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Fantasy and Horror:
A Critical and Historical Guide to Literature, Illustration, Film, TV, Radio, and the Internet

Neil Barron
Scarecrow Press, 828 pages

Fantasy and Horror
Neil Barron
Neil Barron is the author of Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction (1976). Now in a fourth edition, Anatomy of Wonder is a comprehensive look at the multi-faceted world of science fiction. The book includes almost 3,000 reviews for both fiction and non-fiction books plus coverage of SF poetry, magazines, comic books, illustrations, art, books on tape, films and television shows.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

A companion to Neil Barron's Anatomy of Wonder, a standard reference for science fiction, Fantasy and Horror is a combining of the editor's two previous references, Fantastic Literature and Horror Literature, published in 1990, and both intended to serve as reader's advisories. Following a format in most respects identical to the long-running Anatomy of Wonder, this scholarly tome attempts to cover the most important and seminal works written since the start of the Gothic tradition in the mid-eighteenth century, as well as fantasy from its inception in the origins of literature (as Tom Shippey notes in his introduction to Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, and as Barron quotes in his introduction to the chapter entitled Fantasy and Horror Literature in Libraries, "three types of story -- history, fiction, and the fantastic -- have been present since the beginning of literature," and a case can be made, when considering Gilgamesh, The Bible, or Homer, that fantasy is the original source for Western literature, though the tyranny of mimesis which has followed The Modern might be discomfited by such a statement). Additionally, as its subtitle suggests, effort has been made to include related developments and incorporation of these genres into illustration, radio, and film. The history of periodicals and genre-related comics and graphic novels is also touched upon, as is academic study, library collections and the proliferation of related resources upon the Internet. Obviously, coverage is most concentrated upon the literature, and the information contained in other sections and chapters varies, as is intended. But the comprehensiveness represented by the former, and the effort expended to provide an overview of related areas of creative activity and study, make this reference an essential resource for anyone interested in the genres.

Evenly separated into two sections -- The Primary Literature and The Secondary Literature and Research Aids -- the first offers eight chapters, divided chronologically between the two genres, and incorporating work up to 1998, including a chapter on Fantasy and Horror Poetry. Each chapter is prefaced by an introductory essay providing a historical context for the works under discussion, as well as often insightful critical analysis, written by notable scholars in the field. In this regard, the contributions by Frederick S. Frank, Dennis Kratz, Brian Stableford, and Stefan Dziemianowicz are particularly notable, with only the overviews offered by Darren Harris-Fain for contemporary fantasy, and to a lesser extent, Steven Eng for poetry, seeming comparatively brief and summary. In relationship to the earlier contributors, Harris-Fain's seven page reduction of the developments in fantasy since 1957 seemed particularly cursory and unenlightening, in many respects failing to devote enough time or energy to a period that has seen many significant and divergent trends and work published, especially during the sixties and following the seventies, neglecting to match the informative standards set by his fellow contributors. This may be viewed as especially unfortunate in terms of its pertinence for the interests of more contemporary readers.

Following each chapter's essay is a listing of those works selected by the contributors as representing the most important or seminal works for each period, based upon "literary, extraliterary [sic], or historical reasons," arranged alphabetically by author, along with brief annotated and evaluative bibliographies including a short synopsis of the narrative. Over 2,300 novels, short story collections, anthologies and poetry are represented. Works of especial merit or historical significance are highlighted with an asterisk, and any awards received are also noted. Narratives directed towards children or a young adult audience are included and separately identified. In order to provide further balance to the selections, outside readers and authorities in the field, such as Everett F. Bleiler, John Clute, and David Hartwell, among others, have been enlisted to provide additional input and perspective.

As is inevitable with any such list or ranking of work, individual readers are bound to find absences of favorites they would have included, or questions raised as to relative merits. But overall, and within the context of the editor's criteria for selection, inclusion seems representative and valid for varied and justifiable reasons, as well as similarly balanced, including not only works of obvious literary merit, but the more important and well-written conventional vehicles as well (for example, it was encouraging, and only justified, to see, within the framework of a scholarly reference directed primarily towards an academic audience, the inclusion of Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb among contemporary work). Some may be surprised by the relatively high proportion of children's books in the chapter devoted to contemporary fantasy (just under a third of all selections), but considering this reference is meant to serve, in part, as an advisory for librarians, their perhaps disproportionate numbers are to be expected. Where real questions became raised, however -- again in the same chapter -- were in the apparent under appreciation of certain authors, such as Jonathan Carroll and M. John Harrison, or the absence of a single book by Patricia McKillip following publication of The Riddle-Master of Hed: as arguably the contemporary master of fabulations drawing upon folklore and faerie, the lack of her more recent adult fantasies seemed peculiar. And in the area of epic or high fantasy, a similar, if less remarkable, case could me made for the exclusion of authors such as Tad Williams or Katherine Kerr, especially when less talented or more commercially driven writers, such as Anne McCaffrey, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. or Fred Saberhagen are included.

The second half of the book, devoted to the secondary literature and research, in most respects is no less comprehensive. The chapters devoted to reference sources, history and criticism, author studies, film, television and radio, art and illustration, and the publishing history of genre magazines all offer a wealth of information of interest not only to the scholar, but the more casual reader. The introductory essay provided by Doug Highsmith for horror and fantasy comics is especially notable, though the introductory essays offered elsewhere within this section failed to rise up to the overall quality present in the first section. Nonetheless, much of the information and resource listings provided did, and include a large number of bibliographical, biocritical and biographical reference and information. In addition, tables are provided throughout this section that list the names and addresses of small specialty publishers, publications which regularly review horror and fantasy, as well as the annual number of reviews by publication, selective chronologies of horror and fantasy in film, television and radio, film rental figures, and literary sources for cinema, to name only the more broadly notable. While the two chapters devoted libraries may be only of specialized interest, the listing and brief descriptions of major public collections throughout North America, Europe and Australia may prove helpful to the reader of earlier work, especially the hard to find and out of print. And for those of you who are addicted to lists, a separate chapter at the end offers a listing of "best books" by period, award history, a selective listing of series by author, notable young adult and children's books, translations by country, genre related organizations, with address and description, and finally an annual calendar of conventions. And, if this were not enough, 'Appendix A' offers further sources of information on genre authors, and an author/subject, title, and theme indexes at the back. Cross-referencing, it shouldn't need to be stated, is thorough throughout the book.

The only two chapters which seemed too cursory, lacking in currency and/or narrow to offer much value were the sub-chapter on Online Resources and the chapter entitled Teaching Fantasy and Horror Literature. Contributor Michael Stamm, in discussing the Internet, acknowledges the fluid, ever-changing character of cyberspace at the time of writing, and suggests the problem of currency which plagues this sub-chapter. By now, even with only the passage of a couple years, much of the information provided here is already out of date, and many current and notable sites (including the one you are reading this review on) were not even in existence at the time of Stamm's writing, or too new to have caught his attention. Some recommended sites, such as The Linköping Science Fiction Archive, are now woefully dated, and better replaced by other online references not mentioned, such as The Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase. Further, as the author warns, many of the URL's listed are not to be trusted. Still, some useful sites are provided, and in the case of inactive addresses, a simple search of Google will usually steer one in the right and updated direction.

More problematic, in my opinion, is the chapter by Dennis Kratz concerning Teaching Fantasy and Horror Literature. Suffice it to say that this chapter is directed at university academics accustomed to teaching traditional literature classes, and therefore rather predictable and pedestrian in many of its recommendations. In the section entitled Recommended Texts, Mr. Kratz barely makes it into the last century, emphasizing only four works: Apuleius' The Golden Ass, Euripides' Bacchae, Stoker's Dracula, and, more surprisingly, Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. While admittedly all good works, with the first three particularly bearing historical significance, all reflect academic conservatism and a singular absence of willingness to address more contemporary and equally seminal and literary works, such as, in fantasy, David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, Michael Moorcock's Gloriana, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, or the various novels of Carroll, Harrison or John Crowley, to name but a few. Even in his An Imagined Course, Kratz keeps it classically safe, adding Petronius' werewolf tale from Satyricon or the Lai de Biclavret, by Marie de France, along with Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Beagle's The Last Unicorn, and Garcia Márquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude to the original lineup mentioned above. The closest he gets to contemporary horror is having his imagined class watching Romero's Night of the Living Dead! While such a course selection will certainly likely win the approval of the average university's English department, it misses as much (if not more) as it covers. The brief second view offered by Stephen Potts is far more adventurous and preferable, including work by Tolkien, Butler, Holdstock and Hughart, but still reflects its roots in a rather staid, unimaginative conservatism, quite at odds with some of fantasy's interests (let alone tendencies toward subversion), and the academy's general adherence, when it comes to literature, of its adopted and limited doctrine of mimesis.

These complaints noted, when it comes to consideration of the larger work overall, such criticisms become quickly outweighed by the rich and varied wealth of information this reference has to offer. Fantasy and Horror represents an outstanding work of scholarship, and a potentially invaluable resource for the average reader, irregardless of taste or interest. And, despite its intended use primarily by librarians and academicians, any serious reader of fantasy or horror will want this close at hand, sitting upon their shelves. Its comprehension and erudition has set the standard by which all future and similar references will be judged.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction. In addition to his writing, he is pursuing masters degrees in information science as well as history at Indiana University.

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