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What genre?

I think I am misdefining a genre. At the very least either I’m looking at the seam between two genres or reading one a bit too large.

When I think of urban fantasy traditionally, my first thought was books like War for the Oaks or various supernatural investigator books such as the Dresden Files or Diana Tregarde. I read Diana first, but all fit in that large box. Since then, the genre has expanded, but it seems the one constant is the protagonist does not merely encounter the supernatural but has supernatural abilities. The exception in my earlier list is War for the Oaks, where Eddi is not in any way supernatural, but she is involved when the Seelie chose her as a mortal token in their struggles.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been reading a lot of E. Hoffman Price, especially his Pierre d’Artois occult detective stories. He is not my first encounter with these kinds of stories. In the past, I read quite a few of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories. While less adventure-oriented than Price, Carnacki is not the greatest swordsman in England as d’Artois is in France. What sets them apart is the protagonist has no supernatural abilities, although each has some skill in related arts. Carnacki has various scientific instruments allowing him to interact with ghosts and spirits, while d’Artois has some training in mystic arts.

I have toyed with the idea of trying a detective novel along similar lines. Imagine the Dresden Files where Harry isn’t a wizard but might consult one from time to time. His primary companions, however, would be as mundane as he is. Thus, while there is magic and the supernatural, the feel is very different from urban fantasy. Perhaps The Dresden files, at least the earlier books, firmly planted in the detective story, come closest with their foot firmly planted in the detective story. However, the later Dresden books and the Tregard books have too epic a feel to be the same genre.

Which leads me to ask, what genre is this latter group of stories in? I think Hodgon’s were mostly considered a variation of the ghost story. Price was mostly published in Weird Tales—the modern descendent of the ghost story. The weird tale became horror and fantasy with some science fiction influenced by it.

I cannot see these stories as horror. The sense of failure, even if the hero succeeds in stopping the monster, is not present. Each story’s moral universe is set aright by the end of the tale.

So, are stories of mundane individuals dealing with supernatural villains on a small stage and without much, if any, supernatural aid still horror? Is it a branch of urban fantasy? Are these stories a third thing altogether? While I don’t need to know this to write them, if I’m looking to be an author as opposed to just a writer, I need to know their audience.

Suggestions on other examples to help me figure this out are welcome.


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