Folk horror is a genre that has captured the imaginations of readers for years, offering an eerie blend of folklore, superstition, and rural settings. This article will provide an introduction to the folk horror genre, exploring its defining characteristics and evolution in literature. We will then recommend 10 must-read folk horror books that you need to add to your reading list. Finally, we’ll examine some of the common themes and tropes found in these captivating stories.
Understanding the Folk Horror Genre
Folk horror emerged as a distinct genre in the late 20th century, inspired by classic literary and cinematic works that weave together folk traditions and rural isolation to create spine-chilling settings where the supernatural is lurking just beneath the surface.
Over the years, the genre has expanded and evolved, leaving readers compelled by its unique blend of history, mythology, and dark psychological themes. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this genre stand out and how it has evolved throughout literary history.
Defining Characteristics of Folk Horror
While there’s a broad range of titles that fall under the folk horror umbrella, several elements are commonly found in these tales. One of the key hallmarks of the genre is the connection to the landscape. The natural world is often portrayed as a living, breathing entity, with the power to shape and influence the events of the story.
Ancient traditions and the supernatural are also integral aspects of folk horror. These tales often draw on folklore and mythology to create a sense of ancient, otherworldly power that is both terrifying and alluring.
Another essential aspect is the sense of isolation often experienced by the characters. Rural environments provide the haunting backdrop to these stories, allowing for untold secrets and ancient forces to emerge from the shadows. This isolation can also be psychological, with characters feeling trapped and powerless in the face of the unknown.
The Evolution of Folk Horror in Literature
The roots of folk horror can be traced back to medieval and early modern writings steeped in superstition and folklore. These stories often featured witches, demons, and other supernatural beings and were designed to scare and entertain readers.
As the world moved into the Enlightenment and beyond, these folkloric elements took a back seat but never entirely disappeared. However, in the 20th century, writers began to re-embrace and develop folk horror themes, finding fresh ways to explore rural settings and frightening legacies of the past.
Technology and modernity further isolated traditional communities, resulting in new expressions of horror. The internet, for example, has given rise to a new subgenre of folk horror that explores the dark side of online communities and the dangers of social media.
Despite these changes, the essential elements of folk horror remain the same. Whether set in the past or present, these tales continue to captivate readers with their unique blend of history, mythology, and psychological terror.
Top 10 Must-Read Folk Horror Books
For those new to the genre or those looking to expand their reading list, here are ten must-read folk horror books that exemplify the eerie, eerie, and atmospheric tales the genre has to offer:
The Wicker Man by Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer
Basing this novelization on their iconic film of the same name, Hardy and Shaffer tell the chilling story of a deeply religious policeman who visits a remote Scottish island to search for a missing girl. He soon discovers that the island’s inhabitants are not what they seem, harboring unsettling secrets.
Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon
Tryon’s novel follows a family who relocates to an idyllic New England village, only to find that their new neighbors hold sinister pagan rituals that date back centuries. The family becomes embroiled in a chilling game of life or death, with the entire community hiding a dark secret.
The Ritual by Adam Nevill
In this tense and terrifying tale, a group of old friends reunites for a hiking trip in the Scandinavian wilderness. As they become increasingly lost, they stumble upon an ancient evil that threatens to claim them all, testing their sanity and the bonds of their friendship.
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
Set on a desolate stretch of England’s coast, The Loney follows two brothers who visit the area during a pilgrimage with their family. Hurley weaves a masterful narrative where the power of faith collides with ancient traditions and supernatural occurrences.
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
In Wylding Hall, a folk-rock band retreats to a remote English mansion to record their next album. However, the mansion’s sinister history and the band’s own dark secrets soon give rise to a tragedy that haunts them for years to come.
The Reddening by Adam Nevill
A journalist and a doctor uncover a horrific secret hidden in the English countryside. As they delve deeper into the mystery, they find themselves at the mercy of ancient and terrifying forces whose influence reaches beyond the rural surroundings.
The Fisherman by John Langan
This novel follows two widowed men who find solace in fishing trips. Their bond is tested when they discover a mysterious creek said to be cursed, leading them on a harrowing journey into the unknown.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
An atmospheric gothic tale of a grieving widow who finds eerie, wooden figures in her late husband’s ancestral home. The figures seem to harbor dark secrets and a sinister past that cannot be ignored.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
A woman tasked with clearing out her recently deceased grandmother’s house discovers disturbing artifacts and writings. The discovery unveils a world of legends and nightmares that threatens to claim her as its next victim.
The Cunning Folk by Adam L.G. Nevill
Nevill, a prominent author in the folk horror genre, brings to life the harrowing tale of Mr. and Mrs. Cutter who move to a remote village. They discover that their idyllic new home is subject to an age-old curse caused by malevolent spirits and ancient witchcraft.
If you’re looking for more eerie and atmospheric tales, there are plenty of other great folk horror books out there. Some honorable mentions include “The Witching Hour Theatre” by Jonathan Janz, “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, and “The Children of the Corn” by Stephen King. Each of these books offers a unique take on the folk horror genre, with plenty of scares and supernatural elements to keep you on the edge of your seat.
So whether you’re a seasoned fan of folk horror or just dipping your toes into the genre, there’s no shortage of great reads out there. So grab a cup of tea, curl up with one of these chilling books, and prepare to be transported to a world of ancient traditions, supernatural forces, and bone-chilling terror.
Exploring Folk Horror Themes and Tropes
Folk horror novels are not only characterized by their unique settings but also by a set of recurring themes and tropes. An exploration of these key elements can provide insight into the power and appeal of folk horror as a literary genre.
The Power of Nature and the Elements
Folk horror stories often showcase the raw, untamed power of nature and the often inhospitable rural settings. A landscape becomes a character in itself, with the natural world showing its indifference towards human suffering and its capacity for destruction and rebirth.
One example of this theme can be seen in the novel “The Ritual” by Adam Nevill. The story follows a group of friends who embark on a hiking trip in the Scandinavian wilderness. As they delve deeper into the forest, they become increasingly aware of the dangers lurking in the trees. The landscape itself seems to be conspiring against them, with twisted branches and ominous shadows hinting at the presence of something malevolent.
This theme of nature as a malevolent force has its roots in ancient folklore, where forests and mountains were often seen as the dwelling places of gods and spirits. In folk horror, this idea is taken to its logical extreme, with the natural world becoming a terrifying and unpredictable adversary.
The Role of Folklore and Mythology
Many folk horror novels are steeped in the myths, legends, and folklore of their respective settings. These connections to past fear and beliefs lend a sense of authenticity and timelessness to the stories, making them even more unnerving.
One example of this theme can be seen in the novel “Harvest Home” by Thomas Tryon. The story takes place in the fictional New England village of Cornwall Coombe, where the residents still practice ancient pagan rituals in secret. As the protagonist, Ned, becomes more involved in the community, he begins to uncover the dark secrets at the heart of the village’s traditions.
This theme of ancient beliefs and practices being passed down through generations is a common thread in folk horror. The idea that something sinister could be lurking beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic rural communities is a potent source of terror.
The Isolation of Rural Settings
The remote, isolated nature of rural settings is a critical aspect of most folk horror stories. Cut off from the outside world, characters in these tales must confront the unknown without the comforting presence of society or the promise of salvation.
One example of this theme can be seen in the novel “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley. The story takes place in a desolate corner of the English coast, where a small community of devout Catholics gathers every year for a religious retreat. As the protagonist, Smith, begins to explore the surrounding countryside, he discovers that there are dark forces at work in the area.
This theme of isolation is often used to create a sense of claustrophobia and unease. Characters are trapped in a world where they cannot trust anyone, and where help is unlikely to arrive.
The Influence of Paganism and Witchcraft
Pagan beliefs and witchcraft play a significant role in many folk horror novels, with characters frequently coming up against ancient customs and rituals that they cannot fully comprehend. These elements often serve as metaphors for the power of the earth and the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
One example of this theme can be seen in the novel “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. The story takes place in the Dutch town of Black Spring, where a seventeenth-century witch named Katherine still haunts the streets. The townspeople have learned to live with her presence, but when a group of teenagers decides to break the town’s rules, they set off a chain of events that threatens to unleash Katherine’s wrath.
This theme of ancient rituals and beliefs being passed down through the generations is a recurring motif in folk horror. The idea that something from the distant past could still hold sway over the present is a potent source of unease and dread.
In conclusion, the folk horror genre provides a captivating exploration of rural settings, folklore, and the darker aspects of human nature. Ancient rituals, supernatural forces, and the inexorable power of the landscape draw readers into a world of fear, mystery, and wonder. To experience the eerie thrill of this unique genre, delve into the ten must-read titles we’ve recommended and uncover the chilling secrets of folk horror for yourself.
What is the scariest folk horror book?
Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home and Joyce Carol Oates’s The Corn Maiden are often cited as some of the scariest folk horror novels.
What is folk horror?
Folk horror refers to pagan and non-conformist communities that are separate from urban environments. Over time, they have developed their own belief systems and practices. When an outsider stumbles upon their community, they are often met with violence and unthinkable cruelty.
Why is folk horror popular?
Folk horror witnessed a resurgence in popularity after Midsommar and The Mother were box office successes. Readers enjoy the exploration of fringe communities and how social structures mutate when they are placed in foreign environments.