Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Value of Horror

"Horror Is Good for You (and Even Better for Your Kids)," according to Greg Ruth. I wish I'd had this article to show to my parents when I was a thirteen-year-old horror fanatic and aspiring writer, and they disapproved of my reading "that junk" (not that they'd have paid any attention):

Horror Is Good for You

Greg Ruth leads off with a tribute to Ray Bradbury, who was my own idol in my teens—based on his early works collected in such books as THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, full of shivery, deeply stirring, poetic stories. Here is Ruth's list of reasons in defense of horror's value for children. Read the article for his full explanation of each:

(1) Childhood is scary. (2) Power to the powerless. (3) Horror is ancient and real and can teach us much. (4) Horror confirms secret truths. (5) Sharing scary stories brings people together. (6) Hidden inside horror are the facts of life.

The article ends with, "The parents that find this so inappropriate are under the illusion that if they don’t ever let their kids know any of this stuff [the terrors of real life], they won’t have bad dreams or be afraid—not knowing that, tragically, they are just making them more vulnerable to fear. Let the kids follow their interests, but be a good guardian rather than an oppressive guard. Only adults are under the delusion that childhood is a fairy rainbow fantasy land: just let your kids lead on what they love, and you’ll be fine."

Stephen King's fiction often highlights the connection between childhood and the primal, timeless fears haunt the human species. Particularly in IT (which I recently saw the excellent new movie of), King's central theme focuses on the power of childhood's imagination, a wellspring not only of fear but of the strength to overcome it. The boy hero Mark in 'SALEM'S LOT realizes, "Death is when the monsters get you." In his nonfiction book DANSE MACABRE, King offers the opinion that all horror fiction is, at its root, a means of coming to terms with death.

Ruth's defense of horror reminds me of C. S. Lewis's comments, in "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," about the mistaken belief of some adults that fairy tales are too scary for children. Lewis says it's wrongheaded to try to protect children from the fact that they are "born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil." That would indeed be "escapism in the bad sense." He goes on, "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. . . . And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. . . . if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comforter than the idea of the police."

I might add that, in my opinion, the best supernatural horror (which is the type I mainly think of when contemplating the genre) has a numinous quality. In a secular age, human beings still crave something that transcends the mundane and merely physical. It's no accident that the Gothic novel was invented during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and the peak of the classic ghost story occurred during the industrialized, science-minded late Victorian era (along with a craze for seances and psychic research in real life). Ghosts, vampires, etc. feed our yearning for and curiosity about life beyond death, even if they frighten us at the same time.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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