A relatively new sub-genre, weird west combines elements of a western with those of another genre, usually horror, fantasy or sci-fi. It is even more distinct than other combination genres because authors are usually able to incorporate both sets of elements, without having to deviate from either. The western is a very distinct genre, as it is often influenced by actual events. This is extended to the weird west, where a merger of fictional characters and real people happens frequently.
The sub-genre was officially categorized in the 1970s, but several stories that were published in pulp magazines contain a combination of the same types of elements. Some of the earliest include The Horror from the Mound and Old Garfield’s Heart written by Robert E. Howard and published in Weird Tales in 1932 and 1933 respectively. In the 1950s, Lon Williams also wrote a series about a deputy, Lee Winters, who had adventures that involved ghosts, sorcery and creatures from Greek mythology.
Like westerns, weird west stories feature many opposing forces such as: criminals and lawmen, natural and supernatural and good and evil. Westerns also takes place during a period when industrialization was in its prime yet many people and entire communities, such as the Native Americans, had supernatural beliefs. These superstitions vs modernization created the perfect contradictory background for the sub-genre.
Most of the towns that were in their prime during the Wild West era are now abandoned. Many of them had been known for rampant gun violence, harboring outlaws, and promoting gambling and prostitution. The banging saloon doors, dilapidated buildings, and eerie sounds that are now the essence of these ghost towns, as well as the haunted mines and unmarked graves that surround many of them, create the perfect setting for a horror, fantasy or sci-fi combination.
Stephen King’s series, The Dark Tower, features a western scene in another realm. Roland, The Last Gunslinger, takes readers on an epic journey reminiscent of the Wild West and the feuds that used to occur, but with added magical elements making it a classic weird west novel.
Other authors incorporate various levels of magic in their stories, depending on what they are trying to convey to the reader. In some books, magic is a part of everyday life, while in others it only takes place occasionally.
R. S. Bletcher has created a world where supernatural meets western in his Golgotha series, which includes a sheriff with the mark of the noose around his neck and a half-human deputy. This series blends steampunk with western fantasy, and uses the abandoned mines outside the town as a major part of the plot.
Like magical elements, the supernatural is used by authors in varying degrees and is often mixed with magic to enhance the storyline.