The Darkening Garden. A Short Lexicon of Horror by John Clute.
Cauheegan; Seattle: Payseur & Schmidt, .
Illustrated. [xii], 162,  pp. $45.00
reviewed by Henry Wessells
[First published in The New York Review of Science Fiction 19:7, no. 223 (March 2007). All rights reserved.]
The Knowledge at the Heart of the Labyrinth
The Darkening Garden is a brilliant, irritating book, a dark little jewel of a grenade tossed into the cocktail party of genre criticism. Its subtitle, A Short Lexicon of Horror, is Clutean misdirection deftly understated. What we have here is a philosophical engine, an encyclopedia in miniature (assuming a certain degree of knowledge on the reader, author entries can be found elsewhere or simply imagined) and, most importantly, a record of how John Clute thinks. This last is no small matter.
The Darkening Garden is a collection of thirty short essays on topics relevant to the horror sort of fantastic literature. No particular affinity for horror literature is required. The terms that Clute defines will be of interest to all readers, just as the critical approach these terms articulate bears upon all sorts of fantastic literature. (I use the neutral term sort — less charged than flavor or variety — here, precisely, in place of genre or mode because definition of genre is one of the concerns of the book at hand.)
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The illustration at top is Jason van Hollander’s FUSTIAN portrait of John Clute. The complete text of The Darkening Garden is available in Clute’s Stay (Beccon, 2014).