Horror Studies – Proposed special issue on Folk Horror

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- posted on behalf of Dr. Jeffrey A. Tolbert -

 

Horror Studies – Proposed special issue on Folk Horror  

Guest editors, Dr Dawn Keetley, Professor of English and Film, Lehigh University, dek7@lehigh.edu, and Dr Jeffrey A. Tolbert, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore, Pennsylvania State University – Harrisburg, jat639@psu.edu

This special issue attempts to systematize and formalize the study of folk horror, a subgenre whose meteoric rise (or return?) to popularity in the past ten years or so raises critical questions relating to rurality, “traditional” cultures, nationalism, and place, among others. Folk horror posits a folk as the source of horror, and a body of related folklore as constituting a simultaneously picturesque and horrifying aesthetic/symbolic backdrop to its portrayals of atavistic danger and pre- or anti-modern “heathenism.” Sharing with the increasingly broad cross-media genre of the gothic an obsession with landscape, folk horror tends to abandon dark corridors and windswept mountain fastnesses in favor of agrarian and/or pastoral settings (though even this distinction is often elided in practice, with the genres often becoming entangled). In the end, though, one distinguishing trait is that the peasant folk of the countryside, imagined as preserving earlier ways of life, become the source of fear—or at least provide the context for its encroachment into otherwise “normal” modern life.

Folklorists and scholars of literature, film, and television have taken notice of folk horror, calling out the genre’s resonances with the gothic and noting its reliance on nineteenth-century models of folk cultures. While definitions of folk horror are emerging in the scholarly literature, there is much room for broad and diverse theories of folk horror, including those that position the genre in conversations about nationalism, globalism, tribalism, populism, class and economics, race, and the Anthropocene, as well as the active participation of fan communities. There has, moreover, been a distinct propensity to focus on British texts as virtually constitutive of the genre. Thus the “unholy trinity” of films—The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General, and The Wicker Man—are felt to be uniquely British folk horror, even as they share certain aesthetic concerns and elements of setting and grounding in supposed traditionality with American folk horror films such as The Witch and Midsommar. There is much work to be done, then, not only on national folk horrors beyond Britain but also on transnationality and folk horror.

This issue aims to move beyond the description and cataloging of genre works to a more sustained theoretical engagement with the deep implications of a “horror” of the “folk.” In doing so, contributions will seek to address core questions:

  • What counts as folk horror and why?
  • Why is folk culture imagined as frightening?
  • What are the meanings of the ways in which rural people and rural settings are positioned at the center of this type of horror?
  • What is the role of folklore and folkloristics in folk horror?
  • What are the political meanings of folk horror?
  • What are the effects of replicating nineteenth-century understandings of cultural evolution and center-periphery relationships in a twenty-first century already heavily marked by the reemergence of virulent, destructive nationalism?
  • Does folk horror’s focus on landscape speak to politics concerning the environment, the climate, and the Anthropocene?
  • Why the resurgence of folk horror criticism and cultural productions now? Why were the late 1960s and 1970s so critical in the folk horror tradition? What periodizations emerge for folk horror beyond Britain?
  • How do we understand fans of folk horror as they actively and collaboratively construct meanings of folk horror works, tying key films, books, and other media to an ineffable but deeply felt sense of “folkness” apparently felt to reside at the heart of all cultures?

There are many more potential questions, and we are interested in any and all approaches. But, in general, we seek essays that seek to offer a broad theoretical approach to genre from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives (as well as interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches) and from diverse parts of the globe.

We are more than happy to field questions and inquiries at any time, so feel free to email us: : Dawn Keetley at dek7@lehigh.edu and Jeff Tolbert at jat639@psu.edu.

Essays of 6-7,000 words due: Monday October 3, 2022