Thursday, August 21, 2014

Humorous Horror?

Innsmouth Free Press ( recently blogged about a comic called ARCANE SECRETS, which parodies the Cthulhu Mythos. The blogger discussed humorous Lovecraftian fiction in general and asked whether it is possible to write funny Mythos fiction that isn't parody. Which raises the larger question: Can humorous horror exist at all? Many critics maintain that it can't, because the two emotions inherent in those genres are incompatible.

The Horror Writers Association seems to think otherwise, because they've published three volumes of BLOOD LITE anthologies filled with stories meant to combine humor and horror. I'm not sure they demonstrate the possibility of crossing the two, though. Parodies, funny TV series such as THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE MUNSTERS, and movies such as LOVE AT FIRST BITE and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, in my opinion, don't qualify as horror. They use horror tropes in the service of humor. Likewise, paranormal romances use traditional horror tropes (e.g., vampires, werewolves) in a context of romance; they don't fit on the horror shelves. I tend to think the emotions of fear and humor are in fact too incompatible for a reader to react with both to the same scene at the same moment. They can alternate—you can have a scary story with moments of comic relief, like the comic relief in a Shakespeare tragedy—but not coexist simultaneously. Can anyone come up with a counter-example? A piece of fiction that chills the blood and provokes laughs at the same instant?

Considering the question from a different angle, it's also true that there's often a thin boundary between the two modes, requiring only a tiny shift in perspective to cross. GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and LOST are funny and terrifying versions of the same story. In the world of BEWITCHED, Darren's "hilarious" magical ordeals (frequent, unpredictable transformations, even being temporarily annihilated by his father-in-law), with a change in the tone and atmosphere of the narrative, could easily become surrealistic horror. Genre expectations make the difference. Framing a story as comedy assures the audience that no permanent harm can befall the characters, allowing us to laugh at events that would otherwise scare us.

I've written a couple of short Lovecraftian erotic romances intended to be funny, "Tentacles of Love" and its sequel, "Weird Wedding Guest." Despite the use of Cthulhu Mythos tropes in these stories, I don't classify them as horror. They can be found here:

Ellora's Cave

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. rowena cherry9:19 AM EDT

    JA Konrath specializes in humorous horror.

  2. So does Jeff Strand. I've read only one of his novels. It was funny, but as with the other examples I mentioned, I don't remember thinking it was scary. The humor distances the reader from the immersion in the character's plight that produces fear. I'm aware of Konrath, but I haven't read his work.

  3. Lots of urban fantasy uses a snarky or funny viewpoint character who face horrific threats.

    Darynda Jones' "Grim Reaper" series is one of the lightest although subjects include child abuse, rape, and the coming Apocalypse. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't.

    Heck, even the "Dresden Files" at its darkest has Harry's smart mouth.