Thursday, January 12, 2012


Does the media in your life ever start to meld into weird little personal sub-genres? Mine does. I'm not even sure what I want to call this one, but maybe if you read this entry and look into/already know some of these stories, you'll see what I mean.

I encountered most of the following books, musical artists, and other things before, but watching the first few seasons of the CW's Supernatural is what really kicked me off thinking about this new (entirely made up) sub-genre of mine. The show is soooo atmospheric and pretty much everything that makes me think of these as linked can be found on Supernatural. Small, run-down towns, the (lonely) open road, deserted buildings, half-forgotten folklore, demons (personal or otherwise), vintage.... stuff, the blues, America, and, it almost goes without saying, the supernatural. There are other things I could tack on- urban fantasy, folklore/-music, sometimes rustic (or even rust-belt) settings with a strong and authentic sense of place... Does anyone already have a name for this? Dark Americana? Folkpunk? Oo I kind of like that..... dibs on the name if it ever becomes a Thing, like Steampunk!

Anyway, here are the media odds and ends that have been floating around in my head:


 Two brothers travel the country, hunting the demon that killed their mother. Along the way they encounter ghosts, spirits, helhounds and other things which bump in they night. They bump back, trading barbs and pop-culture references along the way. Lots of fantastic standalone episodes, excellent atmosphere, and plenty of genuinely scary scenes. This series is so good, it made me like Kansas. o.o

Neko Case

Love. Her. I'm no audiophile and I don't even know much about music, so I don't really know what to say here. She has a really unique, soulful voice, a twangy guitar, and super evocative lyrics. Even if you've never heard of her, I'm sure you've heard one or two of her singles used in the backgrounds of shoes. A recent episode of True Blood ended with her "I Wish I Was the Moon Tonight." The songs that especially fit with this theme are "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" and "Make Your Bed." Really though, her whole "feel" fits.

Robert Jordan (no, not that one)

If you haven't heard this guy's story, you've been missing out. Legend has it that Mr. Jordan went to a crossroads and traded his soul to the Devil in order to master the guitar. He plays a mean blues song, so who's to say he didn't succeed? As mentioned on the show Supernatural (and hey, lest I lose some of my very scant music cred, I knew this before the show thankyouverymuch), his lyrics are full of references to the otherwordly. The song above is "Hellhounds on My Trail," about being pursued by the Devil's own hounds. There is an even more directly related song, "Cross Road Blues," possibly referencing the belief that one would meet the Devil at a cross road to sell one's soul.

(If you've seen the Coen Brothers' film O Brother Where Art Thou, this might sound familiar to you. The character Tommy is based on Robert Jordan.)

The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff

 I've already raved about this book here. Really dark. Really good.

The Boneshaker, Kate Milford

 Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks loves machines, particularly automata—self-operating mechanical devices, usually powered by clockwork. When Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show arrive in her small Missouri town with a mysterious vehicle under a tarp and an uncanny ability to make Natalie’s half-built automaton move, she feels in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is a bit off. Her uneasiness leads her to investigate the intricate maze of the medicine show, where she discovers a horrible truth and realizes that only she has the power to set things right.

Set in 1914, The Boneshaker is a gripping, richly textured novel about family, community, courage, and looking evil directly in the face in order to conquer it. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

What this summary misses out on is the dusty, eccentric character of Arcane, Natalie's beloved hometown. This is a tiny bit steampunk with rich storytelling, a set of quirky small-town characters, and some seriously unsettling villains. Oh, and lots of bicycles. And how can you not love a children's/tween's book with Demonology as an official subject heading?

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

 Doomed to - or blessed with - eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

 Remember this from elementary/middle school? This and the actually pretty decent Disney movie version definitely line up with the theme.

On a weird side note, I heard Fastball's "The Way" while reading this book, and got it into my 9 year old head that the song was written about the book. I know now that's not the case, but it still matches pretty well.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

American Gods is Neil Gaiman's best and most ambitious novel yet, a scary, strange, and hallucinogenic road-trip story wrapped around a deep examination of the American spirit. Gaiman tackles everything from the onslaught of the information age to the meaning of death, but he doesn't sacrifice the razor-sharp plotting and narrative style he's been delivering since his Sandman days. -Borrowed from Goodreads

I couldn't skip this book, one of my favorites since high school. For anyone interested in mythology, folklore, the power of places or the idea of national/cultural identities- or if you're just looking for a gripping story- this is a must read.  

Big Fish

After a string of mediocre movies, director Tim Burton regains his footing as he shifts from macabre fairy tales to Southern tall tales. Big Fish twines in and out of the oversized stories of Edward Bloom, played as a young man by Ewan McGregor and as a dying father by Albert Finney. Edward's son Will (Billy Crudup) sits by his father's bedside but has little patience with the old man's fables, because he feels these stories have kept him from knowing who his father really is. Burton dives into Bloom's imagination with zest, sending the determined young man into haunted woods, an idealized Southern town, a traveling circus, and much more. The result is sweet but--thanks to the director's dark and clever sensibility--never saccharine.  -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

This film is gorgeous and has its own very definite sense of style (hardly surprising, it is a Burton film). There are so many things to love her, not least the haunting journey Bloom takes on his way from his tiny birthplace to Make His Way in the World. It's not all, or even mostly, dark though. If you haven't seen it could be a great Netflix option.

Vanishing Hitchhiker, Jan Harold Brunvan

The Vanishing Hitchhiker was Professor Brunvand's first popular book on urban legends, and it remains a classic. The culmination of twenty years of collection and research, this book is a must-have for urban legend lovers. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

For when you've run out of Supernatural episodes, or are feeling nostalgic for the early, "freak of the week" feel. 

Weird U.S.

You might also want to check out the Weird U.S. series. This began as a series of magazines documenting local folklore, legends, abandoned creepy places, anomalies, and other oddments. There is a website as well as plenty of print books which can be found pertaining to your area. As a bonus, you and your friends can hop in your Mystery Vans and check out the places mentioned for yourselves!

I thought about adding Miss Peregrine's Home for Forgotten Children to this list, but it wasn't my favorite book of the year, and besides, it's definitely more English. Are there any things that seem like they would fit with this list that you can think of? Or do you have any weird little sub-genres of your own?