My Goodness Darklings,
I had not intended for this essay to be so long, and I know I will miss some very important authors or subjects so please bear with me.
Let us go back to our original definition of Horror as "a painful, and intense fear, dread or dismay"
If we go with that definition, then horror deals not only with the supernatural or things that go bump in the night, but also with the mundane or normal events, as long at it elicits that emotional reaction of fear and/or dread.
But once you get rid of the supernatural elements, the monsters, vampires, demons, ghosts and other strange paranormal phenomena, those "things that go bump in the night", then horror is really all about FEAR, about abnormal occurrences or situations happening to normal people that they discover are often powerless to prevent or control.
Control is subconsciously an important aspect in a person's life and to not be in control of one's life can be terrifying. A good horror story will play upon that sense of losing control.
Emily Dickinson said "One need not be a chamber to be haunted, one need not be a house. The brain has corridors surpassing material place."
Lot's of novels that aren't considered horror are based around fear; now I would have considered, years ago, those novels as not being "horror novels" but today, if you look at the definition of Horror, then those novels are.
Going back to Edgar Allen Poe, Poe wrote quite a few gothic stories about murder, revenge , torture, being buried alive and being driven insane. In his stories like "The Black Cat" or "The Tell-Tale Heart", those are about people taking revenge in horrific ways, and then being found out because of their own internal fears, causing them to lose control and then giving their guilty selves away.
Of course one could say "Well those stories or stories like them are different, that's a different kind of fear."
But is it really?
Imagine that you are in your home or apartment alone, its nighttime, you've just woken up from a sound sleep and hear a noise outside the bedroom door.
On the other side it could be a monster, or it could be a serial killer with a sharp knife.
One plot come straight from the pages of a traditional type of horror story, and the other from crime or suspense.
But is there really a difference? Obviously one is a supernatural or science fiction plotline, the other is not, but both focus on one basic emotion----fear, fear of the unknown, fear of losing control.
For with both types of fiction the fear must come from horrific and abnormal events happening to ordinary people. The fear comes from the belief that it is possible that person could be you.
Because through the imagery that the author creates in your mind, you become horrified within the depths of your imagination, you begin to look at your environment or at familiar places with a different eye or sense of comfort.
Think of the shower scene in Hitchcock's film "Psycho", for many people after seeing that they were afraid to take showers because of that scene, it generated the fear of being vulnerable, even in their own homes.
Of course on the television program "America's Funniest Home Videos", more than one parent has caught on tape their young child singing away in the shower. I wonder how many of those children are scared for life.
The good thing about one's mind is that when you read horror literature you can limit how much you want to imagine; it is a mental safe-guard, as oppose to the visual imagery that motion pictures, graphic novels, television news and documentaries would subject the viewer to.
In those instances those safe guards are off and you are subject to the shocks that the visual media perpetrates on one's senses.
Now I'm going to talk about some modern novels (well, at least late 20th century) that I read that affected and filled me with the sense of dread and horror.
In 1971 a new bar of horror was set by Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist". The author through the use of his narrative style, pre-sets in the reader's mind, promises of things to come, like the use of the sentence "He could not shake the premonition. It clung to his back like chill wet leaves."
When an author uses a description that can make you think of the feeling that chill wet leaves has upon one's skin, you will subconsciously give yourself a slight body shake, I know I did.
And when that happens, without you realizing it, you mind is getting set for things to come and you start developing a desire to continue to read the next paragraph.
Blatty follows the Radcliff blue print by creating an opening in the novel to do a dual purpose by vividly setting the description of the location and time and also putting the novel into motion. And within the next few paragraphs lets you know that this is going to be a battle between good and evil.
THAT is the mark of a good novel.
Good writing through suggestion, as oppose to violently graphic descriptions should make your skin crawl. Even though Blatty's novel was written in 1971, in re-reading it today, it still has that effect on me, and as a good novel of the Horror genre it should be on one's book shelf.
Another novel that had me turning the pages so I could read what was happening next, was "Audrey Rose" (1975) by Frank de Felitta.
"Audrey Rose" is a psychological horror novel about a couple confronted with the idea that their young daughter might be the reincarnation of another man's child with tragic results. The book was inspired by an incident in which De Felitta's young son began displaying unusual talents and interests, leading an occultist friend to suggest to the author that his child might be remembering a previous life.
This novel could be considered a horror story but of a metaphysical/psychological bent.
I have to say this one had me wondering about the possibility of reincarnation and the tragedy, fears or injuries of a past life affect us somehow in a new life. Could it explain why some people take the tragic turns in their lives when it was clear to them and to others, that they didn't have to? I won't go further into that thought, as tempting as it is, because then we would be talking about an entirely different subject.
Sad to say with the popularity of "The Exorcists" and "Audrey Rose", and "Rosemary's Baby" (1967) (which I didn't cover) a lot of "junk" writing came out, as well as a lot of "junk" films that got on the so-called band wagon of this new writing trend.
But within all that 'junk' there were 'gems' of varying degrees of brilliance.
Let's start with "Jaws"(1974). (do we hear the sound of cellos?) What can I say about "Jaws"? The book and the movie had people afraid to swim in the ocean for a summer, maybe several summer. And I have to confess, I thought the movie was better than the book. But this book is a prime example of an ordinary man thrust into an extra ordinary situation dealing with something, a creature that operates on primal instinct and being in this primal creatures' element, can you imagine how helpless one would feel?
That simple understated line "We need a bigger boat" is an example of this helpless feeling. It ranks right up there with "Houston, we have a problem." Trying to be in control despite our own internal fears, yet doing our best to hold it together in the face of fear is really a sign of courage.
I must admit, after "Jaws" came out I have not swum in the ocean since, and I still won't, give me a heated swimming pool any day, but even swimming pools are not safe.
"Silence of the Lambs" (1988) by Tom Harris. This was a novel that I read that I could not tear my eyes away from the page. The best way to describe it was like watching a train wreck happening in very slow motion and saying mentally over and over "Oh No, Oh No".
It had me wondering about the depths of depravity of the human soul and yet, in a bizarre way, I kind of...well I am at a loss to describe my feelings about Hannibal Lector, for this man, who could appreciate beauty, is highly intelligent and yet being "without a true moral compass" and yet, as to quote the author, Lecture is an "oddly engaging" person but beyond that, I just don't have the words to describe this type of person.
Even the television series "Hannibal" also left me with puzzled thoughts, in a way you do see a very modified form of him in the James Spader character, Red Reddington, in the show "Blacklist" but Spader's character is far less twisted, he does have a code, a code of loyalty and we do sense a reasoning person behind his actions. But I had a hard time finding one with Lector, because what ever demons are driving him are far more chaotic, almost animalistic, but there is a form of reason, twisted though it is, within him. A book discussion group could pour over this again and again and still not find a satisfactory answer.
If you haven't read the book, do read it, but I suggest that you start with Harris's pre-quill "Red Dragon" (1981)first, this novel introduces you to Lecture.
What really horrified me in the end of "Silence of the Lambs", primarily with the ending of the movie is Lector is talking gently to a young child, the monster within our society, looking perfectly normal, intelligent, educating, we see these monsters again and again on the news broadcasts, but we seem to have this mental block and forget that there are such monsters among us.
In a discussion with my Sister and a few friends after we had gone to see the movie and having also read the book, some of us voiced the thought, the internal desire of wishing they could get "revenge" on a few other people and hopefully get away with it. I, at first thought "what were they thinking?" But then realized that there is a little Hannibal Lector within us, however most of us are conditioned to not act upon our deepest, darkest, basest, vile desires. Yet in viewing this in film, we can't help but cheer in one respect when Lector "takes out" a undesirable person and yet remain on edge wondering if he is going to destroy Clarisse, the object of his focus.
"The Bone Collector" (1997), when I read Jeffrey Deaver's police procedural, I was mesmerized by the description of the crime scene, the forensic evidence and clues, and the characters, but I also found myself glossing over the more descriptive parts, because they were too horrifying for me to even read and process. But there were passages that I read over and over to be sure that I was following the right clues, which, for me makes it a good read. Now that is also horror in a novel that most people would call either a 'thriller' or a 'police procedural', but it also meets the criteria for a horror novel.
Ann Rice's "Interview with a Vampire" (1976) had me hooked right from the beginning, her style of narrative could engage the reader, you felt that the Vampire Louis, was talking directly to you, to the point that when I got to the end of the book, I was angry! Yes, very angry!
She hadn't finished the story---I wanted more, More! And she did supply it with her two sequels, "The Vampire Lestat" (1985) and "Queen of the Damned"(1988).
It is amazing to me that out of her own personal tragedy her turning to writing to question the concept of life and death---creating such characters that leave a lasting impression and with her first novel and the two sequels lead to a new direction in supernatural horror literature.
In 1973, while still grieving the loss of her daughter, Rice took a previously written short story and turned it into her first novel, Interview with the Vampire. She based her vampires on Gloria Holden's character in Dracula's Daughter: "It established to me what vampires were—these elegant, tragic, sensitive people. I was really just going with that feeling when writing Interview With the Vampire. I didn’t do a lot of research." (Wikipedia)
And also giving a back ground as to how and where did the vampire "ancestry" start, creating them as a new species to share the earth with mortals.
It was about this time from the very late 1960's to the early 1970's with the television show "Dark Shadows" and a new form of hard rock music that started the formation of a new "dark romanticism movement" to become Gothic, because earlier music was changing and no longer moving ahead, the Beatles had discovered transcendental meditation, and then broke up, the wild upbeat energetic youthfulness of the mid to late 1960's had begun its dark decent into despair with the prolonged war in Vietnam and the resignation of Richard Nixon amongst the Watergate scandal. Much of the youth at least here in the United States had become discouraged and distrustful, which was a fertile ground for Blatty's and other author's dark writings.
Although "Dark Shadows" had ceased it's daytime television run in 1971, the "dark romantic movement" had started and eventually found its queen with Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire", other novels were written, film makers jumped on this new "Dark Romanticism Movement" and Goths were born.
But there is another story by Anne Rich that pleased me on one level and disappointed me on another and that was Rice's "The Mummy or Ramses, the Damned" (1989) Her scene where the Mummy, Ramses comes to life I could picture, frame by frame in my mind, so much so that I had to re-read that section, it mesmerized me that I felt it was on par with the opening film sequence in the 1930's Boris Karloff film, "The Mummy" and again another understated line in the film said by a man driven mad by what he saw when he in his madness said "He went for a little walk."
However Rice's Mummy on another level, I felt was a bit flat, especially when Ramses was introduced into Edwardian Society, I felt it was stogy. But her writing captured me again when her story went back to Egypt, ad I fund myself flowing along with the story as if I was on an ancient Egyptian barge flowing down the Nile, then I couldn't stop reading it.
Yet the amoralness of the villainess makes you begin to wonder this strange concept---if the soul leaves the body, but one revives the body, does it become a killing machine, with just the sole purpose to kill? Does then the re-animated body minus the soul simply become that? I found myself pondering this ideas much as earlier readers my have pondered this same horrifying concept when I realized that "The Mummy" was a sort of variation on the Frankenstein and Jeckle and Hyde formula.
Not too long ago I read "Willing Servants " (2006) by local author Eric Turowski and after I read it I discovered that I was beginning to look at various locations here in the Bay Area in a different way.
Granted there were scenes of gore and mayhem, but it, like the other novels, captured me in a way that I had to follow the story and read it to the very end.
I think what made it more personal for me is that I was familiar with the description of some of the locations or he had written them in a way that they felt familiar to me as a local resident.
And Once again I found that I could not look at that which was familiar and innocently thought to be friendly, in the same way again, I had fallen back into my childhood fear of something evil behind every tree or behind a bush.
It reminded me of a line from one of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, where Holmes says to Watson..." It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record f sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."
These are just a few of the novels that are about mundane people who live mundane lives but are found trapped in abnormal or supernatural situations where reason and logic are not operating or they are twisted. There are many more out thee, at different age and reading levels from fairy tales and R.L. Stein's children's works and the Twilight series and others for young adults, to the one's I just mentioned, and there are more, many more classics and modern. I know a number of people will say to me "You haven't mentioned Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" or "The Haunting" or "The Haunting of Hill House" "
I know I haven't, but they are out there waiting for you to discover them. But each individual, depending upon their own individual taste has to find them, all I can do is suggest a few that might be interesting.
Horror Fiction or literature will never go away; it will evolve and change with the times, society and our perceptions as demanded by our new modern fears or monsters. The popularity of horror fiction also seems to rise and fall with our economic situation, and change with peoples taste, if we are looking at the supernatural type of horror to chose one type as an example of change and evolution, then I'd have to say that vampire stories have taken on a "romantic" twist among the younger readers, all that "Mr. Darcy" or "Heathcliff" brooding.
As a matter of fact when the sequel in the Twilight film series "New Moon" came out in the theatres, there was a tremendous line up to see that film. One excited movie attendee who read the series said "They are soooo Romantic!"
We can thank Anne Rice for that, with her vampire series she single handedly created a subgenre within Horror Literature that writers of the 19th and early 20th century would not have considered, what is now called "paranormal romance." Quoting Ms. Rice in a recent article "...The
phrase paranormal romance "didn't exist when I wrote the vampire novels in
the beginning," Rice says. But the genre, she adds, "is here to
stay." (Los Angles times Oct. 23, 2014 Carolyn
She goes on further to say "The
vampire is hyper-romantic, a Byronic hero — a larger-than-life, extremely
strong, mysterious, tragic personality," she says. "It's Mr.
Rochester and Jane [Eyre] over and over again.... Basically the vampire is
untamed mystery, and that's what men seem to women. It's a deep, deep metaphor
for sexual difference. Every man's a vampire to us, in a way."
I've walked through books stores and found that they have sections for what they call Horror novels, and it does include Laurel K. Hamilton, Steven King, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz, that was only a well known few of the many, many authors that are cropping up. I even saw titles that I would classify as horror located in the Science Fiction section and in mysteries.
Horror is now found in books that people would call thrillers, or suspense, many top writers such as Koontz and Barker, resist the horror label, much like Lovecraft and Lu Fanu and they are the masters of the strange and fantastic with twists.
Not too long ago there were some entries on the New York Times Best Seller lists that included a novel about the story of a brutally murdered young girl watching her family's life unfold, another about the end of the world and the anti-Christ, but strangely these books do not bear the horror label and yet they fit our definition or Horror Literature. Even the Bible has elements of horror in it, especially in the description of the 10 plagues that visited Egypt or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra in the Old Testament.
Author Douglas Winter in his 1982 anthology "Prime Evil" stated "Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or western. It is not a kind of fiction meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion."
And it takes a very good author to create that type of emotion to the point where it will remain with you for a long time. Horror literature cannot be pegged into one style or stereo type; it changes, just as our fears and terrors change so will the definition and perception of horror change from generation to generation and person to person because no matter what, as I said earlier, Horror is always around us.
Simply put, horror either as a fictional book, movie or television series is a roller-coaster ride into the unknown. It jump starts our senses, it speeds up our heartbeat, it gives an excuse for young and old couples to cuddle at the theater or on a carnival dark ride. Horror is an encapsulation of things that exist just around the corner, beyond our view, beyond our control.
So go ahead, take a ride, you can come back. You may not be the same, but return you shall.
Because when a horror tale drops you off after a tour of its inner workings, you will be affected one way or another, and with a good horror tale that's really the point, isn't it?
So my Darklings that is my thoughts on Horror literature, I know I have not listed so many authors who have written or are currently writing horror fiction only because there are so many especially now.
I would suggest, Goggleing Horror Literature to get a list of authors, and read My Darklings, READ!! and not on Kindle, go to a 2nd hand book store or a Friends of the Library Book Sale with list in hand, even estate and yard sales, have that book in your hand to read by candle light or Gaslight. Have the physical book in your hand, you can take it anywhere and not worry about it being stolen or the battery dying at the key moment. It is a friend that will not fade away into "the Cloud" nor will the back lighting of the screen hurt your eyes, you can safely fall asleep with it on your chest or slide off the bed without fear of it breaking.
Yes My Darklings there is nothing so wonderful as the physical presence of a book that can scare the wits out of you.