June 18th, 2011


Mania's Top 20 Greatest Horror Writers of All Time

Over at Mania.com, Tim Janson has put together a list of the Top 20 Greatest Horror Writers of All Time that is already somewhat controversial. Usually, lists are fun, and half that fun comes with the quibbles one may have with the selections. Here, I have a few minor quibbles with placement--for instance, I would rank Peter Straub much higher, place Poe over Lovecraft, and probably jettison Richard Laymon and Dean Koontz from the list entirely--and of course one major, major quibble.

The source of the controversy shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, considering how often we see it. That's right, everyone say it with me:

There isn't a single female author on the list.

No Mary Shelley, who is responsible for one of the greatest and most lasting horror novels of all time. No Shirley Jackson, whose macabre and supernatural fiction is so highly regarded it's taught in classes alongside Poe's. No Daphne Du Maurier, who reintroduced Gothic literature to a modern audience, and whose story "The Birds" became the template for every environmental horror story since, not to mention every horror story where people are trapped in a cabin while something terrible tries to get in. No Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose story "The Yellow Wallpaper" is considered, quite rightly, the mother of modern psychological horror.

There are no fewer luminaries to choose from in the modern field, either. Where are Tananarive Due, Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Carter, Sarah Langan, Poppy Z. Brite? If you ask me, they're all worthy of inclusion, and in my opinion are better and far more imaginative writers than some of those who did make the list.

Sure, lists are subjective, and it's always possible Janson isn't as well read as he thinks, but to leave out so many great horror writers, all of whom happen to be women, strikes me as an institutional issue more than personal one of Janson's. There has long been a struggle for acceptance by female horror writers. Many are dismissed, wrongly, as paranormal romance writers (just ask bestselling author Kim Harrison why her dark, violent, and monster-filled novels aren't read by most traditional horror fans) or written off as too academic or intellectual or just plain old "not horror enough" (sorry, Oates and Carter, I guess you don't count).

And the justification is always the same, the finger pointed at the female authors themselves for the reasons they're left out, rather than an inquisitive eye turned inward as to why this keeps happening. If we're interested in stopping this nonsense and honoring the talented female horror authors among us--and yes, I am very interested in doing that--one of the first places to start is in top 20 lists like this. They're more influential than you might think, because they act as recommended reading guides for a lot of readers new to the genre, and because ultimately these lists take other, even more influential forms: namely the tables of contents of best-of anthologies. And then the same old controversies and arguments start all over, and we're right back here again.