Dark literary tourism

Rita Baleiro (ESGHT, University of the Algarve, CiTUR, Portugal)

Dark literary tourism refers to touring places associated with death, suffering and the macabre, produced after the mediation of literary texts and writers’ biographies. Dark literary touring might focus on the places of the novel (i.e., where the plot unfolds) or the authors’ places (i.e., where they lived, worked, are buried or got inspiration from). Examples of the former may be places associated with Gothic literature, detective-murder literature, and crime literature. Examples of the latter are the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, prisons where writers have been incarcerated, and Raymond Chandler’s Hollywood streets and surrounding neighbourhoods, which have shaped his fiction. Other instances of dark literary tourism places are those associated with the characters of such literary fiction (e.g., the Sherlock Holmes tour and the Jack the Ripper murder tour in London).

The film and TV industries have significantly impacted the expansion of dark literary tourism after the screen adaptations of literary texts belonging to the genres previously mentioned. However, dark literary tourism has yet to be the object of much research. Up until now, researchers have identified and analysed literary mediated dark tourism experiences and assigned them five distinct labels. These researchers seldom use the term “dark literary tourism” (except for Baleiro & Coelho-Florent, 2023). Instead, they focus on its micro-niches attending to specific literary genres.

The first label is “Gothic tourism” grounded in sites that allude to Gothic aesthetics and offer experiences of fright and scares (McEvoy, 2016). Its full definition is “the act of visiting, for the purposes of leisure, a location that is […] intimately connected with Gothic narrative, its associated tropes, discourses and conventions.” (McEvoy, 2016: 3-5). This definition also includes sites unrelated to fiction that emanate the Gothic aesthetic in their presentation, for instance, ghost tourism sites, castles and monasteries, scare attractions, and former prisons. In McEvoy’s view, in contrast with dark tourism, which is for broader audiences not necessarily knowledgeable of literature, Gothic tourism “demands of its visitors a complex intertextual literacy”, which means that they must be of the specific body of Gothic literature, its tropes, narratives and conventions (McEvoy, 2016: 201-202). Not all researchers share this perspective, however. Some believe that visits to places related to iconic Gothic novels, where thrills and scares may be experienced, are not limited to a small cluster of visitors familiar with this literary genre (Light et al., 2021). Instead, they suggest that Gothic tourism is a “lighter” form of dark tourism that emerges at the intersection of dark tourism and literary tourism. Such an example would be the Whitby Festival in the English seaside tourism of Whitby, where visitors find several experiences associated with Bram Stocker’s Dracula (1897) and Paul Magrs’ Never the Bride (2006). According to Spooner (2017), “dark tourism” does not adequately describe the ludic festival experience. As such, this researcher suggests using the “happy Gothic” concept, which reconfigures the gruesome and grotesque as playful and quirky.

The second is “crime fiction tourism”, which refers to touring inspired by the crime fiction literary genre (Crane, 2019). This form of dark literary touring stems from the assumption that geography may help visitors understand literature and literary texts. Cranes (2019) focuses on the contribution of island-set crime novels to capitalise on the tourist attraction of islands, for instance. On the other hand, Van Es and Reijnders (2016) have analysed the experience of participating in crime-detective fiction tours in urban contexts. In line with Crane’s literary geography perspective (2019), Van Es and Reijnders conclude that crime-fiction tourism may be a way to access lesser-known locations, learn more accurate representations of the sites, and feel a sense of belonging to the places.

The third label for dark literary tourism is “Holocaust fiction tourism” (Busby & Devereux, 2015), which describes the touring of sites associated with literary texts written by Holocaust victims or about this historical period. These two researchers examined the case of Anne Frank’s Diary and its influence on undertaking dark tourism visits and concluded there was a positive correlation between reading the book and a wish to visit the dark tourism attraction in Amsterdam.

The fourth label is “Dracula tourism”, which describes tours motivated by Bram Stocker’s classic novel (Spooner, 2017), and it has been the most investigated form of dark literary tourism. The research on Dracula tourism started in the 1960s, while the others are more recent. Such an example is Reijnders’ (2011) study, which aimed at understanding the internal drivers of visitors to Transylvania. This researcher concluded that tourists are motivated by a desire to compare the physical materiality of the site and their mental image of the place. These visitors aimed to find the truth behind the myth via the connection of the fictional literary elements to the “real” places and to experience the emotional appeal of the transitory symbiosis of the ‘real’ and fictional world. Hovi (2014) also analysed the Dracula traditions and the Dracula tours and concluded with a suggestion for a new label for this niche of dark literary tourism: (neo)medieval-related” tourism (Hovi, 2014: 72), as this form of touring takes advantage of mystery, darkness, mysticism and the Middle Ages.

Finally, there is the label of “prison literary tourism” (Baleiro & Coelho-Florent, 2023), which refers to visits to former incarceration facilities where literary writers have been incarcerated and where they wrote about that experience. The experience of prison literary tourism changes the pattern of the experience of the prison space after the display of (fragments of) literary texts, literary guided tours and testimonial videos of writers who were incarcerated in the facilities. This type of experience, which is deeply rooted in the prison’s tangible space and the literary texts, may offer visitors a more concrete dimension of the inner strength of prisoners and promote a reflection of human suffering, namely when the literary writers were imprisoned after their political views, as it happened in Chão Bom Concentration Camp, in Cape Verd, where the Portuguese dictatorial regime deposited and tortured its opponents.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Baleiro, R. (2023). Dark literary tourism. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

  • Baleiro, R. & Coelho-Florent, A. (2023). Dark Literary Tourism in Difficult Heritage: Exploring the Potential of the Chão Bom Resistance Museum. In S. C. Pascoal, L. Tallone & M. Furtado (Eds.), Dark heritage tourism in the Iberian Peninsula: Memories of tragedy and death, 32-56. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Busby, G. & Devereux, H. (2015). Dark tourism in context: The Diary of Anne Frank. European Journal of Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation, 6(1), 27-38.
  • Crane, R. (2019). A sea of islands, a sea of crime: Island crime fiction in the Aegean Sea. Island Studies Journal, 14(1), 175-186. https://doi.org/10.24043/isj.85
  • Hovi, T. (2014). Heritage through fiction: Dracula tourism in Romania. Master’s dissertation. University of Turku.
  • Light, D., Richards, S. & Ivanova, P. (2021). Exploring ‘Gothic tourism’: A new form of urban tourism? International Journal of Tourism Cities, 7(1), 224-236. https://doi.org/ 10.1108/IJTC-01-2020-0012
  • McEvoy, E. (2016). Gothic Tourism. Palgrave.
  • Reijnders, S. (2011). Stalking the Count: Dracula, fandom and tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(1), 231–248.
  • Spooner, C. (2017). Post-millennial Gothic: Comedy, romance and the rise of Happy Gothic. Bloomsbury.
  • Van Es, N. & Reijnders, S. (2016). Chasing sleuths and unravelling the metropolis: Analyzing the tourist experience of Sherlock Holmes’s London, Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles and Lisbeth Salander’s Stockholm. Annals of Tourism Research, 57, 113-125. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2015.11.017