Russell Kirk is most well known for his political writings, but, like most of us, he had bills to pay, as Robert C. Cheeks informs us in his review of Kirk’s collected fiction. Some excerpts:
Because of the need to support his extended family and the desire to “experiment with the moral imagination,” Russell Kirk wrote Gothic fiction and classic horror tales. One gets the impression in reading his eloquent and succinct memoirs, The Sword of Imagination, that he had to write these stories. Indeed, a number of them were the recitation of events in his life, with just a dash of tumult and panache.
Working in the Gothic and horror genres was, for Kirk, indeed something like autobiography:
In many cases . . . [the stories he wrote could be] the result of a signal event in the author’s life; a confrontation with a revenant, perhaps! This is what occurred in Kirk’s life. He lived happily among ghostly apparitions at Piety Hill, and told any number of “True Relations (my own experiences)” to guests sated with good meat, a respectable merlot, and a decent cigar.
But Kirk’s horror fiction was of a more rarified type than the one the public is usually accustomed to:
Aficionados of horror fiction understand M. R. James’s remark that, “true horror is perdition.” Thus, we might argue that the most accomplished horror writers were either Christians or those bedeviled folk who’d abandoned the old faith and faced damnation with a certain élan. The well-written horror tale reveals a truth, a metaphysical absolute, a universal, hopefully with guile and ambiance, but a truth just the same. And, it does so without engaging in sophistry, for the true horror writer is consumed by a cacoethes to engage his moral imagination, to reveal a sliver of the transcendent . . . Ideally, tales of the supernatural depict the confrontation between absolute evil and man. The prize is the protagonist’s soul; the outcome is inevitably determined by faith!
Stylistically as well, Kirk departed from the norm:
Kirk’s writing style and his stories spring from an accomplished literary age, when appropriate consideration was given to language and “story,” not just character and plot. He directs you into an uncertain past, eschewing modernity, for scientism and positivism have nothing to offer but quiet despair. There is violence—original sin demands it—but not in the churlish, vulgar manner of a Stephen King.
~ Robert C. Cheeks, “The Works of Russell Kirk,” California Literary Review, April 24, 2007.
~ Russell Kirk, Old House of Fear (1961).
~ Russell Kirk, Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales (2004).
~ Russell Kirk, Off the Sand Road: Ghost Stories, Volume One (2002).
~ Russell Kirk, What Shadows We Pursue: Ghost Stories, Volume Two (2003).
~ Bruce Edward Walker, “Sixty Years On: Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind,” The American Culture, October 23, 2013.