ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Monster, She Wrote’ is a Must-Read For Horror Fans

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Monster, She Wrote front cover
Photo credit: Quirk Books Facebook page

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction is published by Quirk Books and written by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson with illustrations by Natalya Balnova. The book offers over one hundred biographies of women who pioneered horror, sci-fi and, speculative fiction.

The book also features reading lists highlighting each of these women’s works as well as similar works. Recommendations include everything from Called the Blazing World, written in 1666 by Margaret Cavendish who arguably created the genre of sci-fi 150 years before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Bitch Planet, the Image Comics run that lasted from 2014-2017 from Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro.

Humanity has loved monster stories since the dawn of time. Horror is a transgressive genre, that continues to haunt audiences. This is because it explores the uncomfortable, forcing its audience to confront realities, often about ourselves or the world, we would rather avoid. Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction proves that women have been exploring these stories for just as long as men and their footprint can’t be ignored. In the introduction of the book, Kröger and Anderson note that women have always been seen as transgressive. Throughout history, they have pushed boundaries and entered into uncomfortable spaces. So who better is there to tell transgressive stories than people who have been pushed to the edges of society?

If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear - by Mary Wollstonecraft Sheylly
Photo credit: Quirk Books’ twitter

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction is broken into eight chapters and starts chronologically with the founding mothers of the genre and moves through modern writers who are currently shaping the genre and its future. As the book moves chronologically, detailing the lives of famous authors, including the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Anne Rice, it also maps out how the genre has changed and adapted over the years thanks to the influence of these women.

Additionally, this journey through history helps to show just how horror was used to make social-political commentary. In the late 1880s, spiritualism was all the rage with the Fox sisters performing their seances around the United States. While it is obviously easy to debunk their performance, you can’t debunk the fact this new brand of spooky gave women a platform that was previously unavailable.

Seances were traditionally conducted by women and thus allowed women to speak freely while blaming any thoughts that were too provocative on the dead. Consequently, the dead often preached feminist ideologies and took abolitionist stances. The book also focuses on the work of many women of color including Pauline E. Hopkins, a Black author whose work explored the racism of her time.

Maggie and Kate Fox, founders of Spiritualism
Maggie and Kate Fox, founders of Spiritualism

While reading, I found myself going through the biographies over and over again, wanting to memorize every word detailing the amazing accomplishments of these innovative women. While there were a few authors I had heard of, there were even more that I hadn’t, despite how deeply their work impacted the genre as a whole. In addition to detailing the lives of these innovative women, Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction also explains the differences between gothic romances, terror, horror, sci-fi, and more through various blurbs following biographies and an extensive glossary featured in the back of the book.

Women have always and continue to push the boundaries of fiction in many genres, but especially horror. Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction is a fantastic dive into the literary world’s spookiest stories and gives an impressive insight into the women behind such ghastly tales, all while laying out the history of horror. Seeing how the often scandalous lives of these women influenced their work only makes me appreciate them more.

Additionally, I can’t help but feel seen in a lot of these women’s trauma. I found my owns fears toward horror realized in Edith Newbold who was terrified of ghost stories until the combination of morbid fascination and fevered hallucinations, due to Typhoid fever, drew her to pen multiple that explored her fears. Similarly, I found Margaret Cavendish’s fearlessness in the face of scandal just as empowering. I see myself and my own trauma, and thus relationship with horror, in these women.

Overall, Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I have ever read. I would highly recommend this book to all horror fans and history buffs, particularly if you are a fan of the podcast, now show, Lore or any of these women’s works.

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction is available wherever books are sold September 17, 2019.

Monster, She Wrote
5

TL;DR

Overall, Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I have ever read. I would highly recommend this book to all horror fans and history buffs, particularly if you are a fan of the podcast, now show, Lore or any of these women’s works.