There is, of course, a whole emerging genre that takes these different subjects and merges them, namely Folk Horror. This concerns itself very much with that tension between the inexplicable terror of the unknown, and the alien nature (to the modern, urban dweller) of the rural landscape, its pastimes, practices and (inevitable) resentments. Even before this genre had acquired a name and identity, such fears were exploited wholesale by writers as disparate as Lovecraft and MR James. The Industrial Revolution had an unseen passenger in society’s loss of the countryside. Not necessarily literally (although the long drawn out death throes of our green spaces and rural environment continues apace), but from our psychology, from our childhood, and from our mental architecture. Now, it becomes easy to fear the landscape, what it harbours, and what may happen to us should we venture into it. We cross over at our peril.
Volumes have and are being written about the definition and place of folk horror (and its bedfellows psychogeography and hauntology) in the contemporary visual and literary arts. Without going too far into this at the moment (I’ve listed a few excellent resources below), it has become apparent that this is the ideal intersection between folklore, horror, mysticism and fairy tale, but at the same time there are still very clear and well defined territories where those definitions become separate entities. I enjoy equally pitching a ‘Malloryesque’ fable about a boy’s quest in an imagined post Arthurian Britain (possibly my most successful story, if reviews are anything to go by), and a horror short about a man disembarking his train at the wrong station, with unpleasant consequences. I wouldn’t even say ‘these are all things we can relate to’, because clearly they aren’t. And of course, since folk horror is now it’s own ‘thing’, it isn’t really writing in different genres anymore.
Who to write for
People will seek out stories that consciously evoke the qualities above, but does that mean they’ll follow the writer into less overtly ‘folk horror’ territories? Readers – some readers – seem to be sticklers for writers who adhere to the reader’s belief in who they are and who they write for, whatever the writer may think of that. For instance, Karen Maitland writes engrossing, deeply authentic stories set in Mediaeval England, but which embrace the rules of both historical fiction and the more chilling, macabre or supernatural aspects of that setting. And there are Amazon reviews complaining not that a given book is poorly written, or doesn’t tell an entertaining story, but that it breaks the ‘rules’ – it introduces supernatural elements to the climax that the reviewer doesn’t like, and makes them feel ‘cheated.’ This may mean that the marketing tried to hedge its bets, and ensure the book had the widest appeal possible by obscuring genre, but equally it’s likely they knew many fans of both genres would indeed enjoy it and tried to straddle both camps.