Friday, May 28, 2021

Something About Understanding Horror Fiction

O horror, horror, horror!

The Irish Times recently published (May 13) an essay by editor Brian Showers about the emotion of horror. Some abbreviated comments from the article follow, including a mention of Bellairs:
As a life-long connoisseur of horror, I seldom experience genuine “fear” while reading (or viewing) – that adrenaline-fuelled dread termed “art-horror” by Noel Carroll in The Philosophy of Horror. It does happen to me on occasion though, this sense of frisson: I remember the worrying, childhood anxiety of the doomsday clock in John Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls, that horrible cosmic grandeur I experienced the first time I turned the pages of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, or the overbearing sense of inexorable supernatural fate in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. 

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There seems to have been a proliferation of horror-related literary descriptors in the early- to mid-20th century (or at least an increasingly formalised awareness of them): cosmic, weird, numinous, uncanny, strange, among others. I believe these words are of merit, not because they define sub-genres, but because they reflect attempts to describe particular nuances of affect (emotional responses) to be found in the “ghost story”– the dominant mode of horror in the late 19th century, itself rooted in the gothic tradition. 

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As someone who thinks often about the mechanics of horror storytelling, it makes sense to me that we recognise and try to describe the wide-ranging nuances of emotional sensations available to writers of horror. I believe understanding this diversity makes horror literature a stronger, richer and more enjoyable pursuit.

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