Friday, May 11, 2012

What is "The Weird" anyway?

A couple weeks ago on BFYTW I talked about The Weird:

Mr "Gothic Fantasy" Jack Shear found my definition "terrible, and terribly limiting." Read all about that here

But yesterday over on Weird Fiction Review there appeared this flowchart by Stephen Graham Jones (click to make smaller):

Not that I'm one to appeal to authority or anything, but at the very least it appears I'm not alone in thinking that The Weird is more of a narrow category - and perhaps one that gets narrower all the time with the increasing categorization of everything - than a big umbrella.

Anyway, the two questions in that flowchart that I find most interesting are "Is the strange stuff here assumed?" and "Is the main character involved because of curiosity?"

I take "Is the strange stuff here assumed?" to mean "inside the fiction," because on the real-world level obviously people read this stuff on purpose specifically for the strange stuff.

Even though I obviously haven't based anything I do off of a one-day-old flowchart, this sort of thing does drive some of the ideas from Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (removing certain spells, pressing the power level downwards in general) and definitely my newer work (removing demi-humans, devoting space to historical gaming type material, using the real world as adventure setting).

(Some of the criticism of the game - "Tolkienisms don't belong! - are quite right, but one goal has always been to try to make the game usable to those who don't necessarily share whatever interest I have at any particular moment. Start broader, narrow it down in supplements and adventures.)

"Is the main character involved because of curiosity?"Funny that a frequent criticism of my adventures is that there's no strong plot hooks and I get emails from Refs telling me their players sniffed around the beginnings and then decided "Oh hell no" and walked away. I've always thought that was cool, but I'm also told I'm crazy for thinking so.

"Does this destabilize (your perception of) the world, making you feel less significant than you thought you were?" This is an odd question because I can't imagine feeling less significant in a grand scheme. Life's barely worth tolerating as it is, which is why I spend my life on what is basically nonsense instead of taking the world seriously and participating in it as if I believe in it. Because nothing that matters to me really does matter at all and the only really important question is "How much does it hurt to end?" because that end is the only certainty in life. Sure, afterwards it won't matter (sort of like "How did it feel to be born?" isn't very important now) but I won't be thinking of that when actually going through it, right?

There is a quote used in the promotion of Michel Houellebecq's H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (which is on its way to me now): "Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world."

My wife looks at the quote and then looks at me and then looks at the quote and then looks at herself. She believes the quote accurate.

(If reality is what's left after perception and emotion are stripped away, as I believe, then of course my own perception and emotion are irrelevant to reality. And reality is all that's important, and everything that makes people significant to each other is pretty much all perception and emotion, so... placing importance on such things is selfish and perhaps a bit solipsistic, which I'm fine with being since I do actually have perception and emotion and have to deal with this roller coaster until I don't anymore.)

So how can any tentacular fiction compete with reality in demonstrating the insignificance of everything?


  1. I can get behind those two criteria for moving things towards the Weird:

    *The strange stuff is not assumed in the world.
    *The strange stuff destabilizes the perception of the world.

    It's a set of criteria that can be used in both the quasi-historical settings, and more fantastic tales like The Seven Geases. Although it seems easier creating that sense of contrast when the world itself is more mundane.

  2. I'd buy those two, as well, Beedo--though I don't think the destabilization of the perception of the world need be permanent. I think the things that are too limiting are focusing on antagonists (not all weird fiction has direct antagonists--"The Willows", for instance) and bringing up tentacles (a feature of very little weird fiction.

  3. Does weird have to have tentacles? A clock that only ticks when you are looking at it is weird... no tentacles required.

  4. dude , whats with the hair flip . ..
    are you flirting ; - )

    1. Looks like I have my question for BFYTW #4.

  5. it could be just a skin condition . . .
    I have the type of body that attacks BOTH types;
    gay and crazy :-)

  6. My problem with the flow chart is that it doesn't lead you to "Are you reading Weird fiction?" but instead only tells you "Are you reading fiction related to Lovecraft's Mythos?" The chart doesn't know what to make of something like Machen's "The White People," for example. If that isn't Weird fiction, nothing is.

    Also, thanks for the link!

    1. I hope people aren't taking the "tentacles" quip too literally (and I hope he didn't mean it literally).

      Anyway, I must be the only person interested in this corner of things who is absolutely unmoved by The White People.

  7. Also, I was thinking about what happens when you run a LotFP module through that flowchart. Death Frost Doom seems to run into the straight horror category, and neither "Tower of the Stargazer," "Grinding Gear," nor "Hammers of the God" end up in Weird fiction territory by my reckoning.

    1. I'd agree about Death Frost Doom, and Grinding Gear is definitely not Weird no matter how you slice it - it's a straight up everything-explained dungeon.

      Hammers' main ideas aren't Weird but the adventure does have a cup of coffee with it via the pool and the one creature.

      The telescope in the tower is a direct conduit to the Weird, I think, and since the telescope is what makes it Tower of the Stargazer, it counts. :D