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horror story,literary genre in which an eerie, tense, often suspenseful atmosphere typically builds to the discovery of something repugnant, such as cannibalism, incest, or the killing of children, or to something terrifying, such as the appearance of a demon, ghost, monster, or vampire, creating a feeling of fear, dread, repugnance, or terror. Marked by the irrational, unexpected, and disturbing, horror sometimes overlaps with science fictionscience fiction,
literary genre in which a background of science or pseudoscience is an integral part of the story. Although science fiction is a form of fantastic literature, many of the events recounted are within the realm of future possibility, e.g.
..... Click the link for more information. and mysterymystery
or mystery story,
literary genre in which the cause (or causes) of a mysterious happening, often a crime, is gradually revealed by the hero or heroine; this is accomplished through a mixture of intelligence, ingenuity, the logical interpretation of evidence,
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The beginnings of the horror story lie in ancient folk literature, much of which is characterized by the supernatural as well as blood and gore. The Inquisitions of the Roman Catholic church, established to investigate heresy, often produced accusations of witchcraft, which contributed to the development of horror literature. Horace WalpoleWalpole, Horace or Horatio, 4th earl of Orford,
1717–97, English author; youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Castle of Otranto (1765) and the subsequent Gothic romancesGothic romance,
type of novel that flourished in the late 18th and early 19th cent. in England. Gothic romances were mysteries, often involving the supernatural and heavily tinged with horror, and they were usually set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins and haunted
..... Click the link for more information. of the late 18th and 19th cent. are among the earliest fully developed examples of modern horror. Mary Wollstonecraft ShelleyShelley, Mary Wollstonecraft,
1797–1851, English author; daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1814 she fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, accompanied him abroad, and after the death of his first wife in 1816 married him.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Frankenstein (1818), which introduces the monster as a vehicle for horror, has been reinterpreted in film many times. The German author E. T. A. HoffmannHoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus
, 1776–1822, German romantic novelist and composer, a lawyer. At one time an opera composer and musical director at Bamberg and a gifted music critic, he is most famous as a master of the gothic tale.
..... Click the link for more information. is noted for his stories of madness, grotesquerie, horror, and the supernatural. In the United States, Edgar Allan PoePoe, Edgar Allan,
1809–49, American poet, short-story writer, and critic, b. Boston. He is acknowledged today as one of the most brilliant and original writers in American literature.
..... Click the link for more information. wrote horror fiction in the short story form, including The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), The Tell-Tale Heart (1843), and The Cask of Amontillado (1846). Horror at first focused on outside evil forces; with the development of psychology, the unwanted or disturbing forces or desires often became internal, as in Robert Louis StevensonStevenson, Robert Louis,
1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced.
..... Click the link for more information. 's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Bram StokerStoker, Bram
(Abraham Stoker), 1847–1912, English novelist, b. Dublin, Ireland. He is best remembered as the author of Dracula (1897), a horror story recounting the activities of the vampire Count Dracula and those who oppose him.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Dracula (1897) recalls the evil doings of the vampire Count Dracula, and has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times.
In the early 20th cent., such works as Joseph ConradConrad, Joseph,
1857–1924, English novelist, b. Berdichev, Russia (now Berdychiv, Ukraine), originally named Jósef Teodor Konrad Walecz Korzeniowski. Born of Polish parents, he is considered one of the greatest novelists and prose stylists in English literature.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Heart of Darkness (1902), W. W. JacobsJacobs, William Wymark,
1863–1943, English author. His humorous sea stories were first collected in Many Cargoes (1896). Of his several horror stories, the most famous is "The Monkey's Paw."
..... Click the link for more information. 's "The Monkey's Paw" (1902), Walter de la Marede la Mare, Walter
, 1873–1956, English poet and novelist. For many years he worked in the accounting department of the Anglo-American Oil Company. Much of his verse and prose shows delight in imaginative excursions into the shadowed world between the real and the unreal.
..... Click the link for more information. 's The Return (1910), and Guy Endore's Werewolf of Paris (1933) appeared. With the development of motion pictures, horror became a film genre as well; early horror films include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) in Germany and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) in the United States. The pulp magazine Weird Tales (1923–54) featured the stories of H. P. LovecraftLovecraft, H. P.
(Howard Phillips Lovecraft), 1890–1937, American writer, b. Providence, R.I. A master of Gothic horror, fantasy, and science fiction of a most rococo variety, he is particularly noted for his many nightmarish short stories.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose Cthulhu Mythos series (c.1915–35) includes some of his best-known tales of horror. The 1940s and 50s saw the rise of horror comics, which grew out of pulp magazines, but the formation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA; 1954) forced many publishers to emphasize suspense and mystery until the relaxation of the CCA in the 1970s.
By the mid-20th cent., writers were combining science fiction and horror in short stories and novels, as in Ray BradburyBradbury, Ray (Raymond Douglas Bradbury)
, 1920–2012, American writer, b. Waukegan, Ill. A popular and prolific writer of science fiction who did much to bring the genre into the mainstream of literature, Bradbury skillfully combined social and technological criticism with
..... Click the link for more information. short stories in Dark Carnival (1947) and his novels The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953, films, 1966, 2018). Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man (1956), Jack Finney's Body Snatchers (1955, film, 1956), and Rod Serling's television series The Twilight Zone (1959–64) reflect postwar and cold war unease. Shirley JacksonJackson, Shirley,
1916–65, American writer, b. San Francisco. She is best known for her stories and novels of horror and the occult, rendered more terrifying because they are set against realistic, everyday backgrounds and are related in the most matter-of-fact manner,
..... Click the link for more information. wrote numerous horror stories, including her harrowing short story "The Lottery" (1948) and her novels The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).
The late 20th and early 21st cent. saw the emergence of a new group of horror writers, including Ira Levin with Rosemary's Baby (1967, film 1968) and The Stepford Wives (1972, film 1975); James DickeyDickey, James,
1923–97, American poet and novelist, b. Atlanta. After serving in the air force during World War II, he attended Vanderbilt Univ., graduating in 1946. He was an English teacher and an advertising executive. Dickey's poetry has great energy.
..... Click the link for more information. with Deliverance (1970, film 1972); Jay Anson with The Amityville Horror (1977, film 1979); and Anne Rice with Interview with the Vampire (1976, film 1994) and a number of sequels. The most prominent contemporary writer of horror fiction is Stephen KingKing, Stephen,
1947–, American writer, b. Portland, Maine. Influenced by the 19th-century Gothic tradition, especially the works of Poe, King's fiction reveals the macabre and horrific potential of everyday situations and experiences.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose cinematic novels have often been translated into film, including Carrie (1974, film 1976), The Shining (1977, film 1980), Misery (1987, film 1990), Dolores Claiborne (1992, film 1995), and A Good Marriage (2010, film 2014). Horror webcomics and horror video games have also become popular in the 21st cent.