In Haunt

Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes is certainly no stranger to exploring how horror intersects with academia as well as popular culture – currently Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University and a founder member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies there. Now 2019 marks an especially prolific year for him.

The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson, a collection edited by Xavier and published by British Library Publishing last month, features a choice of ten pieces of horror fiction penned by Hodgson, a British author who has been perhaps under-celebrated for his significant contributions to the ‘weird fiction’ genre. Xavier, who specialises in modern horror fiction and film, describes the work of Hodgson – a talented writer who died tragically aged 40 during the First Word War - as loaded with ‘atmosphere and suspense’.

Xavier Aldana Reyes Edited BookXavier is a regular contributor and editor to collections exploring horror culture, with previous titles including The Gothic Tales of H. P. Lovecraft and Horror: A Literary History. He has also been busy co-editing an enormous work titled Twenty-First-Century Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion with Dr Maisha Wester; this academic volume is due in July from Edinburgh University Press. Here the ongoing relevance of The Gothic will be considered, including how it features in modern texts such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (2005) and Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching (2009), as well as how the mode raises current themes such as globalisation, gender concerns and climate change.

The Gothic, after all, isn’t just about old horror films and Victorian novels - it is a highly relevant mode with changing definitions; this concept being further explored in an upcoming student-organised symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University (Absent Presences – exploring how the margins of what we consider ‘Gothic’ are shifting, shown in this article here) as well as by Xavier in his work. He has also co-organised another Manchester Metropolitan University symposium but focusing on a specific horror author: ‘Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and The Weird in an Age of Post-Truth’. Thomas Ligotti is an elusive current American writer, the creator of a number of pieces of weird fiction, which Xavier told us more about here.

From considering the connections between The Gothic Manchester Festival and HOME, to organising events as part of the annual Gothic Manchester Festival and writing about Gothic Publishing in Manchester, Xavier highlights how The Gothic has a grip on contemporary culture. Monsters, vampires, surgical horror and so much more - his research has explored everything from horror heroines to the symbolism of the zombie condition. Intrigued? HAUNT decided to speak more to Xavier to find out about his current work…

Regarding 'The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson' – why does this author in particular interest you and how could his tales still resonate with a contemporary readership?

“I tend to work on books that I either wish had been written or feel need to exist. I remember looking for a 'best of' Hodgson's short stories a few years back and not really finding one. There have indeed been excellent collections published (for example, S. T. Joshi's now out of print Centipede press edition), and Night Shade Books are currently doing a brilliant job of publishing Hodgson's entire bibliography in paperback, but I thought there was a gap for a collection for readers new to Hodgson who just wanted some of his best tales in one affordable volume. Since a lot of his short stories are not supernatural either, I decided I would focus on his weird fiction and produce something that would be of interest to those following the British Library's Tales of the Weird series. Although there is a lot about Hodgson that is very modern, his narrative effects are not really that far away from those of the good old Victorian spooks. I think he has the capacity to appeal to readers of M. R. James and of H. P. Lovecraft simultaneously. More generally, as a critic and academic, I like sharing fiction I love with others, so I see my collaborations with the British Library as a way of acquainting the general public with excellent writers they may have otherwise never heard of.

“In terms of why I think Hodgson was a fascinating figure, he was pretty much a self-taught writer (and sailor and photographer and bodybuilder!) and someone who, considering how young he died and how late he started publishing, still managed to produce both a significant and an important body of work. I particularly like how incredibly kaleidoscopic his writing is. He is capable of both the sparsest, most action-packed of styles (say, The Ghost Pirates) and of the most baroque, old-fashioned ones at the same time (The Night Land). His interests ranged from the occult (his brilliant Carnacki, the ghost-finder stories) to end of Earth narratives (The House on the Borderland) and the vicissitudes of life at sea (his nautical stories). He was also an important influence on Lovecraft and other weird writers. I feel he is sometimes overlooked as a key early twentieth-century horror author, perhaps because the themes in his work are so varied, even disparate, that he becomes hard to place and catalogue. He was largely doing his own thing, and that is what is so unique about him. 

“I hope this collection will go some way towards settling the score and that it will win him some new readers. If anyone is wondering why they should bother, I would ask them: where else are they going to find stories about man-eating fungoid ships, interdimensional hog spirits and giant squid all in one book?”

In terms of 'Twenty-First-Century Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion' – how long have you been working on this and why do you think expanding perceptions of the Gothic is important?

Twenty First Century Gothic“Although the book is full of interesting new research written by leading experts in the field, Maisha Wester and I have put it together mostly for the benefit of our future students. Technically, it started around three or four years ago in the form of conversations with some of my colleagues at Man Met, especially those who teach on the contemporary Gothic units, around how hard it is to find good introductory surveys for the post-millennial period despite the fact that the last two decades have been foundational to the perception and crystallisation of contemporary Gothic studies. What is interesting and different about this volume is that it is actively transmedia and transnational in a way that will appeal to students in modern English, Film and Media departments. Although the Gothic is naturally cast differently according to medium, we felt that the thematic strands that recur in post-millennial Gothic texts had not been explored in quite the way we felt would be useful in order to gain a general, holistic understanding of the mode in its many contemporary guises. I hope Twenty-First-Century Gothic will find its way to students, teachers and scholars interested in the Gothic, and will contribute to exciting debates about its currency.

“The Gothic strikes me as perhaps the most powerful and relevant of the non-realist fiction modes. In a sense, it is not important to expand our perceptions of it: the mode seems to be doing quite a good job of keeping itself relevant. However, expanding our understanding of what the Gothic is and what it does, especially at a historical remove (I mean, the Gothic that is being made over 250 years after the publication of The Castle of Otranto), is crucial beyond debates about genre. Turning to what the Gothic does in the contemporary period is really turning to why we are interested in it in the first place, what it still does to and for us. Since the same formulas return time and again, in slightly different shapes and sizes, the exercise becomes one of introspection and self-discovery.

"Just why do we continue to be fascinated by the return of the past and what is the allure of certain figures like the vampire, the zombie or the ghost? As Maisha and I suggest in the book, the Gothic of the twenty-first century is, in many respects, an extension and elaboration of twentieth-century Gothic, but it's also very sui generis in its preoccupations around globalisation, colonialist legacies, climate change, gender concerns and the long-term effects of technology. Thus, we hope the book will go some way towards contextualising the Gothic for contemporary readers, especially those who may be new to key debates in the field or who may want to find out about emerging areas of research.”

By Emily Oldfield

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