We live at the present time in mortal fear of the natural world. As activists line the streets to threaten sabotage, as a child preaches to politicians about the coming catastrophe, as we note shifts in weather patterns and murmur nervous platitudes about the persistence of rain at this time of year, there is a feeling of dread, the awful suspicion that we have left it all too late and that the environment means, quite soon now, to have its revenge. Yet nothing is truly new. We have been here before. Suspicion of nature, allied to a multiplicity of related fears, has long been embedded in our culture.
The British Library’s splendid Tales of the Weird range draws together often neglected stories from the past century and a half, and has already given us themed anthologies on subjects as diverse as Christmas, train travel and mad science. This new instalment focuses on narratives that dramatise our deepest concerns about a vengeful ecosystem. Other monstrous beasts – the vampire, the werewolf, the shambling zombie – may be better known and their protean qualities better understood, but here the editor, Daisy Butcher, makes a strong case for the potency of what she calls ‘eco-horror’.
As a subgenre of the Gothic, this is arguably less familiar and successful than others because it lacks a clear means of personification. The bloodsucker and the lycanthrope offer abundant opportunities for sympathetic characterisation, whereas eco-horror gives us only the blank unknowability of nature and its inexorable processes. Butcher