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Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction Volume I

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A strictly personal no holds barred overview of the horror field by one of its most respected--and fiercest--critics. This book was many years in the making. I ve been reading horror fiction pretty constantly since I was at least 10 years old, and have been a scholar in the field since I was about 17 (focusing initially on H. P. Lovecraft). UNUTTERABLE HORROR was the produ A strictly personal no holds barred overview of the horror field by one of its most respected--and fiercest--critics. This book was many years in the making. I ve been reading horror fiction pretty constantly since I was at least 10 years old, and have been a scholar in the field since I was about 17 (focusing initially on H. P. Lovecraft). UNUTTERABLE HORROR was the product of five years of solid work, and the book comes to a total of 312,000 words. It covers the entire range of supernatural and non-supernatural horror fiction from the Gilgamesh (1700 B.C.) to such contemporary writers as Caitlín R. Kiernan and Laird Barron. Along the way I discuss the Gothic novel, Edgar Allan Poe, the Victorian ghost story, Ambrose Bierce, the five titans of the early 20th century (Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft), Walter de la Mare, American pulp writers from Robert Bloch to Ray Bradbury, the horror boom of the 1970s and 1980s (William Peter Blatty, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Anne Rice), and many others. This book is intended not only as a history of the field but a guide to the best writing in the field over the past two or three centuries.


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A strictly personal no holds barred overview of the horror field by one of its most respected--and fiercest--critics. This book was many years in the making. I ve been reading horror fiction pretty constantly since I was at least 10 years old, and have been a scholar in the field since I was about 17 (focusing initially on H. P. Lovecraft). UNUTTERABLE HORROR was the produ A strictly personal no holds barred overview of the horror field by one of its most respected--and fiercest--critics. This book was many years in the making. I ve been reading horror fiction pretty constantly since I was at least 10 years old, and have been a scholar in the field since I was about 17 (focusing initially on H. P. Lovecraft). UNUTTERABLE HORROR was the product of five years of solid work, and the book comes to a total of 312,000 words. It covers the entire range of supernatural and non-supernatural horror fiction from the Gilgamesh (1700 B.C.) to such contemporary writers as Caitlín R. Kiernan and Laird Barron. Along the way I discuss the Gothic novel, Edgar Allan Poe, the Victorian ghost story, Ambrose Bierce, the five titans of the early 20th century (Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft), Walter de la Mare, American pulp writers from Robert Bloch to Ray Bradbury, the horror boom of the 1970s and 1980s (William Peter Blatty, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Anne Rice), and many others. This book is intended not only as a history of the field but a guide to the best writing in the field over the past two or three centuries.

52 review for Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction Volume I

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sean O'Hara

    This book is like sitting next to a girl whose entire conversation consists of, "Oh my God, who told her she can wear that dress? Doesn't she know she doesn't have the boobs to pull it off?" and " I cannot believe she would wear pink and yellow together. Did she look in the mirror this morning? " If you want a deep dive into the history of horror, you'll get it, but along the way you'll have to put up with Joshi's opinions, which are tendentious to put it mildly. He judges everything against the This book is like sitting next to a girl whose entire conversation consists of, "Oh my God, who told her she can wear that dress? Doesn't she know she doesn't have the boobs to pull it off?" and " I cannot believe she would wear pink and yellow together. Did she look in the mirror this morning? " If you want a deep dive into the history of horror, you'll get it, but along the way you'll have to put up with Joshi's opinions, which are tendentious to put it mildly. He judges everything against the Platonic ideal of a horror story (which he seems to think is Call of Cthulhu) and anything that doesn't match his expectations is deficient. He never considers that authors may've had different goals in mind. Gothic novels, for instance, are really romance-mystery-adventures that have supernatural trappings. That's what 18th Century readers wanted. You have to read Gothics on those terms. But for Joshi, that's unacceptable. They aren't cosmic enough for his taste, nevermind that nobody in the 18th Century would've known what he meant by "cosmic horror". Nope, it's Ann Radcliffe's fault for not anticipating Lovecraft. Who cares that he wasn't even born until a century after she published her first novel. (And I didn't choose Radcliffe at random; it's women he vents his spleen at most, what with their gooey feelings getting in the way of the good stuff) While Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature and King's Danse Macabre are out datd, at least they're fair minded assessments. This is just ranting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Samerdyke

    The first volume of "Unutterable Horror" left me with mixed emotions. For the first five chapters of the book, I had no problems and enjoyed the book enormously. Then a bunch of problems developed. Joshi seems to be a critic who has an image of what supernatural fiction "should" be, and woe to any work that doesn't live up to that image. So he hammers works that are set in the past, or are too religious, or are mere ghost stories. (No sooner does the vampire story appear, for example, than Joshi s The first volume of "Unutterable Horror" left me with mixed emotions. For the first five chapters of the book, I had no problems and enjoyed the book enormously. Then a bunch of problems developed. Joshi seems to be a critic who has an image of what supernatural fiction "should" be, and woe to any work that doesn't live up to that image. So he hammers works that are set in the past, or are too religious, or are mere ghost stories. (No sooner does the vampire story appear, for example, than Joshi starts dismissing it as old-fashioned.) Then there are inconsistencies in his judgments. He claims "Dracula" is flawed because it doesn't offer an explanation for why Dracula is a vampire, but then he sees the explanations in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Picture of Dorian Gray" as flaws because they aren't convincing. He divides American writers into East Coast and West Coast schools and then exempts Robert Chambers and F. Marion Crawford from this scheme, even though they would clearly seem to fit into the East Coast School. So parts of this book are annoying. But parts of it are very good, and it does a thorough job of mentioning the writers who left an important legacy in the field.

  3. 4 out of 5

    G.A.

    Not so much a history as it is a bitchy, annotated bibliography. Joshi's writing, although readable, tends toward the precious and pretentious. HP Lovecraft's work gets suitable attention, in that the chapter is somewhat more of a critical bibliography. Most other writers do not. Items tend to be brief synopses of weird writers' short stories and novels, complete with spoiler alerts. I'd hoped for more history. The book is helpful in selecting writers to read as research. Joshi also lists a numbe Not so much a history as it is a bitchy, annotated bibliography. Joshi's writing, although readable, tends toward the precious and pretentious. HP Lovecraft's work gets suitable attention, in that the chapter is somewhat more of a critical bibliography. Most other writers do not. Items tend to be brief synopses of weird writers' short stories and novels, complete with spoiler alerts. I'd hoped for more history. The book is helpful in selecting writers to read as research. Joshi also lists a number of potential markets for horror writers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Boris Cesnik

    Dear Sunand, Hope this note finds you well. First let me say that I deeply appreciate your enduring enthusiasm and hard work in allowing us to share your immense knowledge and expertise in this field but at the same time I feel obliged to let you know that this first volume was almost a disappointment. I do not argue with your personal opinions on each author's contribution to the supernatural fiction...although I must say that I completely disagree with your treatment of Ann Radcliffe and Sherida Dear Sunand, Hope this note finds you well. First let me say that I deeply appreciate your enduring enthusiasm and hard work in allowing us to share your immense knowledge and expertise in this field but at the same time I feel obliged to let you know that this first volume was almost a disappointment. I do not argue with your personal opinions on each author's contribution to the supernatural fiction...although I must say that I completely disagree with your treatment of Ann Radcliffe and Sheridan Le Fanu. What I found very upsetting is the language and the style used throughout the book. I couldn't believe such a wonderful and exciting topic can be recounted in such a dry, dangerously academic and often off-putting writing. I would have enjoyed this book much more if the layout had been curated a bit more (e.g. actual footnotes etc.). It seemed I was almost reading the draft of an undergraduate thesis. Please do reread David Punter's marvellous book. I'm sure you will find it more valuable than ever thought. Also please do check your preface before sending it to the publishers...your intentions not always corresponds to the actual text - you do end up comparing authors with one another but mostly to one in particular (boring...). Despite all this, I must also admit that the reading improves dramatically, becomes more interesting and captivating towards the end so I'm almost certain I will soon purchase the second volume. I'll let you know Have a good one Your Sincerely Boris

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Two and a half stars really.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chad Brock

    3.5

  7. 5 out of 5

    Félix

    Cuando Joshi es bueno, como en el capítulo encargado de analizar la obre de Edgar Allan Poe, es muy bueno. El problema es que siente a menudo la tentación de ser malo, muy malo. ¿Qué sentido tiene consagrar un largo capítulo, como el dedicado aquí a los mid-Victorian horrors, a dejar claro tu desdén por una serie de autores mediocres y prácticamente olvidados? Como poco se podría decir que las formulas para ridiculizarlos se vuelven un poco repetitivas tras cuarenta páginas de lo mismo. Además, Cuando Joshi es bueno, como en el capítulo encargado de analizar la obre de Edgar Allan Poe, es muy bueno. El problema es que siente a menudo la tentación de ser malo, muy malo. ¿Qué sentido tiene consagrar un largo capítulo, como el dedicado aquí a los mid-Victorian horrors, a dejar claro tu desdén por una serie de autores mediocres y prácticamente olvidados? Como poco se podría decir que las formulas para ridiculizarlos se vuelven un poco repetitivas tras cuarenta páginas de lo mismo. Además, no está muy claro que Joshi sea capaz de apartar sus filias y fobias personales. Lo que sí queda claro es que tiene la peor opinión de las ghost stories, LeFanu, Stoker y "sus partisanos".

  8. 4 out of 5

    Keith Rondinelli

    Informative, compelling, and personal journey through supernatural horror. In his usual fashion, Joshi doesn't mince words when he doesn't like something, but when he does, he makes a very strong case for the literary merits of works that are more often than not marginalized as "genre" works. Informative, compelling, and personal journey through supernatural horror. In his usual fashion, Joshi doesn't mince words when he doesn't like something, but when he does, he makes a very strong case for the literary merits of works that are more often than not marginalized as "genre" works.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Abbie

    As with anything of Joshi's, an extremely impressive knowledge of his field is interspersed with obnoxious snobbery and almost as obnoxious Lovecraft-worship. (And we aren't even to the 20th century yet.) As with anything of Joshi's, an extremely impressive knowledge of his field is interspersed with obnoxious snobbery and almost as obnoxious Lovecraft-worship. (And we aren't even to the 20th century yet.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Held

  11. 4 out of 5

    Justin Steele

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dasein Seescribe Junto

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cainite

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kolbe

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chet Williamson

  16. 5 out of 5

    Noah

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul Saarma

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Ryan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence Stadulis

  20. 4 out of 5

    William Worsham

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joe Pettit Jr.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  23. 4 out of 5

    L J Field

  24. 4 out of 5

    Conor

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Emmett

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erik

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brent B

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dejan Ognjanović

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steven Salter

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ron

  31. 4 out of 5

    Shadowdenizen

  32. 4 out of 5

    Keegan Fink

  33. 5 out of 5

    Leon Sandler

  34. 4 out of 5

    Meg

  35. 5 out of 5

    Leigh

  36. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  37. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

  38. 5 out of 5

    Jordan West

  39. 5 out of 5

    Doug

  40. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  41. 5 out of 5

    Cambria

  42. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  43. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  44. 4 out of 5

    Stu

  45. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  46. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Dury

  47. 5 out of 5

    Andrey

  48. 5 out of 5

    Hani Abdullah

  49. 5 out of 5

    Emmy

  50. 4 out of 5

    Jari

  51. 4 out of 5

    Eric Hart

  52. 4 out of 5

    Jane

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