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General Discussions > Folklore and supernatural fiction

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message 1: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Some time ago, someone suggested that the role of folklore in supernatural fiction might be a worthwhile discussion topic; and a couple of our other members have also mentioned an interest in this connection in their posts. So I've been meaning to get this thread going, and I'm finally doing so! :-)

Recognizeable supernatural fiction began to be written in the Neoclassical and Romantic periods (late 1600s through early 1800s), and it certainly drew its material from the older folk traditions of supernatural phenomena, at a time when literal belief in those traditions was beginning to be challenged among educated people. The synchrony probably is no accident. This was also the era that saw the first serious attempts, by people like the Brothers Grimm in Germany and the Perraults in France, to seriously study and write down folklore from original sources. (This was partly motivated by the feeling that it was endangered by changes in society and might be lost -- we look back on those centuries as a buccolic and uncomplicated time, but those who lived then were very conscious of the rise, and sometimes the ravages, of modernity, under the Commercial and early Industrial Revolutions.)

Washington Irving was a serious student of American and European folklore (and sometimes transported the latter to an American setting in his stories), and he definitely used it in his supernatural stories, as well as psuedo-supernatural works like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Other later genre writers who come to mind as particularly prone to using folkloric elements include Stephen Vincent Benet and Manly Wade Wellman.

A good reference resource for this subject is the Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature (ABC- Clio, 1998), edited by Mary Ellen Brown and Bruce A. Rosenberg. Its scope goes beyond the supernatural genre by itself; and of course, though it's a thick book, it barely scratches the surface of this topic. But it's a starting point! :-)

message 2: by Guido (new)

Guido Henkel (guidohenkel) | 15 comments Interesting topic. Quite evidently, mythology - which can largely be considered folklore, I assume - is a huge driving factor of the whole supernatural genre. The lines between folklore and mythology blur easily, and, depending how freely one is willing to interpret stories and their meanings, a seed of folkore or mythology can be found in countless supernatural stories in my opinion.

message 3: by Danielle The Book Huntress *Pluto is a Planet!* (last edited Feb 19, 2010 06:37AM) (new)

 Danielle The Book Huntress *Pluto is a Planet!* (gatadelafuente) | 295 comments I love folklore and mythology. I agree with Guido that they blur together and are very much the seed material for most supernatural and paranormal fiction. My appreciation for them drives my reading of both paranormal romance and supernatural fiction. I find that I am most impressed with stories that made good use of folklore and mythology, or those written by authors who endeavor to create their own myths and folk legends for their stories. Manly Wade Wellman writes brilliant stories that incorporate Southern US folklore and legends. I will have to check out Stephen Vincent Benet. I'm sure I read something by him. Which stories can you recommend by Benet?

message 4: by Werner (last edited Feb 19, 2010 07:20AM) (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Danielle, probably his best known supernatural story is "The Devil and Daniel Webster;" but the less well known "O'Halloran's Luck" is equally good. I can recommend both of them! (He also wrote the excellent and often anthologized "By the Waters of Babylon," but that's post-apocalyptic science fiction.)

 Danielle The Book Huntress *Pluto is a Planet!* (gatadelafuente) | 295 comments (Slapping forehead). Silly me. I happen to love "The Devil and Daniel Webster." I totally forgot that he wrote it. I'll see if I can find the two other stories you recommended. Thanks, Werner.

message 6: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Some classics:

"The Bottle Imp" by Robert Louis Stevenson
"The Bottle Imp" by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque
"The Other Side: A Breton Legend" by Count Stenbock
"The Forest Warden" by E.T.A. Hoffmann
"The Mines Of Falun" by E.T.A. Hoffmann
The Hollow Of The Three Hills by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"These Doth The Lord Hate" by Manly Wade Wellman

for mythology

"The Bridge Builders" by Rudyard Kipling

anything by Lafcadio Hearn for Japanese mythology

message 7: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Shawn, is "The Other Side: A Breton Legend" a werewolf story, written in the 19th century? If it is, I'm thinking it might be one I read in the early 90s, but can't recall the name of.

message 8: by Mike (new)

Mike (steakbone) Andrew Lang's collections need to be mentioned. A seemingly endless source of world folklore in English.

Blue Fairy Book (1889)
Red Fairy Book (1890)
Green Fairy Book (1892)
Yellow Fairy Book (1894)
Pink Fairy Book (1897)
Grey Fairy Book (1900)
Violet Fairy Book (1901)
Crimson Fairy Book (1903)
Brown Fairy Book (1904)
Orange Fairy Book (1906)
Olive Fairy Book (1907)
Lilac Fairy Book (1910)

message 9: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) If you're interested in Lang's books (I plan to look them over - Thanks, Steakbone!) they're available on Project Gutenberg for free:

message 10: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Jim, thanks for that link! As a child, I know I read at least one of Lang's books, but I've never been able to list it on my Goodreads shelf because I can't recall which one(s). I don't like to read large blocs of text electronically, but I might try to browse these online copies to see if I can recognize any of the stories. :-)

message 11: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Werner wrote: "Shawn, is "The Other Side: A Breton Legend" a werewolf story, written in the 19th century? If it is, I'm thinking it might be one I read in the early 90s, but can't recall the name of."

Yes, that's the one. Stenbock was a crazy decadent. The story appeared in 2 collections I have:


message 12: by Werner (last edited Mar 15, 2010 03:13PM) (new)

Werner | 1883 comments A couple more outstanding works of supernatural fiction that employ actual folklore motifs are "We Print the Truth" by Anthony Boucher (written during World War II), and Fred Saberhagen's Dancing Bears (Tor, 1996). One of Boucher's characters is the itinerant elven smith Weyland or Wieland (the spelling varies in different strands of the folklore) who wanders the world working incognito for human employers, and who can grant a wish to employers who please him. (The same figure, portrayed somewhat differently, appears much later in a scene in Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale; that novel is probably technically in the fantasy genre, but it's a book that would have wide appeal to supernatural fiction fans. It makes use of a wide range of fairy-related folklore, including motifs like the Wild Hunt, the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts, etc.) Saberhagen taps into the Russian belief in werebears, shape- shifters whose ability is both hereditary and (like the werewolf curse in many forms of the legend) transmissible by biting or scratching.

Thanks, Shawn; I'd thought the Stenbok story sounded familiar! I'd read it in A Lycanthropy Reader.

message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) "We Print The Truth" was an excellent story! It was in The Compleat Werewolf, which I read a month or so ago. An awesome collection of stories.

The Golden Bough by James George Frazer was apparently the inspiration for a lot of Roger Zelazny's works. I'd like to read through it some day. Has anyone else read it?

message 14: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments I have a condensed version (the unedited text is huge) that I dipped into when I was an Anthropology major. It's one of those ur-texts - you can pretty much open to any page and start reading.

message 15: by Robert (last edited Mar 15, 2010 04:25PM) (new)

Robert Dunbar | 28 comments I love that book. It's a goldmine of info.

[[book:A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture|363477]

message 17: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments I've read the abridged edition of The Golden Bough, too, back in 1978 or 79. A. Ernest Crawley's The Mystic Rose is a comparable work from the same era, and with a similar approach. Both books are quite fascinating for their factual material, even if you don't agree with all of the authors' interpretive frameworks.

message 18: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments One little-known folk custom that appears occasionally in supernatural fiction is the ancient Celtic practice of "sin-eating," where a meal was laid out on and around the body of a recently deceased person, whose guilt for sin was thought to somehow be transmitted to the food. A living person (usually a professional "sin-eater"), by eating the food, would take on the guilt and free the departed for a happy afterlife. The custom is probably pre-Christian, since in Christian theology guilt for sin is remitted through faith in Christ; but it survived until comparatively recent times in parts of the British Isles and the coves and hamlets of mainly Celtic-settled Appalachia. (Probably it had been reinterpreted, in medieval times, to remove the temporary punishments of Purgatory for the redeemed.)

Despite my long residence in Appalachian Virginia, I've never observed the practice in real life. But I'd been introduced to it years before, in a still well-remembered episode of Rod Serling's old TV series Night Gallery. More recently, I encountered it again in one of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories, "Trill Coster's Burden." (The practice is also central to Francine Rivers' novel The Last Sin-Eater, set in 19th-century Appalachia, but her approach is strictly by way of historical, not supernatural, fiction.)

message 19: by Shawn (last edited Mar 31, 2010 05:05PM) (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Yes, that episode of NIGHT GALLERY, "Sins of the Father" is excellent. It starred Richard Thomas (John-Boy Walton himself) and was adapted from a story by Christianna Brand, more famous for detective and kids books, but I think she did some stories about Appalachia folklore. The ending of the story is powerful stuff (and the episode also has Barbara Steele, she of BLACK SUNDAY fame and beauty!)

message 20: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Also, as noted in another thread, Arthur Machen's "The White People" has a strange, archaic folklore feel to it - a story about a young girl being indoctrinated into some kind of fantastic, paganistic cult with all kinds of strange rites, figures, sympathetic magic and vast, bizarre landscapes.

message 21: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Shawn, thanks for the information, and links! (I see that the recent movie Nanny McPhee was also evidently based on a Christianna Brand book by the same name.) It's nice to run into a fellow Night Gallery fan who remembers "Sins of the Father" -- which I had no idea was based on a story; I'll have to keep an eye out for the latter, and read it if I can.

message 22: by Steve (new)

Steve Great thread. My wife is from Appalachia, but I've never heard of "sin eating." (I'll have to ask her about it.) Elizabeth Massie wrote a book called "Sineater." But I've not read it.

message 23: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Werner wrote: It's nice to run into a fellow Night Gallery fan who remembers "Sins of the Father" -- which I had no idea was based on a story; I'll have to keep an eye out for the latter, and read it if I can."

Oh yeah, NIGHT GALLERY was a lot of fun (great, great, creepy theme music by Gil Melle) and there are some great episodes (The versions of Lovecraft's "Pickman's Models" and "Cold Air" are both noteworthy because they add love interests to the stories, but it actually makes the adaptations more interesting from a story point-of-view, and I'm a person that hates when they meddle too much in adapting stories). It's funny, I read a lot of horror/supernatural anthologies, the older the better, and a few years ago I swear I read one that had to have been the main inspiration when they were looking for stories to round out NIGHT GALLERY, as it had a lot of the stories they later adapted. Wish I could remember the name.

message 24: by Steve (last edited Apr 02, 2010 03:08AM) (new)

Steve Shawn, I'd love to see which old anthologies you're talking about. I have old one I've held onto since high school, called Masters of Horror (1968), edited by Alden Norton. There are some real gems in that one.

message 25: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Shawn, I heartily agree about the Night Gallery adaptations you mentioned! Another episode they did, "Professor Peabody's Last Lecture," wasn't a direct adaptation of Lovecraft, but was a tongue-in-cheek homage to his work. At the time, I hadn't read enough to recognize the allusions, but I liked it even then; and if you fully know the background, from a dark humor standpoint, it's a hoot. :-)

I can't help you in identifying the anthology you read, but I can commiserate with you; I hate it when I know I read something, but can't recall the title or author/editor information to track it down. Back in 1989 or 90, I read a newly-published hardcover horror anthology with a number of classic stories, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," M. R. James' "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," Le Fanu's "Madame Crowl," and Lovecraft's "The Statement of Randolph Carter," but I can't remember the bibliographic information for it to save my life! Maybe some kind bibliophile in this group will be able to help one or both of us?

message 26: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Steve, thanks for the tip! I've just added Masters of Horror to our group's "read" shelf.

message 27: by John (new)

John Karr (karr) | 64 comments Night Gallery scared the crap out of me as a kid. Particularly Green Fingers.

message 28: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Steve wrote: "Shawn, I'd love to see which old anthologies you're talking about. I have old one I've held onto since high school, called Masters of Horror (1968), edited by Alden Norton. There are some real gems..."

Well, I've been buying them most of my life, since getting some wonderful Scholastic Scope ones from the bookmobile when I was a kid in the 1970's. I have all the YEAR'S BEST HORROR'S (edited mostly by Karl Edward Wagner), a bunch of Joan Kahn edited ones (I read those in junior high - SOME THINGS DARK AND DANGEROUS, SOME THINGS FIERCE AND FATAL, etc), all 3 of the TALES OF UNEASE anthologies from England (which have some bang-up stuff I've never seen elsewhere) and just oodles and oodles more. I just bought $50 worth of anthologies from a treasure trove of used books I found in Northern Maryland (a recent weekend foray into Northern Virginia used bookstores turned up pratically zilch, however, except for a nice cheap copy of THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GHOST STORIES). I have so many that I have to carry around a list of what I have so I don't duplicate (am I missing SHADOWS 5 or 3?) and also have to check indicia as sometimes things get republished under new names. And I usually have to check what are in some of the "classic" (read: public domain) anthologies because there's good chance I have copies of every story in it many times over! And yet I will buy an anthology of classic stuff if it has one story I've never heard of. Anthologies started getting very poor around the early/mid-90's but even with that, there are some gems out there. I just love short fiction and the older stuff is of higher quality (although the most interesting periods, in terms of being unknown, are the 50's-70's for me, when no one was paying much attention to short horror and supernatural fiction).

If I finally get easy access to all my books (packed in basements and halfway across the country ) I will set up a shelf for nothing but my horror anthologies and you can browse to your heart's content!

message 29: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments John wrote: "Night Gallery scared the crap out of me as a kid. Particularly Green Fingers."

Yeah! "Green Fingers" is a goood one ("what grows from little old ladies' fingers?) that original story was by R.C. Cooke and I remember it as being almost exactly the same as the episode.

Werner, yes, "Prof. Peabody" is a hoot - a great NIGHT GALLERY "blackout" bit (which were short comedy horror pieces they would do. I taped it on my little shoebox recorder and used to listen to it a lot (the Lovecraft character as a stuttering, blubbering nebbish may not have been true to life, but it was funny!).

As for keeping track of things, I have a scrupulously maintained excel file I started back in 2000 when I finished a crappy story and realized I'd read it before - so I started keeping track of what stories I read and what I thought (I blush to admit it, but I've so far clocked in close to 4,500 stories - and that was started when I was in my early 30's).

But all this is far afield of "folklore in horror"...

message 30: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Well, true, Shawn, we're way off topic --but I've never been one to enforce topical adherence very closely. :-) If you ever do set up a shelf for your horror anthologies, post us a heads-up; I'd like to browse it, too. Maybe I'll identify that forgotten collection I mentioned above!

message 31: by Marsha (new)

Marsha (earthmarsha) | 14 comments Shawn wrote: "Yes, that episode of NIGHT GALLERY, "Sins of the Father" is excellent. It starred Richard Thomas (John-Boy Walton himself) and was adapted from a story by Christianna Brand, more fa..."

Oh. My. God. I had nightmares for years about the sin eater. I would literally wake up screaming, thinking the sin eater was in my room. But I never had the dream again once I was married. Guess having someone else in the room banished the nightmare.

I've never heard about sin eaters in America other than that, but I am pretty sure I have read about them in Britain. No idea where, though.

message 32: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments For some reason, Wales comes to mind

message 33: by Marsha (new)

Marsha (earthmarsha) | 14 comments That does sound right.

message 34: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments The practice was Celtic, so it would be found in the parts of the British Isles that remained Celtic after the Saxon conquest --Wales would be one.

 Danielle The Book Huntress *Pluto is a Planet!* (gatadelafuente) | 295 comments Shawn wrote: "Steve wrote: "Shawn, I'd love to see which old anthologies you're talking about. I have old one I've held onto since high school, called Masters of Horror (1968), edited by Alden Norton. There are ..."

Shawn, I'm the same way about classic horror anthologies. I have a low ability to resist buying then when I see them at the ubs. Now I'm downloading free and cheap ones onto my Kindle. When will the madness end?

message 36: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Encounters with the Invisible World: Being Ten Tales of Ghosts, Witches, & the Devil Himself in New England, by Marilynne K. Roach, is a book of short fiction that draws a great deal on the folklore of New England. If anyone's interested, my review is here: .

message 37: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments Excellent, Werner!

message 38: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Thanks, Shawn!

message 39: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 321 comments I have two old paperback by Ronald Curran that collect a lot of New England Witch/weird folklore:

Witches,Wraiths & Warlocks


Weird Gathering

message 40: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Another nonfiction book with a lot of good information on New England folklore is Olde New England's Strange Superstitions. Much of this lore is similar to folk beliefs in other parts of the country, being derived from a common source in British folklore.

message 41: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Near the beginning of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's The Lady in the Loch, set in early 19th-century Scotland, she has a fascinating depiction of the Scots folk belief (which may be shared by other Celtic peoples) that the spirit of a murder victim, if properly invoked during the wake, at midnight on the day of the killing, would animate the dead body and speak through it to name his/her killer. (In the novel, this actually happens!) This is my first exposure to the belief, in fiction or nonfiction.

message 42: by Lee (last edited Sep 17, 2013 12:00PM) (new)

Lee Cushing | 20 comments All the creatures that appear in my books were taken from the folklore that led to the creation of the modern vampire. (Baobban Sith, Upierczi, Strigoi, Nelapsi and so on.)

message 43: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth Zguta (zguta) New England is always a great source for folklore - between the witches & the Indians. Alan Leverone recently wrote the book "Paskagankee" about an Indian spirit that haunts & creates horror in a small Maine town - I recommend it to anyone who likes a good scare. A great source for old folklore of New England is "Tales of New England Past" edited by Frank Oppel published back in the 80's

Terry (Ter05 TwiMoms/ MundieMoms) (ter05) | 97 comments One of my very favorite authors of all, Juliet Marillier writes books that seem like they would fit into this category. They are definitely not horror but mostly set back in the 4 - 6th centuries and bring to life the superstitions and beliefs held back then of the supernatural "old ones" and the fey....and magic. I love everything she has written. Most are set in Ireland/Britain but also she has two books about the Vikings and several others. I own everything she has written and have read them all more than once - and have some of the audios. A master story-teller from Australia.

message 45: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Terry, I'd heard of Marillier, but didn't know she was Australian! That's interesting to me, since I have an Aussie connection, with a daughter and son-in-law who live in Queensland (where he was born and raised).

Terry (Ter05 TwiMoms/ MundieMoms) (ter05) | 97 comments She is amazing. My favorite of her books are the Bridei Chronicles but I think most fans like the Sevenwaters Series best. She has a couple of stand alones and also a couple of book and sequel pairs. I guess my favorite of all of her books is the second one in the Sevenwaters series, Son of the Shadows. They are full of Druids and ancient lore along with incredible characters.

message 47: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth Zguta (zguta) Terry thanks for the mention, I will definitely check out her stories.

Terry (Ter05 TwiMoms/ MundieMoms) (ter05) | 97 comments I should add that many of Marillier's books are very loosely based on fairy tales or old legends - sometimes I recognize the inspiration and sometimes not.

message 49: by C. (last edited Oct 30, 2013 10:22AM) (new)

C. | 51 comments I really love books and movies about other cultures,and just discovered this book this morning and I think it sounds fascinating.
The Ghost Bride: A Novel by Yangsze Choo 368 pgs

message 50: by Werner (new)

Werner | 1883 comments Here's the link to the Goodreads record for the book Christine just mentioned: The Ghost Bride. Its premise is very definitely rooted in actual traditional Chinese folk beliefs.

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