Weirdly Funny


(Funny? FUNNY?!)

Before I forget, Maurice Broaddus gave me some great answers about his forthcoming anthology, Dark Faith. It’s also the UK launch date for his first novel, from Angry Robot. So go check out the feature. Go pre-order Dark Faith. Go buy his novel. Both books look really interesting.

Now, to the main order of business: the fact that there’s funny—and I don’t mean “Hmm. That seems funny–why is that thar door to the basement open and why is there a cleaver in my forehead?”–in horror fiction, or in weird fiction if you prefer. It’s perhaps not the laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knee kind of funny. It’s more of a really dark humor that stands out in relief because one element of the story is slightly less perverse than the rest, but it’s still humor.

For example, in re-reading Ligotti, a lot of humor shines through. “The Town Manager” is a good example of this–it’s a disturbing story, but it’s also very funny in its way. Of course, there are other types of examples. Roald Dahl and Gahan Wilson can both be funny and horribly dark at the same time. Angela Carter has her moments of mischief in the midst of the gothic, and so does Tanith Lee (giant ant-eater, anyone?).

This issue of some sort of humor in horror is important in part because it provides variety of tone–either within a story or within an anthology composed of weird fiction. The key is that the humor should be hard-wired to the ‘orribleness; otherwise, there’s not the requisite depth, or the ‘orrible element comes off as cavalier. For the most part.

Anyway, we just turned in our list of the first 205,000 words of the book of weird fiction to our editor. Once we get sign-off we’ll be getting permissions. We’re also, of course, continuing on with selections for the remaining 555,000 words of fiction for the anthology. Yes, it boggled our minds, too. We just turned in a list of stories that’s 30,000 words longer than any antho we’ve done in the past…and we still have 555,000 words to go. The temptation to just include five and half weird novels and call it a night is strong in us right now. (Not really.)

Comments

  1. Ennis Drake says

    I recently read “Town Manager” for the first time, and have to admit: I lol at the end. The tedious hopelessness was overwhelmingly hilarious.

    “Purity” was a fascinating story, too, but I must also admit the ending was somewhat lost on me. Not the obviousness of the hermaphrodite, but maybe the communication of the significance? However, the notion of non-ownership, of “rented lives and ideas” is something I’ve not been able to put away; thinking on it again and again every time I write, or even consider writing.

  2. says

    I wasn’t sure about “Purity,” but it was funny to me in places. The reason being that you have evil and a kind of lesser or different evil. And the difference between those creates an interesting absurdity.

    Jeff

  3. Ennis Drake says

    Yeah, Purity was funny in places, as well. Insomuch as you see the parody of life, but the possibility of a reality in the parody, because life _is_ so absurd. But I’m beginning to regard Ligotti (ironically) much as I regard Lovecraft: I’m experiencing their fiction, and subsequently their pathos, from such a polar extreme in regard to my personal views, or ideology, that I cannot individually appreciate the stories — only the whole and its potential. If that makes sense. I make no promises.

  4. says

    I’m happy to inhabit Lovecraft and Ligotti and accept their worldview. I don’t need my fiction to reflect my worldview to enjoy it. Sometimes the opposite. Where it becomes a problem is in Lovecraft’s stories where his reactionary view of gender and race comes through. Then it harms the stories and you begin to wonder about the true life story of the character being portrayed in such broad or offensive terms, because they’ve not been given their true life. But we’re a weird bunch, human beings, and it’s hard to find a perfect person who is also a great writer. Philip K. Dick had definite issues with women, which he acknowledged, but he’s still someone who is read and who you can enjoy, because that part of him doesn’t always manifest in ways that hurt the fiction. We all try to be the best human beings we can, but at base we’re all animals. Each era has its problems, and we’d probably be horrified to learn what’s become dated in fifty years because of our own insanities. None of this is meant to exonerate, though.

    Jeff

  5. Ennis Drake says

    No, I didn’t mean that they have to reflect my worldview for me to enjoy the fiction (and I do enjoy their work); and I agree with you that we are, at best and base, only animals. I’ve planned a piece of short-fiction, titled Accidental Animals, around that very notion, which figures heavily with my opposing view of what I see as Ligotti’s statement on “life”. I was only saying, or attempting to say, that I am inhabiting their fiction in a manner incongruous with what they likely intended. Which goes back to seeing the humor, or absurdity, in their works; I do not understand them, but I can empathize with them, and create for myself a notion of their pathos. This is only human nature.

    I give to you in example Ligotti’s “The Clown Puppet”, which is so heavy-handed in its portrayal of absurdity that, if the reader is not of a mind or experience to view life in such a way, is difficult to penetrate. But, once penetrated, if one is of the mind, enjoyable. And to me, humorous.

    I also give you my view of Lovecraft’s body of work: the breadth of imagination is astounding. A writer would be hard-pressed to create such a believable painting of fictional mythology. On the same hand, you are shouldering his prejudices, which are disturbing. But, as you imply, that doesn’t stop me, or countless others, from enjoying the sheer scale of his vision.

    So, um. Yeah. Who left this modem out? Meaning, of course, I promise no sense, rhyme, or reason.

  6. James Kenyon says

    You need the light, in order to better appreciate the darkness. Humor in “Moby Dick”, whether it’s a rant about Ginger Jub, or a lone survivor floating on a sealed coffin, is vital to our understanding of how events have gone so badly wrong, we are laughing while we cry. George Saunders ‘Sea Oak’, is real comedy, in the context of some very weird events. Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan is big and dark, with characters both menacing and absurd, simultaneously ( like Swelter the cook). What horrifies and what brings forth laughter are similar, reactions to uncomfortable stimuli, our bodies demand a reaction to pain, emotional or physical, and we howl!

  7. Ennis Drake says

    I don’t _know_ what they intended. But I believe my own perception of what they intended. At least, in some small part; meaning the expression of their views based on voice: Ligotti’s view of the world as meaningless nonsense, Lovecraft’s espousing (and my perceived belief that he desired concurrence from his readers and contemporaries) of racist ideas.

    I make no solid claims; only offer my perceptions of the work and its possible subtext, and what that may or may not say about the writers themselves, and of their intent (if anything).

  8. Ennis Drake says

    I like to speculate. On intent, or implied intent; following my own perception of a work (and its creator) into the realm of inspiration. ; )

  9. says

    I’m not interrogating you. I was just curious! James–those are very good points. And I think that’s sometimes what distinguishes great writers from lesser ones.

    Jeff

  10. Ennis Drake says

    I know you weren’t! Text is just a bitch. Discussions like this are meant to be had over beer, or not at all. IMO.

  11. Ennis Drake says

    Of course, you might remember I’m not well-read. So, departures from the subject of Ligotti or Lovecraft might require more alcohol (and more grunting and nodding and divergence of attention) on my part.

  12. James Kenyon says

    Ennis is right about the beer. Too bad the Spore of The Gray Caps is closed for repairs. How about an anthology of humorous weird fiction. Saki’s ‘Esme’, Vandermeer’s ‘Dradin, in love’, Peter Straub’s ‘ Mr. Club and Mr. Cuff’, Frank Herbert’s ‘God Emperor of Dune’. Am I the only one who thought the giant sandworms were funny?, talk about possible subtext. I laughed, I cried, I ran

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Um, no. That’s absurd. Plus you’d need some Leonora Carrington at the very least.

  14. James Kenyon says

    Mervyn Peake’s ‘ Titus Alone’, has a line, that works as a conceit for the entire work, and for the human comedy in general. ” A small black dog, whose legs were too short for it’s body, tore, with a ridiculous concentration of purpose, down the middle of the long and winding road”. 555,000 words to go, Jeff. Concentrate.

  15. says

    The “I won’t read x because he is prejudiced against y” road is a very slippery one to go down. While I in no way condone the things Lovecraft is saying at all (there’s one particularly distainful description of an African American in Herbert West – Reanimator), and I tend to agree with Joshi that it wasn’t just a product of his time due to how vehement about it he was, I don’t think you can close off from reading things because you don’t agree with the author, and if you do, you have to at least be consistent about it to avoid being a hypocrite. There are some serious arguments that at times Faulkner is misogynistic, should we not read Faulkner? We know it is there, and we know it is wrong, but I don’t think enjoying the other elements of the story in anyway legitimises it as some people claim. The best answer I saw to this was something China said in an interview (if memory serves me correctly it was with yourself) when he said if he didn’t read books by people who didn’t share his worldview, he would never have read Gene Wolfe.

    Ligotti to me is Poe and Lovecraft via way of the Russian Nihilists and the French Existentialist, and when faced with the absurdity of a human existence without any meaning, we can either laugh or cry. I don’t find the humour at all comforting, because if you think about what you are laughing about most of the time in Ligotti, you realise just how much more terrifying it is.

  16. says

    Well, it’s also useful to separate out Ligotti from Lovecraft because he doesn’t share Lovecraft’s views.

    I’ve found with Ligotti, btw, that it’s a mistake to read a collection of his cover-to-cover. If I do, the stories tend to blur together. If I read a story, put the book down, come back to it later, read another, and repeat, the stories maintain their individuality.

  17. says

    I think that has something to do with where his stories come from, or at least that is the impression I get from reading the very few interviews he has done. His stories tend be more concerned with manifesting his feelings of anxiety, depression, anhedonia, dysphoria, etc. and so a similar theme tends to run throughout all his work, as opposed to more varied horror writers like Barker or Campbell.

  18. says

    No, the stories are varied. But they don’t seem that way unless you put space between them. I like Campbell but one frustration in reading him for possible inclusion in the book of weird fiction is that no one story stands out over any other. Barker is sui generis.

  19. James Kenyon says

    It is Ligotti’s Voice that lends that feeling of sameness to some of the stories, we are hearing varied tales, told by a strong narrator. When discovering a Ligotti story in an anthology, that powerful voice is unique and memorable, difficult to ignore.