Sunny Landscapes, Dark Visions: Folk Horror and the Weird Imagination of E. F. Benson

What is ‘Folk Horror’? Who bothered to define it and why and how useful is it to see it as a sub-genre? One of the answers to these latter questions is that it is great fun. Ruthlessly ‘using’ folklore and ramping up the horror, Folk Horror makes both seem almost believable. People get in some terrible pickles, very often by going ‘too far’ – venturing where they really shouldn’t. If horror fans scream ‘don’t go into the cellar!’, Folk Horror folk venture ‘too far’ in the pursuit of knowledge, in unearthing that which really should stay buried, in intruding into communities that might be welcoming but for all the wrong reasons. Don’t pull that long-buried artefact out of the ground! Don’t open that old ‘forbidden’ book! Don’t assume these ‘picturesque’ villagers are benign! And really, I wouldn’t stay in that house that is surrounded by standing stones! My favourite ‘spook’ story writer E. F. Benson knew all the tricks. A lesser-known contemporary of M. R. James, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood (the main writers associated with historical folk horror), Benson gives us ‘sunny’ horrors. Benson’s ghost stories are often set in hot, still summers and he toys with folk horror where dark, old horrors appear in sunny, beautiful landscapes, making the horrors far, far worse. From Cornwall to Suffolk, Benson’s folk horror tales give pause and can make you look over your shoulder even in the most luscious of landscapes.


Ruth Heholt is Professor of Literature and Culture at Falmouth University in lovely Cornwall.

Curated and Hosted by

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta based writer, curator and critic, ethnographer and folklorist speaking and writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall. She is the author of Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully (Strange Attractor 2020) and is currently working on several Colquhoun related manuscripts. She is also the editor of Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses (Palgrave 2022). She has contributed gallery texts and essays for a number of institutions including Tate, Camden Arts Centre, Art UK, Arusha Galleries, Heavenly Records and she is a curator and host for the Last Tuesday Society lecture series.

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Photo: The Mowing-Devil; or Strange News out of Hertfordshire, August 22, 1678

Sep 28th 2023 8:00 pm - 09:30 pm

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