Fear of the unknown fuels Supernatural issue

HP Lovecraft, one of the early-twentieth-century masters of supernatural literature, wrote that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” From Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King, the best of eerie storytelling draws upon this fundamental idea. Good literary horror mines strange and disturbing phenomena without trying to explain it away; it conjures unnerving scenarios, whether paranormal or psychological, without relying on overt shock tactics of blood and gore.

With this in mind, we gathered the spookiest and most darkly delightful tales and poetry we could find for Shooter’s Supernatural issue. Bodily transformations – some welcome, some less so – proved a popular theme, also reflected in cover artist James D Mabe’s take on the Daphne myth. Sophie Panzer’s “The Tribute” opens the issue with a magic mirror that, like the mirror in Snow White but with enhanced powers, makes its heroine the fairest of them all. Employing a similar tone of twisted urban fairytale, Lauren Friedlander explores what happens when her protagonist grows an inconvenient appendage in “Tail”. In the issue’s finale, “Big” by Sean Marciniak, an underdog gains immense strength along with his burgeoning size, with earth-shattering consequences.

Classic supernatural figures like ghosts and the trope of haunting arise in tales like Suzi Bamblett’s “The Girl on the Swing” (with the added fear factors of disturbed or dead children) and in poems like Anastasia Stelse’s “Façade”, about a possessed, and possessing, ruin. A witch, another classic type, lurks at the heart of Jennifer Moore’s “All Ye Who Enter Here”. Strange death prognostications combine suspense with dark comedy in “Winter”, Erik Wennermark’s tale of doom. And in our one non-fiction piece of the issue, Lania Knight investigates different mystical techniques to excavate past trauma in “I Find My Three Girls”.

Witnessing a suicide and its subsequent apparition ruins an adulterous affair in Joe L Murr’s “The Long Drop”, while the dead adjust to the afterlife in David Rogers’ “Exile”. Although not strictly supernatural, Katy Darby’s “Duct tape, milk, shilling, towels” imagines Sylvia Plath’s preparations for her own demise, and the poem’s haunting evocation of the famous poet’s end earned it first prize in the 2019 Shooter Poetry Competition. (In addition to appearing in the magazine, the poem can also be read on the website, along with runner-up Nikki Robson’s owl poem “Strix aluco”.) Other poems by Jen Huang, Tom Daley, Sal Drennan, Avra Margariti, and R Bratten Weiss punctuate the issue with metaphysical disquiet, Gothic creepiness, and, in not one but two cases, visceral placentas.

“Fear of the unknown” seems particularly timely during these cold months, as British citizens contemplate the post-Brexit era, Americans evaluate their next (and current) president, and Australians reel from unprecedented, raging bush fires (to mention just the countries that form the base of Shooter’s readership). As Aristotle theorised in his Poetics, the purpose of fictional terror (back then, in Greek plays) is to effect catharsis of emotions like fear in real life. So perhaps the best we can do to prepare for mortality, climate change, tyrannical leaders and global annihilation, is to read some quality supernatural fare. Shooter is, as always, at your service.

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