The history of horror is spread through-out the pages of hundreds and hundreds historical reference guides, some penetrating deep into the darkness, while others simply skim the surface. One could spend a small fortune collecting these tomes as part of their horror education and, considering out of print books or guides in the ‘collectable’ market, you might be surprised how expensive some of these books have become over time. Horror Literature Through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears, edited by Matt Cardin, does its best to condense this information into two volumes, and accomplishes the goal with flying colors.
Let’s go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room first: This encyclopedia set is expensive, with the Kindle edition weighing in around $150, and the hardcover at $190 for most new listings. This is a library quality educational guide, priced accordingly with similar books, and the information contained in the two volumes is thorough and comprehensive, covering the beginning of horror literature to contemporary writers. Meticulously compiled and far-reaching in scope, these books are without a doubt the best on the market, and certainly worth the price of admission. This is an investment, worthwhile for those that handle the void in their pocketbook, justified by the sheer bulk of information at your fingertips.
Beginning with a breakdown of horror literature, the first 174 pages covers a variety of topics including Horror through History, Themes and Genres such as Apocalyptic Horror to Young Adult Horror Fiction, with special attention to Gothic literature, publishing in the internet age, Cosmic Horror, Criticism, the Occult, horror literature’s influence on film and television, small presses, even video games. These articles are lively, engaging, and robust, featuring writings by Sean Moreland, Hannah Priest, Darrell Schweitzer, Matt Foley, and many more. Each article provides references for further readings. Cardin’s Introduction and ‘Timeline of Horror Literature Through History’ at the beginning provides the backbone of the work ahead.
Part Three: Reference Entries (Authors, Works, and Specialized Topics) is where the meat of the subject at hand resides, and Cardin delivers the goods. From Aickman to Zombies, nearly every subject is handled just as one would expect from a guide of this nature. Readers should pay special attention to the sidebar entries in this section as well, as there are interviews spread through-out, featuring Ellen Datlow, Joe R. Lansdale, Laird Barron, Ramsey Campbell, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and a new interview with Thomas Ligotti. Each subject is broad and meticulously researched, complete with ‘See Also’ and ‘Further Reading’ sources.
Years in the making, Matt Cardin has produced a beautiful encyclopedia set for the horror geek in us all, chock full of more information than anyone can read in one sitting. As this is a reference guide, most large libraries should keep the volumes in stock. If not, reaching out to the library staff should prove fruitful in obtaining a set through the proper channels. Whether you take a copy out on loan, or spring for your own set, you will not regret the investment, nor will you find a horror literature reference guide as far-reaching and well-researched as this. Highly recommended.
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