Book Chapter

The Weird Tale



Jones T (2018) The Weird Tale. In: Delaney P & Hunter A (eds.) The Edinburgh Companion to the Short Story in English. Edinburgh Companions to Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 160-174.

First paragraph: To offer a history or even a definition of the weird tale risks unweirding it, potentially placing an unearthly and sometimes wide-eyed literature too squarely in the world. The weird, perhaps more than most categories, exists between periods, nations and movements, while regularly narrating events that break with the particular circumstances of history. The weird tale begins somewhere in the world, but often departs, or glimpses a departure, from it. That departure is also visible in the ongoing reception of the weird. Shaped by the practices of magazine publication and anthologisation, readers have been encouraged to take the weird tale out of historical context. Readers who have no interest in American literature in the twenties and thirties more generally will nevertheless happily devour the works of H.P. Lovecraft without needing to connect them to the American twenties and thirties. This unworldly placelessness is one of the distinguishing features of the weird. Mark Fisher suggests the weird and the eerie (a term Fisher associates with, and distinguishes from, the weird) are preoccupied ‘with the… strange – not the horrific. The allure that the weird and the eerie possess is not captured by the idea that we “enjoy what scares us”. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.’ Perception, cognition and experience exist within history; the weird potentially offers a glimpse of something outside. In doing this, it often becomes preoccupied with mysterious or unauthorised forms of knowing and knowledge. Intuition becomes at least as important as ratiocination, and occult tomes hold the weight of accepted philosophies. The weird can be difficult to make sense of, suggesting both a recognisable human feeling and a literature of illegible and inhuman circumstance.

Weird; Weird Tales; Edgar Allan Poe; HP Lovecraft; Caitlin R Kiernan; Shirley Jackson; Janet Frame; Isak Dinesen; Jorge Luis Borges; Janet Frame; Clive Barker; John Collier; Ray Bradbury; postcolonial; short story; fiction; genre; Transatlantic; publishing;

Title of seriesEdinburgh Companions to Literature
Publication date31/12/2018
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Publisher URL…-english-hb.html
Place of publicationEdinburgh

People (1)


Dr Timothy Jones

Dr Timothy Jones

Lecturer in Gothic Studies, English Studies