The Rural Gothic

By Bryna Campbell

While “the rural” has many associations in popular and literary culture, one of the most enduring and fascinating is its affiliation with the gothic and horror. One need look no further than – well, basically any horror flick – to recognize how often the empty spaces of the countryside have conjured up all kinds of creepy crawlies. Sometimes horror is found in the vast desert of the southwest, sometimes the empty plains, and often at a house or cabin in the middle of the woods. This terror might come in the form of a transient stranger who is out of place in that location, or it it might be toothless family living in the big old house at the end of a dirt road. Sometimes the protagonists are the outsiders, and sometimes its the farm family – perhaps dealing with some kind of outsider or mystical force. This month we are exploring these associations with an October series that we are calling the “Rural Gothic.”

What is the Rural Gothic? In her book by that title, Bernice Murphy argues that the Rural Gothic can be traced to North America’s first white settlers, and a complex and often negative association with nature that still lingers in various ways to this day. In our series we hope to lay out some of those traces and explore the stereotypes they foster, even as we also indulge in the allure that the Rural Gothic has had on us as well. Among the topics that William is interested in exploring is a particularly terrifying event that occurred several decades ago in our region. I look forward to indulging that question that we often had as farm kids – why do cornfields summon such mysterious fascination, anyway?

This is a work in progress, so we are not quite sure exactly where this will take us, but it’s a topic that has fascinated us since we started this blog last spring, so we’re excited to see where it will go. And we want to hear from you too! Are you from a rural part of the US? How do you feel about the Rural Gothic, and how has it shaped your view on rural America?

 

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  1. Having lived in rural or isolated areas most of my life, I am sometimes amused by the fear that people who come to these areas from city life exhibit towards rural life as they try to adjust. At the same time, I understand how discovering that your nearest neighbor is at least a half mile or more away can lead to a debilitating fear, especially since most horror stories and films tend to be situated in rural or isolated areas. The reason for this is fairly obvious–most people view rural life as a pastoral paradise, so the dichotomy between their vision and the introduction of evil, makes for a much more entertaining story, but it also skews their assumptions. I know many people in this rural community who would never, under any circumstances ever visit a large city because of their perception that violence is an everyday part of life there. So it’s all in your perspective. The truth is that there are monsters every where, but because authors and playwrights do not write horror stories about monsters in the cities (too mundane), perception becomes reality. Rural Gothic.

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