Random (but not really)

Thursday, May 9, 2019


Here’s a question for you: What is horror?

Specifically, horror in books.

What qualifies a story as horror? Is it a feeling it gives you? Is it the presence of monsters? Is it terrible things happening to characters?

I’ve always had an odd relationship with dark fantasy and horror. I’m fine with monsters and murder (though not with details about torture) but because of my hatred of horror movies, I’ve always avoided anything categorized as horror. I am easily started and HATE that feeling, so I’ve always associated horror with monsters jumping out from behind doors.

But I’m not necessarily sure what I’ve been avoiding is the thing that I hate so much.

I love Simon R. Green and Thieves’ World. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor and Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series are full of demons and monsters. And I think the movies based on Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series were classified as horror.

On the other hand, one of the most distressing books I’ve read was Joyce Carol Oates “Blonde” which was the fictionalized story of Marilyn Monroe. And I’d rather stab myself in the thigh with a fork than ever read China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station ever again.

Are those horror? I found them both horrific and they both made me completely and utterly miserable.

I enjoyed “The Sandman” comics but really disliked “Preacher”.

So what is horror? Have I been missing things I might have liked because they fell under the umbrella or horror? Or have I mostly been avoiding things that would make me miserable?

2 Responses to “Horrific”

  1. Eric Says:

    It’s hard to answer without having a much more focused idea of what you find horrifying about horror. A fair amount of Stephen King, for instance, could just as easily be classified as “dark fantasy,” and what’s truly horrifying about a novel like The Shining (which would fall into the “true” horror category) isn’t the haunted hotel, it’s the alcoholism and domestic abuse.

    Joe Hill and Peter Straub are also writers who have written horror, whose works are considered horror, but who have written works that arguably owe more to Tolkien than Poe.

    All that being said, I’d hate to point you to something like Joe Hill’s N0S4A2, which I tend to think of as being essentially a fantasy quest novel with horrific trappings, and then have you hate me because of all the child endangerment, the substance abuse and mental health issues, the vampirism, the serial rapist/murderer, and/or monster children.

    One possible gateway into Hill that might give you an idea of whether you like his style or not might be the graphic novel series he did with Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke and Key.

    Another suggestion might be to start with somebody’s short stories, if they’ve written any, since that lets you put in a relatively small amount of personal investment.

    Related: try sampling some episodes of Pseudopod, the Escape Pod Family podcast for horror fiction?

    Dunno if any of that helps. Hope it does. But I should also probably caveat things by adding that while I consider myself a horror fan and it’s been the kind of thing I’ve tried writing off and on over the years, I have never really been that deeply embedded in that community and the list of authors I’ve only heard of (but never read) or haven’t even heard of is vastly longer than the genre authors I’ve read relatively deeply.

  2. Michelle Says:

    That’s very useful Eric!

    What I especially can’t stomach is abuse and bullying–I generally despise all those movies we were supposed to love as teens, because I hated seeing That One Character who was always bullied or said the stupid thing and laughed at. (shudder)

    FREX, take mysteries, if the author puts a child in danger, made you *feel* that child’s danger, and then kills the child–I’m done. Detailed descriptions of the torture of a victim are also something I can’t stand. I can clearly imagine how awful something is without you telling me about the pliers and the fingernails for an entire chapter.

    Vampires and monsters and werewolves are perfectly fine.

    I’m ok with detailed descriptions of what a monster looks like, with slavering jaws and spiny protuberances. I’m ok with said monster eating people, as long as we don’t go into lovingly detailed descriptions of the process.

    I’m the person who looks away when passing a wreck, so I don’t see anyone’s suffering.

    I think I might have Locke & Key… yes. My helpful review was “Good, but not to my liking” which is how I felt about “Watchmen.”

    I guess what I need most is a leavening of humor with whatever it is. Which is perhaps why I love Simon Green’s Nightside so much. I’ve always avoided Stephen King because I strongly associate him with being startled and scared, which I despise. (I’m the person who, if you talk to me when I didn’t hear you come into the room, will fall out of my chair because I’m so startled.)

    Mostly I suppose I despise suffering for the sake of suffering. I don’t mind death, and I don’t mind unexpected deaths that do nothing to further the plot (Hello argument you and I have had about Serenity!). I just don’t want people to suffer and having nothing come of it. Which is why perhaps I found “Blonde” so distressing. All the terrible things she had to go through to become secure, and in the end she dies alone and feeling unloved and suffering.

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