Weird fiction

H. P. Lovecraft, pictured in 1934

Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th century. It can be said to encompass the ghost story and other tales of the macabre. Weird fiction is distinguished from horror and fantasy in its blending of supernatural, mythical, and even scientific tropes. British authors who have embraced this style have often published their work in mainstream literary magazines even after American pulp magazines became popular.[1] Popular weird fiction writers included Edgar Allan Poe, William Hope Hodgson, H. P. Lovecraft,[2] Lord Dunsany,[3] Arthur Machen,[4] M. R. James,[5] and Clark Ashton Smith.

Although "weird fiction" has been chiefly used as a historical description for works through the 1930s, the term has also been increasingly used since the 1980s, sometimes to describe slipstream fiction that blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction.


H. P. Lovecraft adopted the term from Sheridan Le Fanu and popularized it in his essays. In "Supernatural Horror in Literature," Lovecraft defines the genre:

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.

The pulp magazine Weird Tales published many such stories in the United States from March 1923 to September 1954. S. T. Joshi describes several subdivisions of the weird tale: supernatural horror (or fantastique), the ghost story, quasi science fiction, fantasy, and ambiguous horror fiction and argues that "the weird tale" is primarily the result of the philosophical and aesthetic predispositions of the authors associated with this type of fiction.[6][7]

Although Lovecraft was one of the few early 20th-century writers to describe his work as "weird fiction,"[1] the term has enjoyed a contemporary revival in New Weird fiction. For example, China Miéville often refers to his work as weird fiction.[8] Many horror writers have also situated themselves within the weird tradition, including Clive Barker, who describes his fiction as fantastique,[9] and Ramsey Campbell,[10] whose early work was deeply influenced by Lovecraft.[11]

Notable authors

M. R. James, circa 1900

The following notable authors have been described as writers of weird fiction. They are listed alphabetically by last name.

Before 1940



The New Weird

It has been suggested by some, predominantly Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and China Mieville, that Weird fiction has seen a recent resurgence, a phenomenon they term the New Weird. Tales which fit this category, as well as extensive discussion of the phenomenon, appear in the anthology The New Weird.[18]

See also


  1. 1 2 Joshi, S. T. (1990). The Weird Tale. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-79050-3.
  2. Joshi 1990, p. 168
  3. Joshi 1990, p. 42
  4. Joshi 1990, p. 12
  5. Joshi 1990, p. 133
  6. Joshi, S.T. "Introduction". The Weird Tale.
  7. Joshi 1990, pp. 7-10
  8. Gordon, Joan (2003). "Reveling in Genre: An Interview with China Miéville". Science Fiction Studies. 30 (91).
  9. Winter, Douglas E. (2002). Clive Barker: The Dark Fantastic: The Authorized Biography. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-621392-4., pp. 217-18
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Joshi 1990, p. 231
  11. Campbell, Ramsey. "Chasing the Unknown", introduction to Cold Print (1993), pp. 11-13. ISBN 0-8125-1660-5
  12. VanderMeer, Jeff. "The Weird: An Introduction". Weird Fiction Review. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  13. Joshi 1990, p. 143
  14. Joshi 1990, p. 87
  15. Gauvin, Edward. "Kavar the Rat". Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  16. Nolen, Larry. "'s 101 Weird Writers: #3 – Julio Cortázar". Weird Fiction Review. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  17. Ross, Daniel. The Voice of the Mountains Retrieved 27 July 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. VanderMeer, Ann; Jeff VanderMeer (2008). The New Weird. Tachyon. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-1-892391-55-1.


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