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Supernatural fiction is a subset of fiction in which paranormal ideas are central to the plot. This can include ghosts, extraordinary human abilities, or fantasy creatures. A broad term, supernatural fiction can include horror fiction, fantasy, and even science fiction. Most often, however, the term supernatural refers to elements that cannot be explained by rational or scientific means. The field of supernatural fiction has been popular in literature since the 1800s, crossing over into film and other media in the 20th and 21st centuries.
For much of human history, little was known of the scientific laws that govern existence. Humans naturally speculated about the unknown, inventing spirits, creatures, and powers that governed these matters. As rational knowledge advanced, many people retained an interest in the supernatural. For some, it was easier to understand than the daunting world of science; for others, it was a fanciful escape from the mundane. The earliest forms of written literature contained many of these supernatural elements.
After the advent of the novel in the 1700s, supernatural fiction remained a popular form of literature. One example was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a novel that has had enduring appeal for subsequent generations. Victor Frankenstein’s methods, ostensibly scientific, are not discussed in great detail in the novel. The emphasis is on Frankenstein’s successful attempt at creating life and its effect on himself, his family, and his creation. This is a common approach to supernatural fiction; atmosphere and effect are more important than rational explanation.
Other early masters of supernatural fiction include Henry James, Arthur Machen, and Edgar Allan Poe. Each told tales of mysterious beings or events, leading to disquieting outcomes. These early works were highly influential on the writers of the 20th century, who included supernatural elements in their own work. Authors of fantasy and science fiction such as Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Edgar Rice Burroughs also told supernatural tales. In modern times, the phrase supernatural is often used interchangeably with horror to describe the works of Robert Bloch, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King, among others.
Films and television shows often incorporate the elements of supernatural fiction for their own devices. Interest in the supernatural has developed in other literary genres, leading to hybrids such as the supernatural romance. This popular story form incorporates supernatural elements such as time travel, ghosts, or vampires to complicate its central romantic relationship. A prime example of supernatural romance is the Twilight series of books and films created by Stephanie Meyer.