I’ve mentioned several books in my earlier posts that I have seen on “Gothic Novels” lists: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Jane Eyre by Charlette Bronte and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Yet I recently had it brought to my attention that many consider Gothic as synonymous with horror. If you remember, in my first post (Bog #1: Calling All Bibliophiles) I was very clear that I avoid horror stories in order to fiercely protect my sleep. (Stephen King comes to mind; he’s a great writer but a lot of his work scares the bejeezus out of me!)
Since I pride myself on my integrity, this idea made me question my consistency. I hadn’t considered any of the books listed above to be horror stories. What was I missing? It occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t fully know what characteristics of a novel would earn it the distinction of being Gothic. So, I decided to comb the internet for clues.
Merriam Webster offered this definition: “of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents.” Wisegeek.org described that Gothic fiction “is characterized by the elements of fear, horror, the supernatural and darkness, as well as by characters such as vampires, demons, heroes, heroines and villains. Other elements that characterize this type of fiction might include mystery, romance, lust and dread.”
For the most part, both definitions didn’t sound like something that would be up my sensitive being’s alley. Violence, demons, and pure evil generally make me want to run for the hills! But other aspects, such as mystery and romance, I seek out in a novel. And if the supernatural elements feel more benevolently spiritual rather than dark and menacing, I can get on board.
I guess it really depends on the overall tone of the book. Case in point, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind is one of my favorite novels, but his later book, The Angel’s Game was unsettling to me. But then I’m drawn to real life stories of evil, such as the two Erik Larson books that I discussed in Blog #8: Back In Time. So, was I a Gothic fan or not?
I started to consider that Gothic stories might fall across a spectrum. On one end, the “Gothic-light” novels are more mysterious, romantic, and spiritual — and on the other end, the “hard core Gothic” tales are more terrifying and violent. And then I happened upon a reference in Wikipedia that described that “The Historian is not a horror novel, but rather an eerie tale.” That distinction helped. Maybe some Gothic novels are eerie tales, but others fall more into the unbridled horror realm.
And we all know which ones I’ll be reading! I know there are many great horror books, and many people who love them. But clearly, I’m not one of them. That would be someone else’s blog!
What about you? Gothic light? Pure horror? Something in between? Or maybe not at all?