Monday, May 01, 2017

Horror Story

I have never liked the horror genre.  That is, at least, what I have always said.  Friends in the fantasy literature crowd would speak highly of H P Lovecraft, but I never even cracked a cover.  I knew I didn't like that stuff. I knew this because the wrong kind of children liked horror movies when I was young - except for a few unaccountables, whose presence could be ignored.  People could like Poe, I suppose, though I disliked much of him. Film buffs (we don't call them "buffs" anymore - what do we call them) liked Hitchcock.  It was all too close to slasher films, women screaming, knives, and blood for my taste.

I was therefore greatly irritated when a director of horror movies, no matter how talented, was chosen to direct The Lord of The Rings. I was unlikely to rush out to see that film anyway for a half-dozen other reasons, yet I think an aversion to horror itself kept me away at least some of the 10+ years it took me to break down and at least look at it. The wheels were turning, however.  Even in my staying away I did readily see that it would be necessary to get Shelob, and Nazgul, and orcs, and Gollum! Certainly Gollum, correct in a way that directors of musicals and romcoms might not be up to.  Yes, I reluctantly admitted, castles and knights and horses were pretty standard issue in the movies and could be just good enough without much harm, and even dragons allowed for a certain wiggle room.  But the Eye of Sauron, the Oathbreakers, and Barrow-wights needed to be portrayed with some skill, or the whole enterprise would begin to carry a taint of 1950's Japanese Sci-Fi movies.

Then too, Tolkien had given strong lierary support for the importance of monsters in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.  (Wiki article here. Though if you haven't read the original 1936 essay, this would be a good time.  It changed Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon literature criticism immediately and unto the present day.)  Monsters aren't quite the same thing as horror, so I was able to mentally separate those strains - but it's an evasion, really.  LOTR may be an adventure story and heroic myth, but horror is never far beneath the surface.

This comes up because I am rereading CS Lewis's "The Dark Tower."  Which...is clearly a horror story, and likely to be loved by horror fans who might think they wouldn't much like the author of the Narnia Chronicles. I note in passing that Voyage of the Dawn Treader, at least, has some passages that fit the horror genre. More to the point, the last, individual battle of Perelandra, several sections of That Hideous Strength, and the dark underside of the Screwtape Letters, obscured by the ironic and sometimes even humorous tone on the surface, are also much like the horror genre.

I'm not quite sure what to do with my horror of horror at this point.

10 comments:

james said...

Fans of horror would probably like the Dark Tower better if Lewis had finished it. The copy I had included some commentary to the effect that he probably felt he'd written himself into a box and put it aside to wait for some better ideas.

Maybe horror is one of the flavors that goes into a mix when you're writing an adventure with magic. The kind of being that concentrates on power will warp themselves, and this is most dramatically illustrated with horror. Maybe?

Grim said...

Barrow wights and Nazgul really depend on horror. It's the sketch of a depth of despair, which isn't spelled out -- because, if it were spelled out, it could never be horrible enough as the dread of the thing.

"He will bear you to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh will be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind left naked to the Lidless Eye."

Yet a far more horrible thing exists than horror, I think. This movie is genuinely horrible in a way that the Nazgul even are not. How much I would prefer the Witch King of Angmar to the inhabitants of this film, where there is no heroism, no hope, no wrath.

Kevin Moquin said...

Give Arthur Machen a try. He was a horror writer of the late 19th - early 20th century. He was also an Anglican believer (with a strong mystical bent). I think his best is "The White People" and it is available free from Project Gutenberg. There is an interesting discussion on the nature of sin sandwiching a story based on a teen girl's diary entries about her dark adventures in the supernatural. The diary entries serve to exemplify the point made by one of the men discussing the nature of sin.

I think it's great reading - but, then again, I love horror.

Sam L. said...

NEVER vote for the lesser evil! Vote CTHULHU.

jaed said...

"The Dark Tower" really reminds me of Perelandra... to the point where I suspect those passages in Perelandra were the better ideas he had later, and what happens to Weston is ultimately what he did with the ideas in "The Dark Tower".

jaed said...

And Cthulhu has a legal problem with running for office—he's not a natural-born citizen. ;-)

Sam L. said...

I tried to read Perelandra and Out Of The Silent Planet many years ago; just couldn't do them.

Texan99 said...

I love "That Hideous Strength" and have re-read it often. My problem with many horror writers may be that they're too nihilistic. I often enjoy Stephen King or Dean Koontz, but both are pretty upbeat in the end: they communicate a strong belief in the power of good to overcome evil. That's probably why the horror components in Tolkien and Lewis don't bother me, but I haven't much interest in, say, Clive Barker and the Hellraiser series.

jaed said...

Have you read any Joe Hill? I liked Horns and Heart Shaped Box.

I wouldn't exactly call the endings upbeat, but there was a sense of hope in them—not unrelieved darkness the way some horror can be.

Kevin Moquin said...

In defense of unrelieved darkness, it can confront readers with the logical result of secular humanism - nihilism. Nietzsche called it. Unfortunately, his remedy was the overman.