Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. China Miéville defines Weird Fiction thus “Weird Fiction is usually, roughly, conceived of as a rather breathless and generically slippery macabre fiction, a dark fantastic (“horror” plus “fantasy”) often featuring nontraditional alien monsters (thus plus “science fiction”).” Weird fiction is distinguished from horror and fantasy in its blending of supernatural, mythical, and even scientific tropes. Weird fiction either eschews or radically reinterprets ghosts, vampires, werewolves and other traditional antagonists of supernatural horror fiction. British authors who have embraced this style have often published their work in mainstream literary magazines even after American pulp magazines became popular. Popular weird fiction writers included Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, and M. R. James. The writers who wrote for the magazine Weird Tales are closely identified with the weird fiction subgenre, especially H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch.
Although “weird fiction” has been chiefly used as a historical description for works through the 1930s, the term has also been increasingly used since the 1980s, sometimes to describe slipstream fiction that blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
- P. Lovecraft adopted the term from Sheridan Le Fanu and popularized it in his essays. In “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” Lovecraft defines the genre:
“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
The pulp magazine Weird Tales published many such stories in the United States from March 1923 to September 1954. S. T. Joshi describes several subdivisions of the weird tale: supernatural horror (or fantastique), the ghost story, quasi science fiction, fantasy, and ambiguous horror fiction and argues that “the weird tale” is primarily the result of the philosophical and aesthetic predispositions of the authors associated with this type of fiction.
Although Lovecraft was one of the few early 20th-century writers to describe his work as “weird fiction,” the term has enjoyed a contemporary revival in New Weird fiction. For example, China Miéville often refers to his work as weird fiction. Many horror writers have also situated themselves within the weird tradition, including Clive Barker, who describes his fiction as fantastique, and Ramsey Campbell, whose early work was deeply influenced by Lovecraft.
The following notable authors have been described as writers of weird fiction. They are listed alphabetically by last name.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, S. Ansky, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Gertrude Barrows Bennett, E.F. Benson, Ambrose Bierce, Zealia Bishop, Algernon Blackwood, Nelson S. Bond, Marjorie Bowen, André Breton, Max Brod, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Brockden Brown, Arthur J. Burks, Dino Buzzati, Lord Byron, Leonora Carrington, Lewis Carroll, Robert W. Chambers, Hugh B. Cave, Leonard Cline, Irvin S. Cobb, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Ralph Adams Cram, F. Marion Crawford, Walter de la Mare, August Derleth, Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, C. M. Eddy, Jr., Erckmann-Chatrian, Max Ernst, Hanns Heinz Ewers, Gustave Flaubert, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, Théophile Gautier, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stefan Grabiński, Sakutarō Hagiwara, L. P. Hartley, W.F. Harvey, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Georg Heym, William Hope Hodgson, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Robert E. Howard, Victor Hugo, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Washington Irving, Margaret Irwin, Carl Jacobi, Henry James, M.R. James, Richard Jefferies, Robert Barbour Johnson, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, David H. Keller, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Kubin, Henry Kuttner, Antoni Lange, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Fritz Leiber, Maurice Level, David Lindsay, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Frank Belknap Long, H. P. Lovecraft, Leopoldo Lugones, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Arthur Machen, Guy de Maupassant, Daphne du Maurier, Wilhelm Meinhold, Prosper Mérimée, Abraham Merrit, Gustav Meyrink, Premendra Mitra, C. L. Moore, Thomas Moore, Fitz James O’Brien, Oliver Onions, Thomas Owen, Edgar Allan Poe, E. Hoffmann Price, Seabury Quinn, Horacio Quiroga, Ann Radcliffe, Edogawa Ranpo, Jean Ray, Mercè Rodoreda, Sax Rohmer, Saki, Sarban, Bruno Schulz, Mary Shelley, M. P. Shiel, William Milligan Sloane III, Clark Ashton Smith, Greye La Spina, Vincent Starrett, George Sterling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Rabindranath Tagore, J. R. R. Tolkien, Luigi Ugolini, H. Russell Wakefield, Hugh Walpole, Evangeline Walton, Donald Wandrei, Howard Wandrei, H. G. Wells, Edward Lucas White, Henry S. Whitehead, Oscar Wilde, Donald A. Wollheim.
Robert Aickman, Sadegh Hedayat, J. G. Ballard, R. H. Barlow, Charles Beaumont, Michel Bernanos, Olympe Bhely-Quenum, Jerome Bixby, Robert Bloch, Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Octavia E. Butler, Ramsey Campbell, Angela Carter, Lin Carter, Stepan Chapman, Fred Chappell, Arthur C. Clarke, Julio Cortázar, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Philip José Farmer, Harvey Flink, Carlos Fuentes, Jane Gaskell, William Gibson, Shirley Jackson, Anna Kavan, Gerald Kersh, Garry Kilworth, Jamaica Kincaid, Stephen King, Leena Krohn, Tanith Lee, Bob Leman, Brian Lumley, Richard A. Lupoff, Gabriel García Márquez, George R. R. Martin, Richard Matheson, Augusto Monterroso, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Mervyn Peake, Terry Pratchett, Ray Russell, Joanna Russ, William Sansom, Claude Seignolle, Rod Serling, Michael Shea, John Shirley, Margaret St. Clair, Peter Straub, James Tiptree, Jr., Amos Tutuola, Karl Edward Wagner, Manly Wade Wellman, Jack Williamson, Colin Wilson, F. Paul Wilson, Gahan Wilson, Gene Wolfe, T. M. Wright, Roger Zelazny.
Daniel Abraham, Michal Ajvaz, Iain Banks, Clive Barker, Laird Barron, K. J. Bishop, Poppy Z. Brite, Kevin Brockmeier, David F. Case, Michael Chabon, Michael Cisco, Nancy Collins, Brendan Connell, Mark Z. Danielewski, Doug Dorst, Michael Dougherty, Hal Duncan, Dennis Etchison, Brian Evenson, Paul Di Filippo, Jeffrey Ford, Karen Joy Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Felix Gilman, Elizabeth Hand, M. John Harrison, Brian Hodge, Simon Ings, Junji Ito, Stephen Graham Jones, Caitlín R. Kiernan, T. E. D. Klein, Kathe Koja, Marc Laidlaw, Jay Lake, Margo Lanagan, John Langan, Joe R. Lansdale, Deborah Levy, Thomas Ligotti, Kelly Link, Michael McDowell, Lincoln Michel, China Miéville, Sarah Monette, Grant Morrison, Reza Negarestani, Scott Nicolay, David Ohle, Ben Okri, Otsuichi, Helen Oyeyemi, Cameron Pierce, Rachel Pollack, W. H. Pugmire, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Cat Rambo, Alistair Rennie, Sofia Samatar, Lucius Shepard, William Browning Spencer, Simon Strantzas, Charles Stross, Steph Swainston, Jeffrey Thomas, Lisa Tuttle, Steven Utley, Jeff VanderMeer, Liz Williams, Christopher Howard Wolf.
The New Weird
It has been suggested by some, predominantly Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and China Miéville, that Weird fiction has seen a recent resurgence, a phenomenon they term the New Weird. Tales which fit this category, as well as extensive discussion of the phenomenon, appear in the anthology The New Weird.