Fabulist Horror

What is the Fabulist Horror Subgenre?

To understand what fabulist horror is, we first need to have a clear definition of the term fabulist. Traditionally, fabulist was defined as having something to do with fables, which are short tales generally featuring animals that are used to teach a moral lesson. More recently, other definitions have cropped up. Some say that fabulist represents a departure from the archetypes of the genre in style, tone, or setting. Still others use the term New Wave Fabulist to describe works that blend what is known as genre fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and, of course, horror with literary fiction. This blend is similar to slipstream, and put another way, is similar to magic realism for the horror genre.

That is not to say that these definitions do not have some overlap. New Wave Fabulist horror would very definitely differ from traditional horror in style and tone, particularly, in that this is where the elements of literary fiction would frequently be found. Similarly, stories animals or anthropomorphic animals and definitely moral tales could be found in other versions of fabulist horror. The key to this type of horror is to bring elements of the strange, supernatural, and scary into the world, and make it appear normal.

Generally, this is done by not giving the supernatural elements any explanation, as if they were simply part of everyday life. This allows the reader to drop their guard until the horror creeps onto the page, often before the reader realizes that it has happened.

That being said, when you go to look for examples of fabulist horror, they are pretty tricky to find. A search for horror fables will bring up a few results, most common among them being the movie Mama and H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. A search of magic realism in horror yields more results, and these, contain some or all of the elements of each definition.


Fabulist Horror Characteristics

Level of Characterization: Due to the literary influences of this subgenre, Fabulist horror will have high levels of characterization with character development emphasized over action and terror.


Level of Plot: The level of plot in Fabulist horror will also be high due to the literary influences of the subgenre.


Level of Supernatural: In this subgenre, the level of supernatural will be moderate to high, as supernatural elements are generally the source of the scares in Fabulist horror.


Level of Scary: The scares in Fabulist horror are deceptively high. These are definitely creeping horrors as opposed to in your face scares, but they will sneak up on the reader, whisper-quiet until they reveal themselves.


Level of Violence: The level of violence in this subgenre is moderate to low as Fabulist horror lends itself more toward the creepy and atmospheric than the graphic and gory.


Typical Setting: There is no typical setting to Fabulist horror, although alienation and isolation seems to be a theme that runs through the subgenre. Typical settings will reflect that isolation.

Related Horror Subgenres

Due to their genre-blending elements, cross-genre horror and weird fiction are the most closely related subgenres to Fabulist horror. Additionally, gothic horror is frequently related to this subgenre in that both contain strong literary elements. Similarly dark fiction, with its literary elements, could also be easily related to Fabulist horror

Don't Read Fabulist Horror If You Dislike…

Magic realism. The stories in Fabulist horror will contain elements of the horrific, but they are not truly designed to scare or chill. Instead, these elements will be used to examine more realistic problems and emotions. If you prefer to escape into a heart-pounding thriller, this may not be the genre for you.

Remember Why You Fear Me by Robert Shearman- The author of this collection of chilling short stories has won awards from both the fantasy genre and the horror genre, and these dark yet compelling tales are the proof of why.


The Collected Stories of H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft- Lovecraftian horror is a genre unto itself with its tales of monsters and madness, but though these stories have pulp and genre roots, they have influenced the popular culture so much so that they've become literature in their own right.


The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka- When Gregor Samsa wakes up to find that he is transformed into an insect, he becomes alienated from the rest of the world, but Gregor's problem is not only horrific. It is, at times, satirical and comical, and his transformation becomes the stage for a larger examination of human emotion.


A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore- Charlie Asher is chosen as a death merchant after the death of his wife. In addition to raising his daughter and managing his second-hand store, Charlie is responsible for protecting the souls of the dying from the forces of the underworld. It's a difficult task, particularly when the forces of darkness start to rise.


Ripper by Isabel Allende- Amanda Jackson is a teen sleuth obsessed with the darker side of humanity as is evidenced by her addiction to the Ripper mystery game, but when a string of murders hits close to home, Amanda uses the skills she's learned in video games to track down a real killer.


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind- A perfumer with no scent of his own and an uncanny ability to detect the scents of others and of objects lives a hard, lonely life until he discovers what he believes to be the ambrosia of scents, the scent of a young girl. Obsessed with capturing that scent, the perfumer begins to murder young girls.


Pet Sematary by Stephen King- Something evil lurks behind the woods in the Creed's idyllic new home, and despite being warned away from it, Louis Creed is about to become tempted by its power.


The Wicker Man by Robin Hardy- When a policeman investigates the disappearance of a young girl on the small island of Summerisle, he becomes caught up in the shamanistic rituals of the island's inhabitants.


Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall- This collection of short stories is terrifying and fantastic, at times, but throughout these stories are all very real and human.


Harrowgate by Kate Maruyama- Michael's family slips farther and farther away from him as a sinister doula uses her influence to drive a wedge between him and his wife.

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