IN THIS, THE SECOND INSTALMENT OF THREE IN SOPHIE PLAYLE’S INVESTIGATION OF GENRE (following her recent attendance at the Paul Cornell talk [www.paulcornell.com] at the Bad Writing Symposium in London), horror and fantasy are discussed.
According to Cornell, horror collapsed and vanished to the point that it was just Stephen King. This was partly because of splatter punk, which was so gory that it put a lot of people off horror as they were unable to distinguish gory horror from any other type.
Cornell also hypothesised that, with the rise of terrorism, the real world became a lot scarier, so people didn’t want their moments of escapism to be just as terrifying. A member of the audience challenged him on this, saying that the world has always been a scary place. Personally, I think people might shy away from horror fiction because there is enough violence and horror available through television and film these days, so that there isn’t a taboo around censorship or availability any more. Perhaps people prefer this medium for their doses of horror.
Cornell says that most horror writers decided to migrate into dark fantasy, which is not as associated with gore and also provides more of the escapism that people want.
Apparently, the last world horror convention had only 100 people at it!
Cornell explains the differences between the development of horror sub-genres in minimalist terms:
- Horror – the protagonist will die.
- Dark fantasy – the protagonist won’t die.
- Urban fantasy – the protagonist is an empowered woman.
- Paranormal romance – the empowered woman gets a shag!
The ghost story is, and has always been, a popular form of horror. More often than not though, it is actually more considered as literary fiction. Think of Toni Morrison’s Beloved for example.
Like science-fiction and horror, fantasy also has an array of sub-genres and has adapted to popularity.
Magical realism is fantasy that likes to be literature, Cornell says. The ‘realism’ grounds it, distinguishing it from the idea of pure fantasy, where anything can go because it’s magical.
High fantasy contains ‘epic posing’, as Cornell puts it: it is usually set in a completely fictional world, and the writing it full of purple prose. Tolkien is the father of high (or epic) fantasy, and the genre hasn’t moved ever since, says Cornell. ‘If you use an elf in your fantasy, you should re-invent elves!’ he says.
Urban fantasy evolved to get away from high fantasy. It is usually set in a contemporary city, bringing fantasy up-to-date and more accessible to the masses. Think Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere or Gail Carriger’s Soulless.
Remove the magic, add some grit, and high fantasy is popular again! Grittier fantasy mostly avoids magic altogether, and this seems to be more popular at the moment – Game of Thrones, for example.
To be continued . . .
– Sophie Playle
This article has been reproduced by kind permission of the author. Sophie’s website can be found via www.sophieplayle.com