Weird Fiction and the Great War Fire Bath

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The passing of the armistice agreement that ended the First World War should not go unnoticed by folks today, but especially those who enjoy weird fiction, classic and contemporary. The horrors and glories that sprang from Europe's bygone conflagration left a profound mark on weird scribes now acknowledged as masters. While it didn't consume their output, wartime impressions are easily found in stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, and many others. One need only look at stories like Lovecraft's "The Temple," or Machen's "The Bowmen," to uncover specimens directly based on WWI.

The conflict did more than fire the fears and awesome imaginations of early twentieth century horror writers. A tiny handful were taken into the blackness, unable to escape the grim statistics hanging over several generations alive during 1914-1918. Britain's strangest able bodied authors followed a drum beat that led them into some very hot and very modern steel jaws. Lord Dunsany suffered a serious combat injury in 1916. Worse, William Hope Hodgson lost his life at Ypres during the war's last year. On the other side, Hanns Heinz Ewers directly participated in the conflict, placing his intellectual faculties in the Kaiser's service as a spy and propagandist.

The war had titanic consequences for weird fiction and the world, probably more than can be realized by today's scholars, who are increasingly segregated from the trenches and gas clouds by time's veil. The breakdown of older aesthetic models that occurred in the conflict's wake opened a trajectory for this era's supernatural literature. Thomas Ligotti, Robert Aickman, D.F. Lewis, and other ultra-modern innovators would not have emerged without studying the direction Western literature stomped off in after the dust settled. Weird fiction, like most literary legacies, is today a bastard child of the Great War, with participants (present company included) who happily gnaw on the dark, psychic fruits sewn by a real world bloodbath.

-Grim Blogger

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