Quite enjoyed Cherie Priest’s take on the movie LABYRINTH, which was an important experience in my own adolescent female development (right up there with an angsty Michael Hutchence straddling a chair and singing ‘I Need You Tonight’ directly into the camera):
And caught in the middle of this is the poor goblin king. He’s right at the end, you know – when he tells her about all the things he’s done for her, and he accuses her of being ungrateful. He’s only in her life because she asked him to be. He’s been charmed by her, and he’s tried to thwart her progress in order to keep her — to seduce her, since after all, he’s serving the archetypal role of suitor/husband in this story. When she rejects him and opts to return home to her role as virgin mother in her father’s house, she makes herself a martyr — denying herself the transitional adult role that she has inadvertantly skipped. Thank you very much, she will not dress up in pretty things and take the role of the goblin queen, nor shall she stick around in the fantastic city and be David Bowie’s sex kitten for eternity.
Clearly, she is deranged – but that’s not the point…
This morning I came across the term ‘women’s horror’ for the very first time, referring to the explosion of paranormal romance titles (what my editor calls ‘post-Buffy fiction’). The term bemused me and, uh, made me seriously roll my eyes. I don’t think anyone — including the readers who devour these titles — considers these books ‘horror’, and when they find themselves confronted with a story that does contain scenes of genuine horror they’re just as liable to be put off, put the book down, rather than continue.
So: ‘Women’s horror’? What the hell? (What is ‘men’s horror’? Zombies and man-eating worms?) Horror does seem to be something of a guy’s club, a guy’s network. Which never turned me (or other women) away from reading it, or wanting to write it, to the extent that I feel I actually do engage in it — and I wonder if my resistance to being called a ‘horror writer’, NOT out of any shame of the genre but just the sense that I truly don’t belong there, belong much more to the realm of dark fantasy, urban fantasy — is somehow connected to my own gender, which can’t help but bring in a whole tangle of baggage and life influences and whatnot that makes what I do a lot different from what, say, Briane Keene does (he of the manly, manly horror!), and which indeed gives me a touch of the feminine, the romantic, and thus the less serious (because man-eating worms* are so profound). ‘Women’s horror’ can only be a derogatory term, especially since, as already noted, the horror involved in these books (some of which, as with any genre, are much, much better than others) is pretty damn minimal — and also since I suspect that female horror writers of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s literary calibre are somehow exempt, are in some way ‘real’ horror. This genre’s origin seems steeped in other places — romance, erotica, chick lit, fantasy, themselves not exactly the most highly-respected of the genres — washed through with endless episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But horror? Actual horror? Not so much. So call it what it is — and what it isn’t.
*I have heard that THE CONQUERER WORMS is quite good, and I’ll pick it up next time I’m in the bookstore.