The Blurred Line

By Greg Kishbaugh

Indulge me a moment.

If I were to ask you the question, “What is horror?,” how would you respond?

The truth of the matter is this: Everyone’s idea of what constitutes “horror” is different. And this is the reality one must immediately confront when editing a horror/suspense anthology.

As an emotional facet of a story, horror is startlingly subjective. No two people look at it from exactly the same vantage point, and no two people fear the same thing in exactly the same way. We can all agree that clowns are terrifying, but the specific reasons why we find them horrifying are individual to each of us.

Perhaps even more importantly, if I were to ask you to name your favorite “horror” writers, what names would be included on the list?

Let me stop you before you give it too much thought because, in truth, there is no such thing.

A writer is simply . . . a writer. No modifier needed.

Publishers love categories, as do bookstores. They want a writer’s work to fit neatly into a specific genre. The motivation for this, of course, lies in commerce, as well as questionable (and outdated) notions about the consumer mind.

But this can be an unfair burden, as writers are far less compartmentalized in their thinking. They strive to tell a story. To enlighten. To entertain. The genre in which the story falls is not nearly as important as the story itself.

After all, how would one categorize A Clockwork Orange? Is it horror? Yes. Science Fiction? Yes. Literature? Yes. And yet I’ve never heard Anthony Burgess referred to as a “horror” writer or a “science fiction” writer.

How about Cormac McCarthy? No one would ever deem him a “horror” writer, but then how does one categorize The Road?

Is Robert Louis Stevenson a “horror” writer because he wrote The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Is George Orwell either a “horror” or “science fiction” writer in light of his two most famous works, 1984and Animal Farm?

Let’s face it, many of the novels we consider classics today simply transcend genre, in no small part due to the fact that they manage to mash more than one together, producing works that resonate in our imaginations.

Slaughterhouse Five.

Lord of theFlies.

Fahrenheit 451.

Deliverance.

These stories all contain skin-prickling elements of horror; yet none are categorized as “horror” novels. If such works can fit into the horror mold, then it begs the question: What is literature?

And to analyze the other side of the coin, what do we make of works that are unquestionably horror but clearly transcend the boundaries of genre?

Is Something Wicked This Way Comes any less a piece of fine literature because it also happens to be a work of dread-inducing horror? How about

The Haunting of Hill HouseI Am Legend or The Shining. What of some of the masterfully macabre short stories of Harlan Ellison? Or the works of Poe and Lovecraft? Certainly anyone would categorize them as glorious works of literature, all of which happen to squarely fall into the genre of horror.

The Burning Maiden was born of this conundrum. When is horror simply “horror” and when does it cross over into “literature”?

What happens when writers of unparalleled talents put their minds (and writing chops) to telling stories of the supernatural, of the darkness in the human soul, of the sadness and longing that sometimes supersedes the grave—all the while telling stories with the hearts and souls of poets?

 

—From the introduction to volume one of The Burning Maiden