More so than genres and forms more readily associated with emphasis upon landscape, Folk Horror has a refreshing stance towards it in a unique number of ways. Through this emphasis, exploring the genre presents a counter-narrative to the dominant artistic responses to the British landscape, opening up many differing forms and types of land to people whose perception and vision of landscape has often been denied by more class-driven forces. Folk Horror may be intended to terrify, to unnerve and to even question a very uncomfortable area of nationalistic character, but its relationship to place is [...] a positive force in an era when the British landscape is once again at the centre of several environmental, economic and political conflicts.
Landscape writing has been enjoying a significant move toward the mainstream for several years, with titles by Robert McFarlane topping bestseller lists, lost classics like J.A. Baker's The Peregrine finding a new generation of readers (with a little help from Werner Herzog,) and the relationship between nature and memoir being reconfigured by Amy Liptrot's The Outrun and Helen McDonald's H is for Hawk.
In the shadow of this wave has been a renewed interest in Folk Horror, and writer Adam Scovell has been working to build a canon of significant works of the genre for several years on his blog, Celluloid Wicker Man. The eerie and "unseen" rural landscapes of films like The Wicker Man (pictured) and Penda's Fen, and TV series such as Children of the Stones and The Owl Service, are considered alongside contemporary offerings from Ben Wheatley and even W.G. Sebald. Prompted by Adam's article last week for Little Toller Books, we've put together a quick roundup of Folk Horror (and related) titles we like.
The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers
Blue Moose Books, 2017
This tale of forgery, mythical visions, and popular uprising in pre-industrial 18th century West Yorkshire has earned Myers a significant amount of praise in a very short time. By turns brutal and beautiful, The Gallows Pole represents an “unseen” alternative history of the North.
Be sure to also check out Ben’s excellent accompanying playlist for the Quietus.
The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher
Repeater Books, 2016
Fisher’s final collection of essays saw him explore the eeries landscapes of M.R. James’s ghostly classic Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, as well as the temporal transposition of landscapes in Alan Garner’s Red Shift and The Owl Service.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
Harper Collins, 2010
Originally published in 1960, Garner’s debut novel established him as one of the UK’s most loved children’s fantasy authors, and his popularity with younger and more mature readers endures to this day. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen opens what was to become a trilogy (with The Moon of Gomrath in 1963 and Boneland in 2012) and builds upon the history and folklore of the Cheshire countryside.
Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood, and Dan Richards
Faber & Faber, 2014
The strange landscapes of the shadowy holloways of South Dorset become a eulogy for the nature writer and environmentalist Roger Deakin, as Macfarlane retraces an earlier journey made by the pair. Accompanied this time by writer Dan Richards and artist Stanley Donwood (whose haunting illustrations feature throughout the text,) Macfarlane reveals the spectral underworld lurking amongst the pathside roots.
Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
A rare continental entry in a genre that tends to be considered quintessentially British, Kiesbye’s fragmented tale unpicks the dark secrets of childhood in the small German village of Hemmersmoor. While the location may have changed, the familiar scenes of nightmarishly bleak landscapes, bizarre graveside rituals, and a pervasive, fog-like creepiness earn Your House Is on Fire… a spot on our list. “If you tell on me, you’re dead!”
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
John Murray, 2015
Showered with praise (and awards) since its original publication in 2014 by Yorkshire’s Tartarus Press, The Loney has already come to be considered a classic of eerie English writing. A recollection of a 70s pilgrimage to a desolate stretch of coastline in the North West of England littered with gothic sigils, steeped in slow-burning cosmic dread, and all rendered with a rare restraint that make this an essential read. Hurley’s second novel, Devil’s Day, is set for a highly anticipated October release.
The Moons at Your Door by David Tibet (ed.)
Strange Attractor, 2016
Bumper anthology of weird tales compiled by Current 93 founder and notable scholar of the arcane and esoteric, David Tibet. Drawing heavily from the output of his Ghost Story Press between 1993 and 2003, The Moons at Your Door features tales from heavyweights of the genre like M.R. James and Arthur Machen, as well as poems, traditional folk songs, fairy tales, and biblical extracts.
Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange by Adam Scovell
An indispensable inquiry into the films, books, and TV series which have come to be known as Folk Horror, as well as a social and political analysis of their revival. From Children of the Stones to A Field in England, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw to True Detective, this is a comprehensive account of what is Folk Horror means (even when it sometimes inevitably evades a stable definition.)
Beneath Swooping Talons by Laura Cannell
Front & Follow, 2015
£5 (Buy from Bandcamp)
Not available from us, but this album from Norfolk’s Laura Cannell is an essential soundtrack for the above reading. Invoking weird and dramatic landscapes from East Anglia’s ancient past, Beneath Swooping Talons sees Cannell exploring medieval folk modes with overbowed fiddle and dual recorders, drawing them out to become abstract and unsettling drones.