Contrary to popular belief, weird is not a word to describe an oddity or the bizarreness of a situation. In all actuality, weird is a word derived from the terms “fate” or “destiny” which suggest an uncanny or supernatural link to a given situation. Consequently, Weird Fiction is a form of literature that holds the ability to threaten the security of human culture; the weird retains the capacity to upend human notion of regulations, rationality, and logic. This genre of fiction combines a plethora of literary elements from a variety of other categories of fiction. Weird Fiction incorporates elements adapted from Gothic Fiction, the traditional ghost story, Science Fiction, mythology, mystery, horror, fantasy, and Supernatural Fiction. Upon first read, for lack of better words, Weird Fiction ultimately forces readers to question what they just experienced. Supernatural themes were often utilized by the forerunners of Weird Fiction, ultimately infusing readers with an essence of unease while telling the uncanny tale of day-to-day life. According to H. P. Lovecraft, an author branded as the father of Weird Fiction, the weird required an outlandish strangeness that endangered social convention, which fundamentally thwarted a reader’s ability to rationalize. Although the genre of Weird Fiction encompasses a plethora of literary aesthetics, certain themes remain constant across the integrity of the realm of Weird Fiction. The element of unfamiliarity endures true throughout the entirety of works classified as Weird Fiction, ultimately evoking the fear of the unknown into its audience.
H. P. Lovecraft states in his treatise Supernatural Horror in Literature, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (Lovecraft). One of the prominent governing principles of Weird Fiction is the apprehension towards the indefinite. In order to achieve the aforementioned dread Weird Fiction authors often utilize the theme of unfamiliarity in their works. For example: Caitlin R. Kiernan in her A Red Dress for Andromeda, Algernon Blackwood in his The Willows, Thomas Ligotti in his The Town Manager, and Angela Carter in her The Snow Pavilion all apply the motif of the unknown to enhance their work.
A prime example of the usage of unfamiliarity in Weird Fiction as a theme is Caitlin R. Kiernan’s A Red Dress for Andromeda. From the very beginning of the piece, the element of unfamiliarity played a key role in achieving ‘the weird’. As one of the main characters Tara, approaches the Dandridge House for the first time, an immediate sense of terror and anxiety is provoked by the unfamiliarity of the situation. While the story progresses the theme of unfamiliarity only becomes more prominent as the party leaves the parlor of the Dandridge House and to a locked door at the very back of the house. As Darren (Tara’s date) leads Tara down a set of winding stairs Tara tries to convince herself that this sense of unfamiliarity she’s feeling that is chilling her to her core is the result of a ‘party game’. Kiernan writes in her piece, “And now, if Darren were to ask again whether or not she was getting freaked out, now she might say yes. Now, she may even tell him she really should be going, that it’s late, and she needs to get back to the city” (Kiernan, 4). Kiernan’s usage of unfamiliarity resonates throughout the entire piece. This very sense of foreignness is the motif that Kiernan utilizes to lock onto the weird and evoke the fear of the unknown into her audience.