Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
In two days, I’ll be a panelist at the World Horror Convention. This surprises me as much as anyone: Horror, I’ve always thought, just ain’t my thing. But on the other hand, if I run down my list of favorite books from the past ten or fifteen years, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas Series holds several slots. Many books that I read and thoroughly enjoyed — thinking they were fantasies or thrillers — take some very dark turns; a reasonable person could look at Tim Powers’s Declare, for example, and be forgiven for thinking it belongs on the shelf next to Steven King instead of sitting next to Terry Pratchett.
In preparing for WHC, I reviewed some notes from a discussion I listened to at Comic Con Salt Lake. I wish I could remember who said it, but one of the authors in the discussion made the following statement: “Horror is the most conservative of all genres because, as the story builds to a climax, the protagonist is stripped of everything artificial and is left with only the core of who they are as a person to defend themselves against the Evil that’s coming at them.”
I don’t think it’s a truism that the protagonists of horror stories are the most moral people in the room. Maybe that used to be true, but in the post-Scream world, the sex-obsessed teens aren’t always the first to get knocked off. I’ve stopped reading some novels (both horror and otherwise) because the author kept taking me into the minds of people I found too repulsive to want to spend time with, even when they were being stalked by something/someone worse than them. But if I look at the darker stories that make my cut of my best novels of the past several years — especially the Koontz — I find over and over that I’m reading about good people who get themselves trapped in horrible places, battling against some truly evil forces, and yet manage to remain good people throughout. They’re often given a choice to betray their core values–but in the end, they remain true to their principles.
Now, I’m not naive enough to think that this “formula” is unique to horror; what I’ve just described is simply good storytelling, no matter the genre. But that said — and maybe it’s because I have horror on the brain leading up to the convention — the horror genre lays this formula bare, and does the best job of showing us (the readers or the viewers) good people trying to do and be good when the evil around them is both evident and malevolent.
In a dinner conversation last night with some friends, I brought up the idea that fairy tales — especially in their original non-Disneyfied versions — are the original horror stories. As the conversation progressed, I was shocked to hear nearly everyone in the room suggest that children should be protected from the original stories and only exposed to the Happily Ever After versions. I’m not sure I agree with that. Not all of the original fairy tales had happy endings but, for generations before Disney, children loved them anyway.
When Neil Gaiman wrote his updated take on Hansel and Gretel, he said:
I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids. And, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can, but you have to know that.
And for me, the thing that is so big and so important about the darkness is [that] it’s like in an inoculation… You are giving somebody darkness in a form that is not overwhelming: t’s understandable, they can envelop it, they can take it into themselves, they can cope with it.
And, it’s okay, it’s safe to tell you that story, as long as you tell them that you can be smart, and you can be brave, and you can be tricky, and you can be plucky, and you can keep going.
I definitely think that’s true for children and fairy-tales.
And in this topsy-turvy world, maybe the best stories from the horror genre can do the same thing for those of us who are a little older, too.Published in