubt began before history, with sinister tales of dragons and malevolent gods around the prehistoric camp fire. But horror as noted by history is much more recent. True, Sophocles and others offered stark, horrific visions in ancient Greece, and Beowulf from 10th century Europe has echoes of the horrific, but we had to wait for Shakespeare and his contemporaries to be specifically horrific for the sake of the story.

In plays such as Macbeth the modern idea of terrifying the public came of age. Yet horror was to become more subtle. Born out of the Gothic visions of the Romantics, horror became a merging of the psychological with the environment, or, in the ghost story, the supernatural.

 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often thought of as the first horror novel, but really this is more science fiction than horror. Horror itself developed in the short story, particularly Poe in the 1840s. Of particular note in the genre is Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and Stoker’s Dracula.

The Victorians actually created both the horror and ghost story in its modern sense. Prior to this period, if a ghost appeared in a tale, it was most likely to be prophetic rather than disturbing. It was Dickens who changed this, with his fine ghost stories, many based around Christmas.

The central theme of the return of the dead to confront the living was an inevitability once Spiritualism had gained popular notice. And from here on, the ghost and horror story was to march side by side, often written by the same writers.

One of the greatest of those writers was M R James, who perfected the growing sinister element of the normal, vital to the success of the genre. Other notables included Le Fanu, Bierce, Machen, Lovecraft, Blackwood and Benson.

All these writers wrote principally in the short story or novella form. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that this changed, with the novel becoming the primary medium. Of this new wave of horror, Ramsey Campbell is often thought of as its greatest literary exponent. However, horror broke into the bestseller lists with the mighty Stephen King. And from then until now, the public have just loved to be frightened to death by this story form.

Writing Index

(c) Anthony North, Jan 2007


  1. Hi Anthony,

    I’ve been reading Stephen King since I was about 12- someone gave me a copy of Salem’s Lot and I was hooked.

    I’m 43 now- anyway,

    I’d have to say that La Fanu and Blackwood have influenced me as a writer the most ( I’ve been reading them just as long ) because of the supernatural and psychological elements in their writing and stories.

    Nothing intrigues me more then human nature- I love Stephen King, but in the end Monsters don’t scare me…the darkness of the human mind DOES.

    Also, I think that Ramsey was able to write great ‘monster’ tales and he still was able to allow human nature to play a vital role in his stories.

    I love King- but his Monster Stories are just that.

  2. Shem said

    hi… I’m writing my bachelor paper on S King. my subject is ‘S. King’s psychology of horror’ …I see you are quite in that matter so if you could help me a little I would be really greatfull.. please replay here or to my mail…

  3. Two seminal names from horror fiction are Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Stephen King credited Matheson for bringing horror out of the moors and remote places and into suburbia. Beaumont was a friend and colleague of Matheson’s…but, sadly, Chuck died of a wasting illness in his late 30’s. God knows what the man would have accomplished had he lived. I’m a fan of dark fantasy/horror and I hope you’ll pop by my site, “Beautiful Desolation”, for a visit some day. See you there…

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