The Comfort of Horror Fiction
Crime Writing with Megan Buxton
I find horror very comforting. I can just see the raised eyebrows as I write that. The modern world is terrifying enough – war and terrorism, senseless crimes on a daily basis. Why subject yourself to more?
Stephen King, probably the most recognisable name in horror fiction, says that reading horror is ‘… rehearsal for death. It’s a way of getting ready.’ Fear of death, and curiosity about what might come after it, is almost universal. Horror lets us explore our curiosity about death and its aftermath in a fictional – safe – environment.
HP Lovecraft, the founding father of American horror, said ‘… the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’ Horror examines both how little we really know and understand and our need to confront the unknown.
Finally; the thrills and chills of horror make us feel alive. Logic might tell us that there are no such things as ghosts and ghouls but our lizard brain doesn’t give a damn about logic- and it loves the adrenaline rush of a good scare.
I prefer my horror as fiction rather than movies, my imagination rather than the director’s interpretation. And you can’t close your eyes or look away when reading a book.
When people think of horror writers it is often male names that come to mind: Lovecraft and King and names such as Peter Straub, James Herbert, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. But, as with crime fiction, there are outstanding women horror writers.
Women writing horror is not a modern phenomenon. Think of Mary Shelley; she is best known for Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1818) but also wrote short horror stories such as Transformation (1831) and The Mortal Immortal (1833)
Shirley Jackson will also be a familiar name. Her novel, The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted for Netflix though We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, for me, a far more disturbing read. Her short stories The Lottery and The Summer People are wonderfully creepy.
Of more contemporary women horror writers Susan Hill is worthy of mention; she writes both crime (a series featuring the detective Ian Serailler) and horror, which explains why she is a favourite of mine. The Woman in Black, a ghost story written in the Gothic style, is a brilliant literary horror story. There’s no gore in this story just carefully controlled and spine-chilling atmosphere. More recently I have read Broken Monsters by Lauren Beuker, a genre blend of horror and thriller with multiple storylines and complex, fascinating characters, The Grip of It by Jac Jemc, an unsettling take on the traditional haunted house story and The Hunger, in which Alma Katsu takes the true story of the Donner Party (https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-donnerparty) and imbues it with supernatural elements.
All of these stories admirably fulfil the definition of horror: A genre of speculative fiction intended to, or has capacity to, frighten, scare, disgust or startle readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror or terror.
Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.
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