about 'gothic'

I write gothic short stories.

It never ceases to amaze me how many eyebrows get raised in response to those five little words.  Rather, in response to the last three words.  But what I think disturbs me the most is the hidden glance of wariness that follows, like I am some sort of a freak who only “looks” normal, but that I am somehow damaged on the inside to want to write such stuff.


An easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy look in the dictionary reveals:

gothic, adj. of a medieval art style of Northern Europe.

another definition reveals this:

gothic, pertaining to or designating the style of painting, sculpture, etc., produced between the 13th and 15th centuries, esp. in northern Europe, characterized by a tendency toward realism and interest in detail.

i.e. ornate art.  Highly embellished and intricate art.

And also:

gothic, noting or pertaining to a style of literature characterized by a gloomy setting, grotesque, mysterious, or violent events, and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay: 19th-century gothic novels.

Now I think the people writing the dictionary have got it slightly wrong.  Yes, there is a  gloomy setting.  Yes, there can be a sense of degeneration and decay (think “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe).  But ‘gothic’ does not necessarily evoke grotesque or violent events.  In my opinion, Wikipedia terms it best:

Prominent features of Gothic fiction include … the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles, darkness….

The supernatural.

The supernatural is simply “beyond the known laws of nature (Merriam-Websters),” which, quite honestly, is apt at describing all the popular works of fantasy and science-fiction that are leaping off the shelves today. 

So if I said I like to write fantasy, do you think I’d get the eyebrows?

Probably not.

In my opinion, there really isn’t any barrier between the genres of ‘dark fantasy’ and ‘gothic fiction,’ save for the perception of reputation.  I have read several paranormal fantasies, many many sword & sorcery fantasy books that possess all the elements of ‘gothic’ fiction.  Big houses with hidden passages, things inexplicable (i.e. magic), love, secrets, plots by an evil madman (i.e. overlord)….  And both types of fiction challenge (and work with) stereotypes.  Gothic fiction became popular because it challenged concepts like sexuality that were repressed at the time.

Now how many fantasy books have you read that didn’t address some form of sexuality?  Or religion?  Or psychological health?  Or any of the myriad of other “taboo” concepts in culture?

It’s all there.

But what’s in a name, eh?

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