Monster, She Wrote is a slim but vastly ambitious book. Part collected biography, part readers’ guide, this book attempts to highlight the writing of women who have been overlooked in spite of their work to develop and grow horror and science fiction by covering authors from Margaret Cavendish and Ann Radcliffe to Helen Oyeyemi and Angela Carter.
Delving into the future of horror and science fiction, Monster, She Wrote hits a timely note as pop culture grapples with past oversights and omissions. With sparks of humor and vast affection for their chosen genres, Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson make marvelous guides through the history of (mostly) horror writing.
Horror For Everyone
The book is organized by type of horror and traces its way through each sub-category somewhat chronologically through the development of these literary styles.
“The Founding Mothers,” for instance, lays the groundwork by not only examining the careers — and, briefly, lives — of these women but also explains how their work was in conversation with other fiction written before and during their lifetimes. The authors speculate on the writers’ lives, as far as what may have influenced their writing, but more than that, they guide the reader along the intertextual pathways that these women created with their stories.
With some light background about the Spiritualist movement, the book explores the ghost story phenomenon. This also leads to the occult writing selections, and the authors occasionally address the psychology of women who sometimes did and sometimes did not believe what they were writing, making for fascinating tidbits.
Overall, Monster, She Wrote continues chronologically, and at this point jumps into pulp magazines. Both this section and the later chapter about the paperback horror writers of the 1970s and 1980s lament the fact that there are vast amounts of writing lost to the cheap production methods of these formats.
The content wasn’t saved digitally, and so it’s probable that some authors’ entire catalogs are lost. Still, this doesn’t stop Kröger and Anderson from savoring their favorite examples of these formats, delighting as well in some of the macabre and gruesome artwork that adorned these books (and earned pulp fiction its reputation for, shall we say, interesting covers). The authors take a moment here to highlight some of their favorite cover artists, like Margaret Brundage, a classmate of Walt Disney, who also illustrated the covers of all nine Conan the Barbarian cover stories.
Between the pulps and the paperbacks (up a lonely street on a shadowed hill…?) is a section on haunted house stories. The authors take a beat here to consider the psychology of the haunted house and particularly how it plays out for women: the house considered the domain of women, tainted by past horror. Oh, yes, there’s a lot to dig into here.
The book leaps forward to cover “New Gothic” authors, exploring some of the ways that horror and sci-fi have branched out alongside some of the newer twists on vampires, ghosts, hauntings, and also dark fairy tale retellings and even Afrofuturism.
The Future of Sci-Fi Horror
The last section, and perhaps the least satisfying part of the book, is the quick perusal at the end of the “future” of horror and sci-fi, as the authors hightail it through a list of their favorite trends in haunted houses, the Lovecraftian revisal, Vampires from Ann Rice to Stephenie Meyer, serial killers, and apocalypses.
I would have loved to see Kröger and Anderson draw these modern examples out with the amount of detail that went into the early parts of the book (which was still on the sparse side). Given how much they had to cover and how the genre is exploding, I can hardly blame them for limiting these last chapters to the light brushstrokes that they included.
The best-known authors here also have the most biographical information. Some of these intriguing women are hardly more than historical sketches — there simply isn’t more information available.
While that’s understandable, it’s also disappointing. Kröger and Anderson have done their best to point to more biographical information when they can, even pointing out biopics. They mention Helen McCrory’s turn as Ann Radcliffe in the 2007 movie Becoming Jane: much of what is speculated about Radcliffe comes from her work (and Austen’s dig at it in Northanger Abbey); very little is known about Radcliffe’s life.
Monster, She Wrote is peppered with instances like this, and although it’s frustrating not to know more, it’s delightful to find these cross-references. These women spoke to each other, across time and literature, and are still speaking to us today.
It’s difficult to speculate on the future of a genre or to foresee the twists that lie ahead in this literary path. It was perhaps inevitable that the section on the future of the genre left me unsatisfied, curious, and eager for more.
What Kröger and Anderson have done extremely well in this book is to create a map. You are here: where would you like to go next? Whether you are new to the genre and discovering this all for the first time or trying to delve deeper into horror and its history, you will find much to explore. Most of the “Related Work” notes within each section include authors that aren’t otherwise in the book (though with cross-references when they are), leading the reader to new discoveries beyond what they were able to include in the book.
I was excited about this book from the instant I first heard the title. I’ve always been a huge fan of speculative fiction, and as a growing fan of horror fiction as well, it came to me at an opportune time. It’s unreasonable to think that one book could correct centuries of overlooking these authors, but Kröger and Anderson have made a noble, and overall satisfying, effort to bring these women back to the cultural forefront.
Rachel Ayers lives in Alaska, where she looks at mountains and daydreams a lot. She has a Creative Writing degree from Pittsburg State University.