Goodreads Folk Horror Revival Group as "a subgenre of horror fiction, but its roots go back at least into the 19th century. The horrific element in a folk horror story traditionally arises from a source associated with European pagan folk traditions." Think of the tropes and settings of either the original 1973 The Wicker Man or 2018's Hereditary movies (among numerous others), and you are on the right--or very wrong--track.
As with most literary genres, there is quite a bit of room for interpretation when it comes to considering what exactly meets the necessary folk nature of a text thought to meet the criteria. For example, a number of popular American folk horror reads reference the local folk lore of familiar spooky states such as Louisiana or Maine, drawing on the regional rather than the European. For my first venture into the genre, however, I went native and read Great British Horror 1: Green and Pleasant Land, a collection of modern short stories published in 2016 by Black Shuck Books and edited by Steve J. Shaw. As it announces on the back cover, the collection features "eleven previously unpublished stories of small town, rural and folk horror."
In addition to being an excellent primer for the genre, Green and Pleasant Land offers some downright creepy reading, perfect for autumnal evenings. While I had not read any of the authors' previously, I was fascinated by their combined ability to draw me into their distinctive mythologies which remained grounded in a very discernable modern, real world context. Two personal favorites include:
- "The Castellmarch Man" by Ray Cluley. With nods to modern elements of geo-caching and stay-cation culture this standout introduces the reader to a couple, Charlie and Lyndsey, who learn "getting romantic" in unfamiliar stables might have unintended consequences. Throughout the story, Cluley intermingles touristy information about British landscape and lore which offers possible backstory to the journey our characters are on, as well as the origin of their antagonist. I've returned to this story twice and it's eerie tone, complex characters and the ancient dread in builds to still resonate. An excellent mix of the modern and archaic and therefore a strong entry in British folk horror.
- "Strange As Angels" by Laura Mauro. "It's a delicate little mannequin, tiny limbs curled and foetal, skin bloodless and rice paper thin." (54) And so begins the story of a broken couple who crash into a creature they refer to as an angel. As their relationship crumbles, Frankie grows closer to the creature they've adopted, while Jimmie begins to see it the angel as a competitor for his affection. While the initial encounter with the angel takes place in a natural setting ("dark and foreboding woods"), the story quickly moves to the modern confines of Frankie's apartment. A fascinating look at a fractured relationship that decays as quickly as the "angel" grows.