Help me out with the origins and antecedents of weird fiction.

So, where did it come from exactly and where did it end up?

I ask because I started reading the RE Howard library and there seems to be a disctinction made between fantasy, horror and weird fiction. As far as I can tell, WF proper was printed in…Weird Tales magazine and was roughly analogous to what we would call horror today. Time period, as far as I can tell, appears to be 20’s-40’s and maybe a little longer.

But it seems a bit more complicated. Conan appears to be listed as weird fiction. Is this to contrast Conan and the style of telling these stories as opposed to straight historical fiction like Tros? WF also appears to be different from science fiction and I came across an essay by Clark Ashton Smith (I think) who discussed what magazines printed what sort of fiction and there appeared to be a big difference between WF, historical fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.

So, what differentiated WF from horror stories that came before (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) and ones that have come after (Stephen King, Lumely, etc.). Why is Conan weird fiction, but Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser or Elric fantasy? When did the disctinctions arise?

I think of Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft as the tradition’s daddies. China Mieville is for me the tradition’s current master; I’m devouring his latest book now.

In an interview, Mieville explains what he means by the term:

[qoute]The weird fiction axis of people like Lovecraft, Lindsay, Clarke Ashton Smith, and William Hope Hodgson exists at the intersection and you really can’t say that it is horror not fantasy, or fantasy not science fiction, or whatever. It is about an aesthetic of the fantastic; you alienate and shock the reader. That’s what I really like.

Alienating and shocking the reader. Weird fiction for me is disturbing, unsettling; the world it describes is, if not fundamentally hostile to humans, fundamentally bizarre and dangerous and unsympathetic to humans.

Bizarre, dangerous, unsympathetic–all of these are necessary qualities for me. Stephen King’s stuff tends not to be so bizarre (It possibly being an exception); the Grey Mouser lives in a world with bizarreness, but it’s more at the edges, and most of their threats aren’t so strange. I’d never heard that Conan is weird fiction.


You might want to check out some of the books by S. T. Joshi, such as The Weird Tale.

Ditto essays by Lin Carter.

And then there’s always good ol’ Supernatural Horror in Literature.