Monday musings: Why do we love to read horror?

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Photo: Capture Queen (Creative Commons)

Pandemic. Totalitarianism. Climate change. Terrorism. Jihad. Illegal immigration. Socialism. Job loss.

Judging from hyperbole in social media, we are out-and-out terrified of these things. As evidence: people advocate shooting refugees to keep them from crossing their border.

As (occasionally) the author of horror, my job is to reflect my audience’s fears back to them in symbolic way. This can be a way to help deal with them, but mostly, through fantasy, we can take some joy from our fears. It’s like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun because it scares us, but we’re really safe.

A long, grisly, nasty yet honourable tradition

This is what fantasy and horror writers have always done: create stories that give us another way to look at what’s really bothering us. It has a long history in a technological era:

Godzilla, the monster awakened by atomic radiation and that could breathe out “atomic fire,” reflected our fears of nuclear war and radiation.

Zombies, like those in The Walking Dead series and World War Z, reflect our fear of incurable, virulent and especially contagious pandemics, made even more horrifying and destructive by their ability to instantly render their victims as vessels of further transmission.

Hereditary is the fear of what you don’t know about yourself, which you may have inherited from your parents.

Horror movies like Predator and Venom play on the most primeval fear of all: getting killed and eaten by a predator. Other horror movies play on more modern fears of surveillance, mortgage foreclosure, and of course, the old standby, the Other—people not of our tribe, and therefore a threat. Don’t forget the 2001 horror movie actually called “The Others,” with Nicole Kidman.

Have you not noticed how terrified some people are of people from other cultures?

Fear of sex

Dracula, the Un-Dead, the progenitor of nearly all the vampire books since, plays on several fears. First is the fear of contagion—Bram Stoker’s heroes thought Lucy’s affliction was a blood disease, after all – but also the fear of being infected with something that will change your nature (becoming a vampire). There is also the fear of the Other, the foreigner, the intruder who by his very nature is dangerous. But mostly, Dracula was a sublimation of the greatest fear of the Victorian era: sex.

Yes, I am saying that sucking up blood was the only way that a Victorian era writer would portray sexual lust without getting banned or arrested. Don’t believe me? The vampire was ultimately defeated by a woman’s sexual attractiveness. Oh, sure, Dracula said he was only interested in her blood. But he was lured to his doom by a beautiful young woman, who invited the vampire into her bedroom and made him stay all night long. Now tell me Stoker was not writing about sex.

Image: Vancouver Sun

Still holding onto that argument? Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s film based on the book and try to sustain it.

Today, there’s a lot of fear about crowds of refugees or migrants getting past the border. I don’t understand the fear, myself. Which means there is already a really bad book or movie, or both, based on exactly that idea in development right now.

The biggest fear, though, that I can see is the fear of change. Any new idea still evokes howls from predictable corners. How could writers deal with that?

What about readers? What fears would you like your favourite authors to write about?

Leave your suggestions in the Comments.

Scott Bury

just can’t stay in one genre.

After a 30-year career as a journalist and editor, Scott Bury published a children’s story, and a story that bridged the genres of paranormal occult fiction and espionage thriller. Since then, he has published 12 novels and novellas without regard to staying in any one genre: fantasy, satire, mysteries, thrillers and biography.

In 2012, he published his first novel, the historical magic realism bestseller The Bones of the Earth. His next book, One Shade of Red, was a satire of a bestseller with a similar title.

From 2014 to 2017, he published the Eastern Front Trilogy, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, and how he survived the Second World War.

He wrote four Hawaii mystery titles for Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle World; Jet: Stealth for Russell Blake’s Jet Kindle World, and two for Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye Kindle World. Since the cancellation of the Kindle World program, he has revised and published the first title, Torn Roots, as the first volume in a stand-alone series, Hawaiian Storm.

He has also launched a new mystery series with Wildfire, featuring the smart and passionate Tara Rezeck.

Find out more about Scott and his writing:

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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About Scott Bury