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.

So, I’m a wimp. There, I said it. I’ll put my hands up and admit it. Perhaps that’s why I’d never thought to venture into the realms of Horror until very recently. Not even six months ago, I picked up my first piece of Horror fiction, intrigued not by the concept of keeping myself up at night, but by the writing style alone of Stephen King. I wanted to know what the hype was all about, plain and simple. Well, I can’t say that I was disappointed. Whilst reading Salem’s Lot (1975), I couldn’t even bring myself to look up at my bedroom window when Danny Glick was floating behind the glass on the pages.

My fears are irrational, meaning that they are ‘strictly psychological and [pose] no direct physical threat’[2] (even though they pose a very direct and extremely physical threat inside my head). That toe-curling terror I experienced when I realised it was rush-hour and there was no lift up to my platform was similar to the spine-chilling sensation of imagining a pre-pubescent vampire tapping at my window. But this time, I enjoyed it. Much like Janet in ‘Harvey’s Dream’; ‘she does want to hear the scary part, everyone wants to hear the scary part’.[3] Janet and I’s shared want happens to correlate perfectly with the idea of catharsis. Originating from Aristotle’s Poetics, catharsis refers to ‘the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions’.[4] It offers ‘escape from the real world of bills and mortgages and the economy and relationships’[5], so, perhaps the fear response I had to fictional vampires was simply a cathartic relief from my more present, real-life fears. Sure, I might not be able to control a terrorist attack, but I can very easily close a book knowing that none of it was real.

Joanna Burke said that ‘We are right to fear. A world without fear would be a dull world indeed.’[6] If I didn’t have my own fears, I might not have been able to respond to King’s vampires in the way that I did. My irrational fear of losing control could be cathartically relieved through a medium that is perfectly safe and (somewhat) controllable, the emotional release allowing me this opportunity to question those fears. I might get the shakes when descending into the depths of Waterloo, but I can at least embrace that fear when I’m grinning into a Horror novel.

Word count: 550.
Quotes: 79.


[1] Cohen, E. D. (2011). The Fear of Losing Control. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-would-aristotle-do/201105/the-fear-losing-control [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018].
[2] Saliba, D. (1980). A Psychology of Fear. [Washington D.C.: University Press of America]. p39.
[3] King, S. (2012). ‘Harvey’s Dream’ in Just After Sunset. [London: Hodder Paperback]. p129.
[4] Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.) Definition of catharsis in English in English. [online] Available at: https://en.oxfroddictionaries.com/definition/catharsis [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].
[5] Begley, S. (2011). Why Our Brains Love Horror Movies: Fear, Catharsis, a Sense of Doom. [online] The Daily Beast. Available at: https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-our-brains-love-horror-movies-fear-catharsis-a-sense-of-doom [Accessed 9 Feb. 2018].
[6] Bourke, J. (2006).  Fear: A Cultural History. [London: Virago Press]. p390.

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