“Eco horror” was not a genre I had come across before so when I attended Durham Book Festival 2021’s series of talks “Ideas for Positive Change: Writing Fiction About the Climate Crisis” this year, I was keen to learn more about it.
My first thoughts on the principle of eco horror was that surely having nature itself as the villain in horror cannot be conducive to positive change? The premise is indeed a scary one…but perhaps that is the point.
Could reading fiction, and in particular horror, bring about a positive change in the reader’s environmental awareness and actions?
Dr Naomi Booth, author and academic, discusses her interest in considering different genres in fiction as means to explore the climate crisis. She describes having written her novels from a place of “climate anxiety”. Interested in fiction that is anxiogenic, she discusses the role dark genres, that necessarily aim to produce negative effects, might have in positive change.
Whilst other eco genres may find creative ways of seeking to save the world, eco horror is designed to encourage us to see the world as under threat, whilst at the same time threatening. There is an emphasis on both the damage done to the world by humans and the damage the natural world will do to humans. This poses the question, are humans to protect themselves against the world? On first consideration, it doesn’t necessarily logically follow that this would encourage a proactive approach to fighting climate change. However, perhaps it does.
Booth’s argument is that the genre works against repressing those things that most disturb us. As well as magnifying those fears, eco horror might highlight what might be lost through the climate crisis. She describes emotional responses in depth and the consequent effects these might have on either positive change, or contrarily and concerningly, loss of hope. She notes the fine line that exists between these emotive states.
Clearly, this is complex question of balance. And a fascinating question worth exploring. If there is the potential here that this genre of fiction can bring about a realisation of the impact of the climate crisis to readers and in turn bring about positive change, then I am all for it. However, it is evident from Booth’s research that there is the possibility that intense negative emotions brought about by horror are counter productive and rather than induce positive change, induce despair.
Booth notes that scholars’ findings with regard this question are inconclusive; we simply don’t know whether literary fiction has any positive change in a measurable impact in relation to climate change.
What we do know is that horror does have the capacity to induce anxiety and has the capacity to compel us to look at horrific things, and that could be its great power in a time where the climate crisis is so scary that it would be justifiably in the horror genre.