The Problem of Folk Horror – Jeff Tolbert

The resurgence of folk horror in literature and film raises important questions about the genre’s “folkness.” Who are the “folk” who are (evidently) the source of the horror? And what is folklore and why does it matter, in horror or otherwise?

When we use the word folklore in ordinary speech, it often conveys a sense of rustic backwardness. In horror specifically, these words often evoke a sense of dangerous, insular conservatism, cultish behaviors, and even Lovecraftian degeneracy. For scholars of folklore, the words folklore and folk have rather different meanings.

This talk will highlight some of the specific problems of folk horror, while also distinguishing between folk horror as a genre and the use of folklore elements in horror more generally. My main argument will be that, while horror (and all creative media) can and should make use of all the cultural materials available to it, both creators and audiences should be aware of the rhetorical consequences of calling some people, in some times and places—but not others—“folk.”


Jeffrey A. Tolbert holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University. He is assistant professor of American Studies and Folklore at Penn State Harrisburg. His work explores the supernatural and vernacular belief through conventional and digital ethnography, and the relationship between “popular” and “folk” cultures in various media, from horror fiction in literature and film to the Internet monster known as Slender Man. He is co-editor, with Michael Dylan Foster, of The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World (2016) and Möbius Medie: Popular Culture, Folklore, and the Folkloresque (forthcoming), both from Utah State University Press.

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.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day

/Jan 4th 2024 8:00 pm - 09:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

Thank you for your support