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Defining Weird Fiction
Transcript of Defining Weird Fiction
Types of Weird Fiction
Defining Weird Fiction:
An Understanding of the Genre Through the Lens of H.P. Lovecraft
A Leader in his Field
Like most authors of weird fiction in his time, Lovecraft's work did not enjoy widespread popularity until after his death. However, in his time he did earn a cult following of fans and developed close friendships with other writers in his field.
This group of colleagues with whom he regularly corresponded became known as the Lovecraft Circle, so named because they borrowed freely from Lovecraft's stories (with his blessing).
The Circle included authors such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Fritz Leiber.
A Leader in his Field
Although other writers in the early twentieth century paved the way for Lovecraft's work, his dedication to his craft provoked deep reflection of the characteristics of weird fiction. In his essay, "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction" published in 1937, he outlines his own thoughts on the definition of the genre.
Two Other Categories of Weird Tale
Lovecraft describes two rough categories of Weird Tales:
"Those in which the marvel or horror concerns some conditions or phenomenon"
"Those in which it concerns some action of persons in connection with a bizarre condition or phenomenon."
In "The Willows", Algernon Blackwood deals with the phenomenon and conditions which produce the feelings of fear; through a detailed and realistic, yet marvelous description of nature in a desolate rural setting, surrounding the Danube river. "the Danube enters a region of singular loneliness and desolation" (Blackwood, 71). It is the environment what has a deranging effect on human emotions and psyche. Here, "atmosphere, not action", as described by Lovecraft, becomes central to the story.
"The Summer People" by Shirley Jackson
In addition to the four general rules designated by Lovecraft as essential, he mentions fear and conflict with time. "Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression" (Lovecraft).
Time is of particular importance in Shirley Jackson's "The Summer People" because it encourages fear.
The story title sets the time frame.
The Allisons are given specific ages indicating time is particularly relevant.
At the suggestion of staying at their cottage beyond Labor Day, they are met with a subtle resistance by the town folk.
Each local tries to vaguely discourage this, which begins to instill questioning and fear into the reader.
The two travelers enter an unknown territory. "We entered the land of desolation on wings, and in less than half an hour there was neither boat nor fishing-hut, nor red roof, nor any single sign of human habitation and civilization within sight." (Blackwood, 72)
The author relies on the realistic effect of his descriptions of wild and lonely nature upon the readers. Then, he places "prime emphasis [ ] on subtle suggestion-imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of mood and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the real." (Lovecraft).
Time to Fear the End of Summer
The land of desolation:
The Rules Engaged
Jackson engages the readers curiosity and this sense of wonder as to what aren't the locals telling the Allisons is alarming.
: Jackson illustrates a vivid portrayal of a rural town and lake. Everything is serene but wild and remote.
The Rules Engaged Cont.
Concerning the "actions of persons in connection with a bizarre condition or phenomenon"
"It's a Good Life" by Jerome Bixby
"There are, I think, four distinct types of weird story:
one expressing a
mood or feeling
another expressing a
a third expressing a
general situation, condition, legend, or intellectual conception
and a fourth explaining
a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax
"Notes on Writing Weird Fiction"
Detailed descriptions of Nature lead to Emotions of Fear
H.P Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an American author who was arguably the most influential twentieth century author within the genre of weird fiction.
He was an influence not only to his contemporaries, but to acclaimed horror/fantasy authors of today such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
The Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft
Although written in 1943, years after Lovecraft's death, Ray Bradbury's "The Crowd" is nonetheless exemplary of Lovecraft's view of weird fiction. While Lovecraft indicated that weird fiction could be categorized into four separate types, "The Crowd" exhibits multiple of these qualities on its own.
"The Crowd" takes us through the experience of a man, Mr. Spallner, who has just been in a car accident and his subsequent feelings regarding the rubberneckers who gathered around him to witness the aftermath.
"The Crowd" by Ray Bradbury
"The others had mostly forgotten about him, or were told that he was a nice, nice goblin but they must never go near him." (Bixby, 603)
"With this multitude of willows, however, it was something far different, I felt. Some essence emanated from them that besieged the heart. A sense of awe awakened, true, but of awe touched somewhere by a vague terror." (p.77)
"The sense of remoteness from the world of human kind, the utter isolation, the fascination of this
singular world of willows, winds,and waters, instantly laid its spell upon us both," (Blackwood, 72)
Anthony controls the thoughts and actions of the community.
"He struggled to remain aware and then the crowd faces hemmed in upon him, hung over him like the large growing leaves of downbent trees."
Expression of Mood/Feeling
The aforementioned tree metaphor that Bradbury uses to describe the crowd surrounding Mr. Spallner does double-duty to express Spallner's mood and feelings in the situation.
As Spallner says himself, "...[the crowd spoils] the privacy of a man's agony by their frank curiosity." Bradbury 284.
"Anthony's purple gaze went around the room. Some of the people began mumbling. They all tried to smile. The sound of mumbling filled the room like a far-off approval." (607)
Expressing a general situation, condition, legend, or intellectual conception
Bradbury chooses a situation--car accidents--as a vehicle to explore several aspects of the human condition. He does this by leaving a few things open to interpretation:
When Spallner initially researches the crowd that gathered around his accident and discovers that specific individuals return to scenes of accidents, he concludes that they must be causing the deaths. Are these people murderers, interfering in the scene of an accident? Are they grim reapers that hold human life in their hands?
At the end of the story, with Spallner now dying at the scene of his second accident, his last words are, "It - looks like I'll - be joining up with you. I - guess I'll be a member of your - group - now." What does he mean by this? If Spallner is dying, does this mean the rubberneckers in the crowd are ghosts?
"It did no good to wonder .
Nothing at all did any good-
except to live as they must live.
Must always, always live, if Anthony would let them." (608)
Bixby, Jerome. "It's a Good Life". The Weird. A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. New York: Tor, 2012. Kindle Version.
Blackwood, Algernon. "The Willows". The Weird. A Compendium of Strange Stories. Ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer . New York:Tor, 2012. Kindle Version.
Bradbury, Ray. "The Crowd". The Weird. A Compendium of Strange Stories. Ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer . New York: Tor, 2012. Kindle Version.
Carrington, Leonora "The Dunwich Horror". The Weird. A compendium of Strange Stories. Ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. New York: Tor, 2012. Kindle Version.
Lovecraft, H.P. "The Dunwich Horror". The Weird. A compendium of Strange Stories. Ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer. New York: Tor, 2012. Kindle Version.
Lovecraft, H.P. “On Writing Weird Fiction.” Archive.org. FreelanceWriting.com, n.d. Web.28Mar.2015.<https:archive.orgstreamH.p.LovecraftOnWritingWeirdFiction/2012-Writing-Weird-Fiction#page/n1/mode/2up>
"Down, Down, Down: Leonora Carrington's "White Rabbits" | Weird Fiction Review." Weird Fiction Review. 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 29 May 2015.
“White Rabbits” by Leonora Carrington, entails the story of a young protagonist who moved to New York. The author creates the mood and the uneasy feeling that this city may not be the place for the protagonist to be at.
This quote is a good example of Bradbury's use of pictorial conception. Without the metaphor of the looming trees, the audience might envision a sea of concerned faces looking over Mr. Spallner. However, the image that Bradbury paints perfectly encapsulates Spallner's fear and discomfort. In his vulnerable, injured state, the crowd around him is not comforting--they are invasive.
Similarly, when the author was about 24 years old, she moved from London to New York in the midst of World War 2, so very simply this could be Carrington’s way of expressing her feelings and sentiments in this time period.
It can be implied that the speaker may not be happy about her move, even going as far as to mention, “This is not the way that I had imagined New York.” She describes the houses as “which were reddish-black looked as if they had survived mysteriously from the fire of London. The house in front of my window, covered with an occasional wisp of creeper, was as blank and empty looking as any plague-ridden residence subsequently licked by flames and saliv’d with smoke.” Reddish-black, fire, flames, smoke, and later on described as hot depict the idea of hell and thus creates the feeling that this place is indeed not the most ideal place be at. This also falls in line with Lovecraft’s type of weird story in that of relating to, “Expressing pictorial conception” because the reader could interpret these elements as something negative.
These events explore the human condition of our mortality. Bradbury's characters are stand-ins for several of our attitudes surrounding death: our morbid curiosity with it, our fears surrounding death (many of Spallner's friends avoid discussing the accident in detail, in contrast to the crowd of strangers that are fascinated with it), and the existence of the afterlife.
Because of this vivid description, the readers envision a darker city, with dim lighting, as opposed to what many stereotype the city as having bright lights and believing the idea of "the city that never sleeps”. This makes the reader uneasy as their once belief is now being questioned.
"The Summer People," Shirley Jackson
"Genius Loci," Clark Ashton Smith
"White Rabbits," Leonora Carrington
"The Willow" by Algernon Blackwood
"It's a Good Life" by Jerome Bixby
"The Crowd" by Ray Bradbury
The following stories will be analyzed against the attributes outlined by H.P. Lovecraft in his essay, "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction."
: In the Allison's case, a change in routine has brought about peculiar circumstances that worsen as time progresses.
: The Allisons begin to realize they're all alone. Mr. Allison admits they're car has been tampered with. Mrs. Allison suggests the phone line was deliberately cut. All the while, an ominous storm is looming. The reader and the Allisons are given conformation of their fears and suspicions simultaneously.
Thus there is a bizarre condition in Anthony, which is never explained by the author, but which causes serious damage to those around him in the community. This pattern is also used by Lovecraft in his short tale "The Dunwich Horror", where the main character, Wilbur Whateley, a strange creature who passes for a human being, is responsible for the horror that unfolds in the community of Dunwich.
This situation also falls under another of Lovecraft’s views of weird stories. By depicting a general situation, such as moving to a new city, the reader may relate to this and thus may feel a stronger connection to the story. This connection, allows the reader to be put into the story, to be “put into the protagonist’s shoes” and in a sense feel what she feels. So when the protagonist begins to feel nervous, the readers in turn, feel nervous for her. Lovecraft’s idea of a generalized situation fits well with this story because the situation was general enough for many to relate to but also specific enough where the reader may feel they can relate to the speaker.
Nature as a Source of Fear
"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood
"It's a Good Life" and The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft
The final element that Lovecraft defines is “explaining a climax”. Although not directly stated, there are a number of questions presented at the end of this story about the climax.Throughout the story, although not prevalent, the rabbits play a large role in the conception of this short story. Rabbits are often times deemed as cute or seen as a great family pet but they are described as tearing up the meat as if they were a rabid animal. This innocence that rabbits are often given can also be given to the protagonist. She muses in the story, “…besides my eyes have always been excellent”. It’s a bit of irony, if one thinks about it. It’s a superstition that rabbits have great vision because of all the carrots they eat, but for her to say that she has great vision, does that mean that is putting herself in that position of innocence? Does this also mean that because the rabbits are depicted as ravishing the meat as if they were wild animals that, she herself has lost her innocence in the city?
It could also be that the author is simply trying to expose the idea that because something looks sweet and innocent, doesn’t necessarily mean they are. Much like the stories we hear or see about different cities, and how often times they are romanticized into being something they are not. Perhaps the author was simply trying to depict the idea that you shouldn’t trust looks, neither judge a book by its cover. As the readers, we do not really know what the author truly meant to say with this short, or even what happened to the protagonist, but either way, Lovecraft’s four ideas make an appearance throughout this story.