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Horror & Weird

What is Weird Fiction?

by Pf. Dr. Alexander Meireles

Weird Fiction is closely associated with two names: First, the American writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft, a name that became synonymous with Weird Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s and one of the main disseminators of this expression of the fantastic in the country (JOSHI, 2014, p. 493). Second, the American pulp magazine Weird Tales, published since 1923, which became the most important magazine dedicated to the weird in America, in addition to being considered one of the forerunners in the adoption of the supernatural and the occult as central themes of its editorial line (VANDERMEER & VANDERMEER, 2011, p. xvi). In Europe, this role was played from 1919 by the German magazine Der Orchideengarten, which lasted until 1931. In the case of H. P. Lovecraft, the author of "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) was the first writer to try to define this subgenre in his essay "The supernatural horror in literature" (1927). For him, weird fiction must be present,

A certain inexplicable and exciting atmosphere of dread of unknown external forces [...]; and there must be a hint, expressed with seriousness and dignity befitting the subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain-a malignant and peculiar suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the demons of unfathomable spaces. (2007, p. 17)

In fact, the turn of the twentieth century proved to be the most influential period for the establishment of Weird Fiction, which found expression in the work of writers such as Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Robert William Chambers, Eleanor Scott, Mary Butts, and H. P. Lovecraft, among others. In keeping with the finissecular atmosphere and its quest for the creation of artificial paradises, decadentism also came to have an influence on Weird Fiction, something that can be observed in the short stories of artists identified with this artistic stance, such as Count Erick Stenbock and M. P. Shiel. But how exactly is Weird Fiction structured, and how does it relate to other dominant literary trends of the time that were also reconfiguring or emerging, such as fantasy, the gothic, ghost stories, science fiction, and the fantastic itself as a literary genre? (RUDDICK, 2012, p. 204). As for the latter, and unlike the perspective theorized by Tzvetan Todorov (1992), in which the fantastic genre is configured as the intrusion of the supernatural into everyday reality, causing the protagonist (and the reader) to hesitate in front of the unusual phenomenon, the strange fiction works in the revelation that the supernatural occupies the same space as the natural, sometimes being discovered and sometimes insinuating itself into the everyday life of the protagonist (and the reader), placing itself as an agent of anxiety in its relationship with the world. This is the image observed in such diverse works as The Great God Pan (1894) by Arthur Machen, The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers, The Willows (1907) by Algernon Blackwood. "The Baby in Pink Tarlatana (1910) by João do Rio, and "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) by H. P. Lovecraft. In this way, Weird will reproduce the impact of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernity on the individual. As Marshall Berman (1986) explains:

To be modern is to find oneself in an environment that promises adventure, power, joy, growth, self-transformation of the things around us - but at the same time threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are. [It throws us all into a maelstrom of constant disintegration and change, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and fear. (p. 15)

Interdimensional mythological creatures, cursed books, unusual forests, decadent carnivalesque beings, and timeless aliens are thus the elements of permanent disintegration and change, struggle and contradiction, ambiguity and anguish that Berman mentions as feeding the weird. A closer look at its manifestations from the earliest moments in the short stories of the writers Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James shows that the weird is rooted in the discomfort caused by the finissecular environment. In this sense, it would be possible to find in the Freudian uncanny a way of reading and constituting the weird. (FISHER, 2016, p. 10). However, the uncanny is about the strange within the familiar, the familiar alienation that comes from within. The uncanny, on the other hand, brings to the level of the known something that lies beyond the familiar, but which is not reconciled with the domestic in its movement from the outside in. Within this framework, as a narrative mode, S. T. Joshi (1990, pp. 6-7) suggests that weird fiction is articulated in divisions such as "fantasy, supernatural horror, non-supernatural horror, and quasi-science fiction. In the dialogue of the weird with gothic literature and decadentism, this construction of the uncomfortable is structured by exploring topophobic spaces of natural or urban environments, the recesses of the human mind with its reveries and altered states of perception, mythical figures, and symbolic objects.

Our Weird Fiction Collection is dedicated to this world in between genres that provides so many delightful hours of reading. The first author of this incredible collection is Algernon Blackwood.

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