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What Is Supernatural Fiction?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon324902 — On Mar 13, 2013

@Popcorn: Stephenie Meyer, the author of "The Twilight Saga" wrote the novel "The Host," which is due for theatrical release in March 2013 in the UK. The novel is supernatural in its theme, however, the plot relies heavily on the science fiction element.

If this novel is not for you, try "The Morganville Stories." There's about 13-15 books at the moment and includes vampires and ghosts. This may be more helpful to you. If all else fails, try "True Blood."

By popcorn — On Dec 10, 2011

Are there any good supernatural authors that also like to add science fiction to the mix?

I love reading fan fiction that mixes up science fiction and the supernatural, but I would like to find some published works that can offer the best of both worlds. One idea I have come across that I like is the concept of supernatural creatures in space, whether on their own worlds, or in some distant future. It is just good entertainment mixing things like the supernatural and sci-fi technology.

If anyone knows of a story that mixes vampires and sci-fi, that would be especially interesting to me. Something like demons or witchcraft is also good. I am not picky, just looking for a fun read.

By wander — On Dec 09, 2011

@manykitties2 - I love supernatural fiction books that focus on horror. I like a good fright sometimes from the safety of my couch. If you are up for some supernatural fictions books that don't have any romance I would suggest checking out some of Stephen King's older books. Works like Pet Sematary and Carrie are fantastic. I think that the movies made of most of King's books just don't do them justice.

Another author that works with a lot of supernatural horror is John Saul. Suffer the Children and Creature are scary books that are well written and a lot of fun to read. I say give them a try if you are looking for something new.

By manykitties2 — On Dec 08, 2011

I have to admit that one of my favorite kinds of supernatural fiction is paranormal romance. Anything with vampires, ghosts, or witches in it I usually love. I think that the whole supernatural genre is growing more popular as vampires are getting more screen time.

Does anyone have any fiction writers that they love that produce great supernatural themed books?

I am always looking for new things to read.

Right now I am into reading anything by J.R. Ward, Kelley Armstrong and Christine Feehan. I think one of my favorite books of all time is Moon Called by Patricia Briggs. It is just so intense and exciting that I can't put it down once I start reading it.

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