And fantasy have been with us, in one form or another, for as long as literature has existed. M. Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), R. L. Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) are landmarks in horror/fantasy, but so too, it could be argued, are certain plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster. But the tradition goes back further, to Beowulf, dating from the 10th cent., and beyond, to the bloody visions of Sophocles (496–406 bc) and others. In the 20th cent. horror/fantasy fiction was more directly influenced by Romanticism and the Gothic, in particular Blake, Monk (M. G.) Lewis, and the early masters of the macabre short story, Bierce, Le Fanu, Poe, M. R. James and Machen, and by Peake's Gormenghast trilogy (1946–59). The most influential horror writer in the early 20th cent. is probably H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) although his work lacked the intellectual thrill of Borges and the emotional engagement of R. Bradbury.
Horror as a trade category has suffered from its name. Robert Aickman preferred to call his horror tales ‘strange stories’. Chris Morgan may have coined the short‐lived tag ‘dark fantasy’ in his anthology Dark Fantasies (1989). But Ramsey Campbell (1946– ) has never shied away from the term ‘horror’ and is Britain's most respected living horror writer, while Stephen King heads the world's bestseller lists in the genre. In the USA, Dennis Etchison, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite, Steve Rasnic Tem, and British‐born Clive Barker, among others, consistently produce notable work; in the UK, a new generation of horror writers has grown up reading the subtly weird stories and novels of Campbell (who also edited the anthology New Terrors), Aickman, M. John Harrison, and The Pan Book of Horror Stories. In the 1980s and 1990s the most notable new writers of horror/fantasy have included Joel Lane, Michael Marshall Smith, Mark Morris, Conrad Williams, Kim Newman, Christopher Fowler, Elizabeth Young, and Graham Joyce. Certain anthologies, such as Christopher Kenworthy's The Sun Rises Red, Sugar Sleep, and The Science of Sadness, Nicholas Royle's Darklands and Darklands 2, Stephen Jones and David Sutton's Dark Terrors series, Stephen Jones's The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, have encouraged these new writers to develop a voice at the same time as continuing to support veterans such as John Burke, Basil Copper, and R. Chetwynd‐Hayes.
Although there may always be a baying pack of gorehounds and a (limited) market for their splatter‐filled tales (Shaun Hutson and James Herbert have both been moving away from their trademark graphic horror towards thrillers), with regard to the subtler, more imaginative writers it may be true to say that, of the popular genres, horror is the one that runs closest to the literary mainstream and most interestingly subverts it.