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What is Gothic Horror?

You may have heard the terms “gothic horror” tossed around in book-related circles. But have you ever wondered what the terms actually mean?

Horror itself can be a confusing genre. When most people think of horror they’re thinking of blood and guts, dismemberment, and characters like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. The type of slasher bloodbath movies that were a frequent part of sleepovers growing up.

But horror as a genre is much more broad.

Types of Horror

How many subgenres of horror would you guess there were? If you estimated somewhere in the thirties, you’re right. Popcorn Horror created this wonderful Horror Genre Chart which clearly organizes the different subgenres and sub-sub genres of horror. It has everything from Madness & Paranoia to Werewolves, to Devil & Demons & Hell, with plenty more in between.

With so many sub-genres and sub-types classified, it’s no wonder many of us are confused as to what classifies horror and what doesn’t.

Note: despite the excellent chart, Popcorn Horror appears to have left out gothic horror and/or literary horror. But I think this is because the chart classifies only movie horror, not literature.

To find out more about gothic horror in literature and find a great definition, I kept digging.

MasterClass offers six subgenres in the area of horror:

  1. Gothic

  2. Paranormal

  3. Occult

  4. Dark fantasy

  5. Survival

  6. Science fiction horror

Read the article, “What is Horror Fiction?” for examples of each of these types.

Gothic Horror: Definition

So, what is gothic horror? In literature, the MasterClass article states that it’s a genre “which focuses on death specifically”.

In this article, “A Brief History of Gothic Horror,” we get an even clearer definition:

Early novels in the gothic horror subgenre heavily feature discussions of morality, philosophy, and religion, with the evil villains most often acting as metaphors for some sort of human temptation the hero must overcome. amanda Pagan, New York Public Library

5 Essential Elements of Gothic Horror and Gothic Suspense

As a lover of gothic horror and gothic suspense, I would add the following key elements:

  1. Atmospheric–the atmosphere or surroundings in the story are rich enough to almost be a character themselves

  2. Villain–no matter if it’s a person, a spirit or a physical thing (such as a creepy, old house) the villain is key to a great gothic suspense story

  3. Isolation--a deserted mansion, a wind torn island, a remote castle in the moors

  4. Literary-like writing–descriptions that insert you into the novel are key, erasing both time and place as you’re sucked into a different reality

  5. Uncertainty–rampant in many gothic novels, uncertainty, or even gaslighting is a familiar tool, creating a sense of unease for the protagonist. (Ex: Is that really someone in the hallway of the abandoned mansion, or simply a shadow? Or was it caused by Elsa mixing her Percocet with too much wine in lieu of dinner?)

Examples of Gothic Horror in Literature

Historically speaking, there were many “greats” when it comes to gothic horror literature. Edgar Allan Poe was known for his dark, macabre fictional works and poetry. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula also fall into this category.

More modern examples of gothic horror books:

  1. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield (read my book review on Goodreads)

  2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

  3. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill

  4. Angelology, by Danille Trussoni

  5. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

  6. Stanger Diaries, by Elly Griffiths (read my book recommendation of this novel here)

What would you add to this list? Please share your gothic horror recommendations in the comments.


My latest book, Under the Mountain, is now available in paperback format. Read any of my books? Please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or any other review site. Thank you!

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