Alternative title: How does this work? Seriously?

Despite the title, this is only tangentially related to anything remotely classical, sorry. For anyone interested in how modern (literary) forms actually drawn from classical precedents, feel free to close this and read N J Lowe’s The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative.

Also, it’s almost All Hallow’s Eve and since I don’t fell well enough to make it all the way up to Manchester, you guys can have this in lieu. (Sorry L, I know this is the 2nd year running…)

I was reminded the other day of the existence of a cartoon I enjoyed some time back. I wish I had the time to sit down and revisit it. What struck me about it was hardly the plot (which is lapidary), or the illustration (cute and kitsch), or indeed the voice acting (for the most part, meh), but the overall aesthetic.

There’s something there that really appeals to me. You could term it ‘gothic’ but that doesn’t quite fit and conjures the wrong connotations. Are there percolating influences from, say, Sheridan le Fanu or Lovecraft? Maaaybe? I don’t know. The thing is, this pseudo-gothic aesthetic is incredibly non-classical. It’s the time of year when idiots are trying to pretend that e.g the werewolf passage in Petronius or the odd story of a lamia possess some consonance with our own modern sense of horror. But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had anything like this. If you really mess with the translation, you could maybe claim there are elements in the Sanskrit text Vikram and the Vampire, but you would be pushing it.

The part fantasy part horror aesthetic is entirely modern. I’ll try to describe it and then list some things that I think are similar. I expect to fail badly here, since a lot of them will be sci-fi/fantasy and I believe I’ve made my dislike of those genres well known again and again.

To return to Over the Garden Wall, firstly I’d say there’s a weird sense of nostalgia. If it were live action (please no…) many of the set pieces and sartorial accoutrements would be from a sort of Victorian-1920’s timeline. There’s also a very crooked forlornness that permeates the background, it intrigues and unsettles.

The cartoon plays with expectations a little bit. Again, not in the Greek sense – like some sort of paraprosdokian – but it’s continually like looking at the mundane through a murky window. All this is offset by humour, of course.

I actually don’t know why I’m trying to describe it. I clearly can’t. I actually tried, a while back, writing some short stories in this vein for a friend. I never got as far as I intended and re-reading them I’m continually surprised by how bad I am at prose. Clearly I just don’t get it. Anyway, here are some similar works for All Hallow’s Eve.

Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake  – No explanation necessary, surely? If we were to draw up a phylogentic treebank, so much of this stuff would stem from Steerpike’s adventures.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman – Begrudgingly included.

Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams – Less of the horror aspect, though it exists, but the overall crooked vision works. I’ve loved this book ever since I picked up a battered old paperback at a book fair as a child. Look, it’s about the secret world of cats. With magic. Of course it’s great.

Shadowbridge – Gregory Frost – Think Gaiman, if Gaiman could write. Weird gods, puppeteers etc.

The Luck of Relian Kru – Patricia McKillip – There’s a permeating, frustrating, sense of horror throughout one of the few SF/F books I’ve read that I have really, really, enjoyed. I would recommend this to anyone.

WTF even is this post? I think I’m going to click ‘publish’ regardless.

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