Supernatural Horror In Literature: I. Introduction

Michael O. Varhola

the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse. 

    

With this foundation, no one need wonder at the existence of a literature of cosmic fear. It has always existed, and always will exist; and no better evidence of its tenacious vigour can be cited than the impulse which now and then drives writers of totally opposite leanings to try their hands at it in isolated tales, as if to discharge from their minds certain phantasmal shapes which would otherwise haunt them. Thus Dickens (above left) wrote several eerie narratives; Browning (above center), the hideous poem “Childe Roland”  (illustrated page bottom),  Henry James  (above right),  The Turn of the Screw ; Dr. [Oliver Wendell] Holmes [Sr.] , the subtle novel  Elsie Venner ; F. Marion Crawford , “The Upper Berth” and a number of other examples; Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman  (below left), social worker, “The Yellow Wall Paper” ; whilst the humourist W.W. Jacobs produced that able melodramatic bit called “The Monkey’s Paw”  (illustrated below right). 

    

This type of fear-literature must not be confounded with a type externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome. Such writing, to be sure, has its place, as has the conventional or even whimsical or humorous ghost story where formalism or the author’s knowing wink removes the true sense of the morbidly unnatural; but these things are not the literature of cosmic fear in its purest sense. The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

Naturally we cannot expect all weird tales to conform absolutely to any theoretical model. Creative minds are uneven, and the best of fabrics have their dull spots. Moreover, much of the choicest weird