Lately I’ve been reading some Barker, and I started thinking about my once favorite author, Stephen King and his obvious American heritage. Up until recently I had no idea that Clive Barker is actually British. That train of thoughts lead me to think…Is there a difference? If so, is it the difference in sensibility, or the amount of gore? So, let’s talk about that, American horror vs British horror. Is the land of the brave, also the land of the gory, or is the land of the…royals with silly hats, also the land of the creepy?
The Written Word
We should first mention those British horror writers who shaped the genre, and gave it that first sigil of authenticity, as far as British horror is concerned. Algernon Blackwood affected many with those fine lines he made between real and ghostly, his horror was creepy and chilling above all. Bram Stoker gave us Dracula, his horrific and somewhat caricatured version of the famous Wallachian voivode, and Mary Shelley brought the iconic Frankenstein to life for us. We also mustn’t fail to mention the legendary M. R. James, whose Ghost Stories inspire young authors to this day.
Later on, we had James Hebert, the undisputed king (not Stephen) of modern British horror, the man who made art of writing in those shaded territories where thriller becomes horror, and where hatred becomes evil. If you never read The Fog, stop talking about horror, because you’re…
Right now, there’s brilliant Ramsey Campbell, who wrote his first horror when he was 11, (and managed to publish it later), and was the president of the British Fantasy Society for ages. I already mentioned Clive Barker, who wrote The Hellbound Heart and invented the legendary Pinhead, and wrote my favorite novel of all times -The Damnation Game. We can’t talk about British horror without mentioning Graham Masterton, the man who wrote Manitoy series…This should be enough, but okay. I’ll add that he is also the man who dared to rework The Picture of Dorian Gray, AND win a French award for it, without being French.
So many remarkable horror authors were born and raised in America, it makes me wonder…Is there something in the soil? Something that makes them successfully weave spine-chilling stories for hundreds of years? From Edgar Allan Poe, who gave us macabre stories to freak us out for hundreds of years to come, to magnificent Lovecraft, whose tales of Cthulhu and religious approach to horror made pulp fiction reach for the stars, we have to agree that those were some magnificent Americans. We mentioned a lady up there, so we have to be fair and mention a lady here too-Shirley Jackson. Jackson wrote what’s considered one of the best horror stories in the history of the genre, The Haunting of Hill House, but not before she published The Lottery which established her as the master of the horror genre.
Afterwards America had such giants as Ray Bradbury, who was a kid when he wrote his first horror stories on butcher paper, (it was the only available paper, but still…),and gave us many gems of the genre, such as Dark Carnival and Something Wicked This Way Comes. We also can’t skip Richard Matheson and his I Am Legend master-piece, as well Hell House, A Stir of Echoes and many more. Some might judge and disapprove, but I wouldn’t dare skip Dean Koontz with his unique, more sensible and less visceral, approach to horror, and his numerous contributions to the genre such as The Watchers, Phantoms, Demon seed and more.
In more recent years, America gave us Peter Straub who, in my humble opinion, wrote the best modern ghost story, titled presumptuously, Ghost Story (1979). Straub’s poetry is sensed in his horror novels as well, as they have a certain emotion to them. Some horror books you can read and stay detached, those are not Peter Straub’s books. Straub collaborated with another magnificent writer, some would say best horror writer ever, Stephen King. King’s horrifying and lurid stories have been entertaining millions for decades now, and most of his novels are adapted as TV shows or movies. There probably are some people out there who never encountered Stephen King’s work in any way, I just never met them. Chances are I never will, because they are probably stranded on a deserted island somewhere.
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For those of you who might think I left out some important authors, note that I have only so much space I can use. Feel free to message us your own favorite horror authors, as well as your thoughts on possible winners.