Horror, Terror, and England
he England bit first. I was there and was asked to share some pictures. I am on a recent horror kick in my reading material. It started with finding Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Haunted while traveling in England. The book has, no kidding, a parental advisory notice on it. Whether that is real (I’ve never seen a book with one before) or part of some marketing gimmick, it worked as a marketing gimmick. I picked it up. It’s more revolting than terrifying. More cheap mind games than true spine tingling. So I put it down and decided I wanted the real thing. The real thing is in two anthologies. Anthologies don’t sell well, but I love them.
The first is The Mammoth Book of Short Horror Novels edited by Mike Ashley. When I first read it, it was the summer I was sixteen and I didn’t quite understand all the stories. Of course I loved "The Monkey" by Stephen King.
I loved "There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding" by
Russell Kirk. I loved "The Feasting Dead" by John Metcalfe and wanted
to write a story like it. And was at least intrigued by "The Parasite"
by Arthur Conan Doyle, a story which has no mention or anything to do
with Sherlock Holmes. But other stories did not make sense to me at
sixteen. Take Algernon
Blackwood’s "The Damned" for instance. It is a quiet story about a
brother and sister who go to stay with a friend. It stuck with me, some
of the images and ideas stayed with me through the past twelve years,
but I remember finishing that story and feeling frustrated and angry
that something more didn’t happen. No blood, no guts, no soul
possession, no beasts, no claws or knives or madmen. But it stuck with
me. Going back and reading these short novels now is a revelation. I
am no longer so enamoured of "The Monkey" and "The Damned" will
continue to haunt me. I realized this was my first introduction to
Lucius Shepard, now one of my favorite writers. At the time, his "How
the Wind Spoke at Madaket" left no impression. Now I think it will. I
still love "The Feasting Dead" but my viewpoint is
no longer the child’s but the father’s and that makes it scarier. A lot
has happened to me in the intervening twelve years, and I’m glad I
picked this book up again.
The second book is the 1985 edition of Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural
edited by Marvin Kaye. I think newer editions say Marvin Kaye and
Saralee Kaye. I picked this up over the summer while I was at, where
else? A Novel Idea. At the end Kaye writes an essay titled "Is Terror a
Dying Art?" He discusses current movies and books (from 1985) and goes
into a discussion of horror, which he defines as "revulsion experienced
upon witnessing something ugly,
disgusting, shocking, etc." and terror which is to truly frighten. My
dictionary doesn’t define horror that way, but I like his distinction.
This is why Hostel made me nauseous, but Ju-On really
scared me. This is why Chuck Palahniuk’s story "Guts" left me grossed
out, but essentially yawning, and Issac Bashevis Singer’s story "The
Black Wedding" left me chilled and wondering if the young woman had
made it all up. The stories, some of them subtle and others, such as
Robert Bloch’s "The Hungry House", overt in their terror, are all good
scares. Mind you, I never get as frightened reading a book as I do
watching a movie. For some reason that sort of fear doesn’t strike when
I’m reading. But the
stories are good reads and intelligent. They sneak up on you. There may
not be the initial fear you get from a movie, but they stay with you.
You may still want to leave a light on at night.