The Guardian posted an article today which implied the horror genre was all a bit crap. I’m not going to address that directly (no book can be judged by genre alone) but it did get me thinking what the definition of horror is. And if it isn’t just being catered for in other genres.
The bottom line is that traditional horror is written with the sole purpose of scaring us. Also known as the I-don’t-want-to-turn-the-lights-off effect. A horror film gives the viewer very little time to think between scares and I think that’s what some people expect of horror writing. But the books that have left me leaving a light on at night were not written with that purpose in mind. The plots and characters were not there purely to scare me, but something very real in them frightened me yet also gave me lots of room to feel other emotions and to ponder intriguing questions.
Horror has got its tendril-like hooks into every other genre going. Mo Hayder unfailingly manages to give me the willies with every book she writes yet no one would disagree that she wrote crime. Vampires and werewolves are forever more classified as fantasy and ever since someone decided zombies were caused by a virus, they’ve invariably fell into sci-fi. Young adult is even dipping its toes in, scaring a whole new generation that seems to care less about genres than characters they can identify with. I doubt very much that Dracula, Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde would be marketed as straight horror in these modern times. It’s altogether easier to leave off a label and let readers decide when it comes to genre-defying books.
So maybe that’s what it boils down to. Not that horror is rubbish, but we just don’t tend to call books horror any more. Horror is incredibly good at crossing genre boundaries, sneaking in where you least expect it. Horror isn’t a particularly fashionable label any more so it isn’t used much. Instead, books that would traditionally be called horror may end up in the speculative fiction category; a catch-all for science fiction, fantasy and horror.