Horror & the Writer

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the root of all Horror fiction is Lovecraft’s theory of fearing the unknown. If you were to take a chisel and whittle away at any piece of Horror, you’d find that all you’re left with is mankind’s deepest, darkest fear; death. This could even include the metaphorical death of sanity, like, for example, the struggles of a split personality that John Dykstra faces in Stephen King’s ‘Rest Stop’ (2008)[1]. Our innate fear of death is what Horror writers manipulate, in various styles and forms, in order to send that familiar shiver down their readers’ spines.

The success of a Horror writer, however, is somewhat dependent on the reader. A writer can’t assume that every reader will squirm at body-horror, or thrill when a vampire pounces on its prey. Stephen King said that his writing approach therefore involves three levels, with ‘terror on top, horror below it, and lowest of all, the gag reflex of revulsion.’[2] He uses these varying degrees to prise an emotional response from his readers. Continue reading “Horror & the Writer”

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Horror & Location

Picture this:

You’re running, heart pounding in your throat as the damp air whips your face, a horrifying cackle slicing through the wind behind you. He’s close. You push harder, fear and adrenaline spurring you on, until… You fall, your cheek grinding along the earth as you feel your nose crack. He’s above you, pressing the axe into the nape of your neck. The sun is beaming above, birds chirping, flowers dancing merrily around you as you close your eyes and await your death.

It just doesn’t work, does it?

 

Setting is one of the most important elements of Horror fiction, and even though there are firm favourites (Haunted House v. Creepy Castle), they are favourites for a reason. This is because ‘choosing a setting is one of the best ways to provide a mood underlying [a] … piece’[1], whether in Horror fiction or otherwise. In Horror particularly, however, ‘setting does more than simply enhance the story’s mood; it creates the ambience, and the expectation, of terror.’[2] Imagine walking through an unlit alley at midnight rather than a glowing meadow at the height of spring, and suddenly the tone changes; you almost anticipate the axe murderer. Continue reading “Horror & Location”

Horror & Me

I like to think of myself as a headstrong individual that has totally aced independence. Yet, put me in the centre of a busy tube station and I’ll run shivering, desperately searching for signal so that I can call my mum. What a wimp, I hear you cry, but just let me explain.

This fear of tubes started around five years ago, when I had to get myself half way across the country with a guitar strapped to my back and a giant suitcase handicapping me. Whether it was the threat of terrorism that was constantly in the back of my mind, the worry that I wasn’t going to be able to haul my suitcase up onto the trains, or the idea that if the tube broke down I’d be stuck in a ten-foot by ten-foot tunnel a mile under London – inevitably with a strangers armpit in my face – I think it all stems back to a fear of not being in control. Elliot Cohen said that the problem with fearing a lack of control ‘is the demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain’.[1] It’s not me that decides whether or not a madman leaves a petrol bomb in my carriage. I can’t change the outcome if the tube suddenly grinds to a halt. Continue reading “Horror & Me”

The Nature of Horror

‘The horror tale is as old as human thought and speech themselves.’[1]

Horror fiction dates as far back as the Megalithic period, its ‘roots in folklore and religious traditions such as death, the idea of after life, demons, demonic possessions and witchcraft’[2] being the bog-standard spooky story ingredients. These folktales were traditionally passed down the generations by word of mouth, huddled around a campfire with just the glow of the embers to light up their enthralled faces – the oldest form of story-telling. This is where it all began, however it’s widely regarded that Edgar Allen Poe, much loved and revered poet and story-teller, was responsible for the introduction and following popularity of Gothic Horror as a genre. Poe has been described as ‘the doyen of horror writers’[3], with the likes of HP Lovecraft preaching that ‘to him we owe the modern horror-story in its final and perfected state.’[4] (He really is quite good, I’d suggest reading The Pit and the Pendulum (1842) if you haven’t already.)

It was, however, our King of Horror, Stephen King, who ‘expanded horror to audiences worldwide.’[5] I’m sure you’ve come across his works in cinema if not hardback, the most recent adaption being It (2017), in which a demonic clown terrorises the town of Derry, Maine. The notorious Lovecraft said that ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.’[6] Fear of clowns – in recent years being referred to as coulrophobia – is a perfect example of Lovecraft’s theory on fearing the unknown. The uncanny terror of an unmoving smile, alongside being in the dark (no pun intended) as to what lurks behind the mask, sparks fear in humans worldwide. There is even a professor who specialises in clowning culture: Andrew Stott says that ‘clowns have always been associated with danger and fear, because they push logic up to its breaking point.’[7] But what is fear?

Continue reading “The Nature of Horror”