Why Horror Fiction?
I have been asked many times by friends and family why I read, publish and make my living exclusively within the horror genre. Why would I spend so much time perusing such macabre things when there is so much more positive work with which to focus my attention? I’ve pondered this question many times myself and I believe at its core, that it’s a desire to analyze and understand the relevance that pain and death has in our lives.
Socrates stated in The Republic that philosophy is a preparation for death and dying. With some self analysis I’ve found that horror fiction too is a way of examining death, pain, dying and what lies in wait for us when that inevitable time comes.
Death is something we all hold in common; none of us can escape its cold grip. What lies in wait for us there must be greeted individually rather than with family, friends or loved ones, making it all the more mysterious and potentially frightening. All cultures have created mores, folkways and religions in an effort to help explain this transition from life to death in order to help ease the anxiety of our inevitable doom.
Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines HORROR as: painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay
Horror need not be the same for everyone but the roots of everything that scares us is grounded in pain. Even the child who fears the monster under his bed, really fears the pain that monster can cause when the monster’s belly starts growling to be filled. The adult would likely fear something quite different, like the illness of a loved one or perhaps nuclear war.
Horror therefore, has never been able to be adequately categorized because it is an emotion rather than a genre. Everything from the bible to science fiction may well have elements of horror within its pages, so to have it confined to a section in your local bookstore is literally impossible.
Horror is not safe; it stretches the boundaries of our comfort levels and pushes us to analyze who we are and the world we live in. It peels away the contrary layers of emotion one can experience and exhibit, like strength and weakness; despair and rage, love and hate; guilt and salvation; pain and pleasure and lonesomeness and the escape from lonesomeness through intimate connection.
Of course dark fiction has always been a reflection of human perspective; The Greeks used the word teratology in reference to tales about or the study of monstrosities, which is derived from the Greek word for monster Teras.
“Verily we have learned that if we are to have any pure knowledge at all, we must be freed from the body; the soul by herself must behold things as they are.” (Phaedo; 66-e).
Human perspective on death and pain is more universal than we might at first glance give credit. In nearly all cultures the corpse is instinctively abject. It represents the most basic forms of contamination, a body without a soul. As a form of pollution it symbolizes the opposite of the spiritual. For example, vampires and zombies, two widely used figures in horror fiction, are both bodies lacking souls.
One might then ask why dark fiction rather than horrific movies, video games or music? Simply put, horror fiction in particular, allows an intimacy that I cannot get from any other medium. Movies, for example, are an escape for a couple of hours but a book is in our lives for a week or more. It plays upon our psyches and the characters evolve into people we’ve come to know and invested time in. It also allows us a deeper introspection; or a kind of measuring stick, with which to appraise and value our lives and environment. The process of reading is more of a mental process than visual. In short, movies are a reactionary, whereas books are a participatory. Little imagination is needed while watching movies because the director has done all the imagining for us, often at the cost of believability or connection with the characters. Secondly, movies are two dimensional rather than three dimensional. In fiction the plot and characters seem far more realistic, urgent and important than with any other medium because they are three dimensional in nature.
However, with that said there are many fine films both horrific and mainstream that are worthy of our time and critique and in some circumstance, I’ll be the first to admit, the movie is far superior to the book. Exorcist, in my opinion is just such a movie but I would add that this is the exception rather than the rule.
From the movie Troy (2004) Achilles “The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be more lovely than you are now. We will never be here again.”
In the end horror fiction is the best at reminding me that every day may be my last; it reminds me that life is a gift whose beauty can only be fathomed and enjoyed by contrasting it to the darkness that is both within and around us.
by Larry L. Roberts