Horror may be the most unifying genre. Whereas some people don’t care for the sweetness of romance or the harebrained schemes of sci-fi, everyone gets scared, whether they like it or not. Not to mention the universality of horror’s tropes and traditions. The genre is communal, often literally, such as in the case of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Due to a copyright misstep in 1968, the movie became part of the public domain—a mistake that forever altered the horror genre. It meant that anyone can use zombies in their work, and if you’ve consumed any media ever, you’ll know that everyone has.
When you get goosebumps or have to avert your eyes, the horror storyteller has done their job. In these two collections, we see how dynamic the genre really is.
In Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers: 1852–1923, editors Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger collect significant pieces of horror and horror-adjacent (but nonetheless frightening) stories by women. “During the second half of the nineteenth century,” they write in the book’s introduction, “when printing technologies enabled the mass production of cheap newspapers and magazines that needed a steady supply of material, many of the writers supplying that work were women.” Given the historical context of the industrial revolution, the effects of which caused significant fear, it makes sense that this era would produce a deluge of literary fright and strangeness. People needed their discomfort to be validated (and syndicated).
Women throughout history have been the chroniclers and agents of change, and in these stories, presented chronologically, their fears about the world are limned with staggering detail. With stories from Louisa May Alcott, Emma Frances Dawson and Edith Nesbit (under her E Bland pseudonym), this collection shows a societal response to a changing world. It is crucial to recognize the status of these women at the times of these stories’ publication, as most of the authors wrote using fake names or just their initials. Weird Women gives the reader a real glimpse of horror, written by authors who experienced it in their own lives.
Horror has been around for a long time, but innovation in the genre is as alive as ever. In Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror, Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto prepare a healthy serving of fear to inject straight into your head, heart, limbs and viscera. The collection is organized in exactly that way, with each section meant to evoke a response in that particular area—an experiment that works with chilling effects. Each story here is under 1,500 words, and with contributions from the likes of Samantha Hunt, Iván Parra Garcia, Stephen Graham Jones and Kevin Brockmeier, the collection is a fusillade of fear.
The best horror explores issues that plague the real world, and with a wide stylistic range of vignettes, Tiny Nightmares is something like a sophisticated "Scooby-Doo," evincing the human aspect of the horror in our daily lives. The real fear that comes from reading this collection is an emphatic reminder that our society’s horrors are becoming increasingly scarier, such as in Jac Jemc’s story Lone, which finds an isolated camper having to face her greatest fear: men.
The brevity of these stories highlights the horror in our everyday lives, and the conclusions drawn by each author are varied, yet all terrifying. By taking a look at the state of horror today, we see the ways that nightmares are pulled from reality.