Horror literature traces back to the early days of man, to the Bible, and to early works all over the world. One could say as long as humans have existed, so did horror. The earliest men told scary stories around a campfire fire to keep their kids in line or to get a fright out of their friends. It was good fun.
As horror novels progressed, it shifted, evolved, and changed to the culture. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th century that the horror novel had a wide audience.
H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelly, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others molded and crafted horror novels from folktales and their own fiery imaginations. They left lasting impressions and their work stood the test of time.
With such a strong tradition of horror novels permeating our culture, why is it frowned upon?
Some blame Stephen King for publishing his horror novel Carrie. Others point to the movie industry pumps out trashy horror films by the dozen. It could be the genre garnered a bad reputation for stories full of frights, gore, and exploitation and having no soul in the process (This is my guess, but we’ll get to that).
Literary types are usually the main group not liking horror. For instance, you don’t see a horror novel on the list to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction much less winning it. Even when a book like Beloved, a story rife with ghosts and haunted houses, is arguably horror, fans of the book would be aghast to call it that, considering it a disservice and lessening the book.
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Again, why would horror lessen a book’s reputation than heighten it?
You know the old adage: the friends you keep says a lot about you. Books oddly work the same way.
Recently, science fiction pulled itself out of the gutter with Margret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. But, that doesn’t mean it’s out of the woods yet and is mostly considered childish and simplistic. It’s struggling to become noticed like any genre.
Horror, on the other hand, is too grotesque, gory, or trashy for modern literary tastes. Despite putting out some great work, Stephen King hasn’t been able to break that mold. Some may even argue he keeps throwing the genre in the mud. We’ll not wade into that argument right now.
The point is this: Horror novels, and all their many tropes, are embraced by a crowd that literary types would never accept. Go on Twitter or any social media and look for horror fan groups. Once you see how deep and dark that rabbit hole goes, you’ll understand. Until a horror author figures out how to pull the genre out of its hole, horror novels will always be frowned upon.
Of course, some of you might say, “So what? Let the snobs hate horror. Who cares?”
Well, frankly, no one. And, also, everyone.
It’s fine having horror bundle up in its own cold, dark, and dank den, away from civilization, listening to The Cure and hating the world. However, plenty of really good horror authors (and fans of their work) would love for their work to be considered more than just “a trashy horror novel.”
Perhaps, one day, this will come to fruition. In the meantime, the best readers can do is keep learning, keep growing, and keep expecting more.