Thursday, February 28, 2013

SHADOWS EDGE & Musings on the Numinous

My stalwart friend, renowned strange tales author Simon Strantzas, helmed this fabulous-looking anthology, Shadows Edge. The book is now available for pre-order from Gary Fry's excellent Gray Friar Press.The fact that it includes my story "Tinder Row" really is a mere adjunct as far as I'm concerned. Shadows Edge is an important book to me. Not only because it includes some of today's finest authors of supernatural fiction, but because the entire premise behind Simon's book is absolutely cardinal to my life and work.

The publisher describes this anthology as containing "fifteen tales of numinous horror." I don't believe this is simply phrase-making. As you can see by the description of me on the header of this very website, I regard numinous horror as an authentic mode of literary expression. And for this writer, it is the only mode of expression. I do not make this statement rashly. It is born out of several years of refinement and reflection.

Stretching back to my earliest childhood memories, I was granted exposure to a rarefied emotional, perhaps even spiritual, state. For a long time this state remained nameless to me. "Fear" was a decent approximation, "eerie" or "uncanny" were better still, but rather than attempting to dissect this experience I sought it where I could.

For many years the main wellsprings of this feeling were my dreams and the genre of classic supernatural horror fiction and films. This was in the early 1980s, when the genre was sinking into a mire of clotting gore. While I took in and was occasionally entertained by some of those boiler room bloodfests, they have long since sluiced through my memory. It was tales of ghosts and the unworldly that opened that door in the back of my mind. Stories of haunted places and haunted people were my initiations into a larger and more shadowy world.

As I matured, my interests evolved into more direct methods of experiencing deeper realities: philosophy, occultism, anthropology, etc. Through these explorations I learned that the tiny subset of literature known as the "weird tale" served as an artistic vehicle for an aspect of life that is as ancient as the woods that surround us. Theologian Rudolf Otto coined the term "numinous." Based on the Latin word "numen" ("divine power"), Otto described his neologism as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self."

And there it was. Otherness, being haunted by something beyond the reach of the rational mind and the five sensory organs. Something non-rational but powerful, rarefied. The fact that art can evoke such a sensation, even if one chooses to partake of this sensation as just entertainment, is astonishing to me. And it is my goal, my creative drive, my magnum opus.

I would never claim that every one of my tales has evoked this sense of the awesome or the ineffable. No, many of my earliest stories were instances of a young writer simply trying to figure how to to do something with prose. I had to walk before I could run. For many years I read widely in the horror genre, but that has changed drastically over the last few years. The binging has passed. Today my life and my work are very deeply focused. I have whittled my library of horror fiction down to almost nothing beyond the works of those past visionaries (Poe, Machen, of course Blackwood (my primary fiction author), HPL, etc.) and the works of my contemporaries who understand and strive for similar effects. Contemporaries like those gathered in Shadows Edge.Deeper horror. Horror that strives for something beyond inventorying the woes of life or detailing just how sadistic human beings can be. I wish to create earthy, spooky tales, ones that evoke the genius loci of that rare borderland where author, image, and reader meet.

As my focus sharpens, my creative fire burns brighter. All I had ever wanted to achieve in this field was to fashion a body of work that evoked that rarefied feeling I'd always searched after myself, a set of fictives that might stand alongside those past masterpieces of numinous horror. Knowing that many eminent critics, devoted readers and fellow writers feel that I have indeed accomplished this is tremendously gratifying, even humbling.

The work continues. The eidolon is nearer to me and so I labour to make the prose that much smoother, that much richer, that much more precise. May my future works serve as an apotheosis for the souls of both writer and reader. May our worlds be eldritch ones, worlds of a strange and terrible beauty. May we all feel the edging of liminal shadows...