Let the October madness commence!
I came across this Stephen King quote a few months ago via an episode of the
H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast
(go check them out!) I thought it was a fantastic description of not just what scares us but why it does.
Which, of course, is a completely different discussion. It’s the difference between mental reasoning and inescapable engrained instinct.
(Suddenly I find myself thinking about the x-files, go figure)
‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ says:
The fear we felt as children gets lost with time, it dilutes into the everyday flurry of wake, eat, work, and sleep. As a grown up you don’t have time to worry about such things. We're too busy paying bills, raising kids & worrying about that at any minute your mother-in-law might drop in on the visit she's always threatening to make. We feel safe in the predictability of everyday life.
But safety, much like oxygen, only ever becomes an issue when it disappears.
I believe the same can be said for sex.
The things I’m scared of now are completely different from the things I was scared of at age 4. Although I doubt that my fear of sleeping with the cupboard door open will ever really go away. As I spend more time in this body, becoming better acquainted with the world, fewer things are new to me. I am pretty certain, from experience, that when I walk up the street I won’t get mauled by a rabid tiger. I am also pretty sure that when I ascend any of the three flights of stairs that lead to my front door, I won’t slip through a hole in the fabric of space and find myself plummeting towards the nether world in a sea of black. So I think it is fair to say that experience colours perception.
The construction of a horror story seems to be almost the same as that of a joke.
First comes the set up, which by its very nature is there to mislead and shape expectations in an altogether different direction.
Then the punch line, which, if correctly executed (& written) takes the audience completely by surprise, causing them to laugh at an immense contradiction. Laughter erupts to level the audience's discomfort at being mislead, it smooths out the newly uneven social terrain. Likewise, horror's punchline should tip safety on its head, steal its lunch money & clothes then push it back out into the frigid world.
The audience shivers. Now with all that said, lets get back to Mr King’s three.
The Gross out – gets you physically in the back of your throat, it’s an automated responses to spoilt meat.
Our bodies wash us with that sensation because it is designed to keep us away from harmful pathogens
– for our own safety.
The Horror – is an internal response, it is what we do when something chases us. It is the flight response. We don’t think, we run. It’s is all we can do – but it is something.
The Terror – if horror hits you on the 1st floor, then terror is the sub-sub-basement.
One that can only be reached by plummeting 36 floors in a lightless, elbow squeezingly tight elevator,
which seems to coat as if you were a sliver of shrink wrapped meat. Terror rocks the world around, it burrows into your deepest place and nibbles at it.
This kind of cosmic horror is something that Lovecraft is known for.
The example of everything you own being replaced by a replica is quite apt, but in truth the size of the statement takes a moment to sink in. Terror is learning that god hates you, that you were an unwanted mistake or that if you are the result of something truly unnatural.
It is inescapable in its completeness & stays with you long after the tale has ended and the lights are back on. You still have your faculties and are able to know things,
but the worst thing is, you know you are the punch line.