G is for Gothic
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
It is said all great works stand on the shoulders of giants. Of course, modern horror owes a huge debt to Gothic fiction. Fingerprints of the Gothic remain in retellings of haunted houses that are more than settings but characters in their own rights and in madness visiting even the most unlikely characters.
Horace Walpole’s 1764 “The Castle of Otranto” is credited as the first Gothic novel. Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis, and Christian Heinrich Spiess wrote great Gothic tales in the 1700’s. The Victorians embraced the writing style, immortalized by such greats as Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and the Bronte sisters. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and myriad works by Edgar Allan Poe continue to inspire film makers, readers, and writers and even land on reading lists for lucky high schoolers.
Some “stock” characters that appear in Gothic literature. First and foremost, the virtuous maiden, a lady who often harbors a mysterious past and with whom men fall in love, presides over the action. Her hero overcomes odds and sometimes the supernatural to rescue her, should she land in the hands or a villain, tyrant, or ruffians. Usually, there is some comic relief provided by stupid servants or buffoons. Clergy members often factor in as well, but many are weak and sometimes evil. Certainly, never to be forgotten are the settings themselves. Dark, often medieval settings like crumbling castles, fog-enshrouded graveyards, and haunted woods, places with disturbing histories peopled with archetypal characters define the genre.
Often embraced plot devises include night journeys and looming deadlines, miraculous survivals and supernatural powers, all inevitably blanketed with psychological implications including fear and madness. Gothic fiction explores conflicting feelings through classic good versus evil, sometimes with surprising outcomes.
The French embraced Gothic sensibilities with their Roman Noir (Black Novel). In Germany, they named the novels Schauerroman (Shudder Novel) and escalated the action with more horrific and violent action.
Gothic art and architecture lends the feel of sublime gloom. Gargoyles grin, flying buttresses and towers pierce the sky, thick stone walls, steep arches, and secret passages breath with rattling, graveyard shrieks, wild and untameable.
To contrast, Paranormal Romance differs from Gothic Horror in that the outcomes for the protagonists in Paranormal Romance tend to be positive. Gothic Horror frequently sees unpleasant ramifications for embracing the macabre. Many modern paranormal romance writers tend toward urban fantasy instead of the brooding settings of Gothic stories.