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The Horror Of It All: Journey Into Fear

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” ~Lovecraft
| Jan 14, 2014 | 35 comments |

429px-MistyGravesMike Duran lamented in the comments of a recent SpecFaith article:

I’m not keeping score like Mr. Ferguson, but if he’s right about the frequency, or total lack of frequency, of reference to / publication of horror, then its pretty clear we’ve found our red-headed stepchild.

Of course he was talking broadly, even while including this blog in the analysis. To a large degree, he is right. In one sense many of the articles have been of a general nature that would apply to a broad spectrum of speculative genres including horror, but of those that are focused on a specific genre, it does tend toward fantasy and science fiction. Without going back to look, it has probably been a while since horror as a topic was broached on this blog relative to other genres.

This started my brain to churning. Dangerous, I know. I’m more than willing to discuss it, but I have a confession to make. I’m a mixed bag when it comes to horror.

On one hand, as early as six or seven, I had decided I didn’t like horror and would avoid it.

Primarily due to seeing “The Gruesome Twosome” at that age. The gore made me sick and I ended up sinking to the backseat floorboard of our car to get away from the images. I didn’t know enough about the genre to distinguish between slasher gore and more traditional horror. But the experience caused me to avoid anything horror-related for the most part. I didn’t like being scared.

Not to say I avoided it all. My step-father managed a theater for a few years. One of the side-benefits was getting to watch all the movies for free, multiple times if I liked them enough to see them again. Frequently he would show horror movies, usually Dracula versions, various monster movies, etc. I’d end up watching them often.

But to date I don’t believe I’ve read an official “horror” novel. No Lovecraft, Stephen King, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekkar, or the like. The closest I’ve came to that is Mike Duran’s novella, Winterland, though in retrospect, it felt more to me like a darker Alice in Wonderland than scary horror. I reviewed it on my blog.

Oddly, I’ve ended up writing some horror.

Two official horror flash fictions, one published, one not. Horror elements regularly show up in my fantasy books. The middle section of Reality’s Dawn contains at least three episodes one would label horror, for example.

When you think about it, many genres do that. Who can forget Doctor Who’s “Blink” episode who’ve seen it? Horror elements pop up regularly in that science fiction series. Not to mention many others. So despite my passive avoidance of the genre, I’ve been exposed to it.

That said, I hardly feel like a qualified person to broach the subject in any comprehensive manner, due to my lack of reading in the genre. That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, ill-informed as they might be, but I can certainly provide a platform for discussion of such topics.

To start with, why don’t I take you on a journey with me. Broccoli made me want to throw up until I was forty something. Even the smell of it turned my stomach. Now, I can eat it and even enjoy it. It’s about time I gave a horror novel a chance to hook me into the genre. To that end, I’m going to do the following.

I want the readers here to suggest a novel you feel is best representative of the genre as a whole, general market or Christian market. I know the temptation will be great for authors here to suggest their own, but I’m looking for more established works, even if more contemporary. In other words, if a person would read one horror novel their entire life, which would you recommend that best reflects that genre?

I’ll pick one from the suggestions, read it, and report back here. Not so much a review of the book, but my experience with the book and how or if my perceptions of the horror genre were affected by my reading it.

To provide some framework, I’m probably not ready for a gore-fest. I can handle violence, but starting out with shock-gore will probably not endear me to horror. Rather, it should fit Lovecraft’s definition to be valid:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

While that is used in all types of genres, one might suggest horror focuses upon that reality.

What horror book would you recommend I read? How do you break down horror into subgenres?

 

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Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

I’m not really a fan, either, but I have read some Frank Peretti and watched a few movies, like Silence of the Lambs and Silent Hill (The one with Pyramid Head is Silent Hill, right?). Probably the horror movie I liked the most was that spoof one, The Cabin in the Woods. Most horror-slasher movies are just so dumb, but at least that one was plenty aware of it.
I have a half-hearted intention of someday reading Lovecraft and watching some of the old monster movies and the original The Haunting. Though I don’t know if the latter counts as horror or just suspense.

Fred Warren
Member

I wrote an article on this topic here about a year ago that summarizes my take on horror, but given that you like Lovecraft’s definition (as do I), an interesting compare-and-contrast would be stories by Lovecraft (such as “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”), who wrote from a secular worldview, and Arthur Machen (“The Great God Pan,” “The White People,” “The Hill of Dreams”), who wrote from a Christian worldview. They were contemporaries, and Lovecraft was an admirer of Machen’s work. Machen’s stories are in the public domain and available at Project Gutenberg.

Julie D
Guest

I don’t have many straight-up horror recommendations, but I think it also depends on one’s definition of horror. My brother defines horror as “anything which scares him,” or possibly “anything scifi.” But some episodes of Doctor Who are terrifying without necessarily being horror. Though Midnight is pretty close.

Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman)
Guest

Recommendations. Yeah, hard to come up with since I am a horror avoider also. There were the horror stories by Bradbury that I hated because I would think I was reading a typical speculative until the LAST sentence. I read one story by Lovecraft once to see what all the fuss was about. Pssshht. I was supposed to be scared because he told me in abstract generalities to be scared. Um, no. I was able to cope with The Oath by Peretti because the story was so obviously metaphor. Then there is Duran’s The Telling that had so many other interesting things going on that I could put up with the horror. And Dean Koontz who writes beautifully and has a high moral base in his stories.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I’ve never gone out of my way to read horror for horror’s sake — in fact, I’ve avoided it on principle since I believed it was all either designed to induce fear or glorified violence (the slasher/gore side of horror). Because of this, I don’t know that my recommendations hit “horror” on the nose in any traditional sense.
 
What has happened over the years is that I’ve discovered a lot of dark stories that I felt were very well done and later found out they were classified as horror. Lovecraft and Poe are classic — starting out with a collection of their short stories would give you an interesting taste. Frankenstein, classic. 
 
I have found Stephen King to be a storyteller through and through. Some of his endings fall flat, but I’ve enjoyed most of his books. “Misery” was one of my favorite (because it’s about a writer and I loved how the writer’s situation bled into the story he was writing). “It” was so descriptive and very horror-ific, but the ending didn’t really appeal to me.
 
There are a lot of sci-fi movies that also fall into the “horror” category. The “Alien” series, the Riddick ones (“Pitch Black”, etc). A bunch of others that seemed more horror than sci-fi, so I skipped them. 
 
I still feel very strongly that inspiring fear is the ministry of the devil and not for Christians to dabble in. The only thing we should fear (or encourage others to fear) is God Himself. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mat. 10:28)
 
That said, writing stories that others consider horror is not the same as writing to inspire fear or horror in others. Sometimes to tell the story we’re inspired to tell, we must deal with topics that others find terrifying. It’s very possible my own stories will end up filed as horror. So I’ll continue growing my understanding and shaping my approach to this genre.

Austin Gunderson
Member

I’m not really sure why Peretti keeps getting classified as a horror writer. Sure, some of his works are fairly frightening, but none of them are about the fear (well, except for House, but I blame Dekker for that debacle). This Present Darkness and The Oath are more aptly described as thrillers, I think. And everyone should read them. They’re supremely excellent.
 
I haven’t read much horror fiction, but if you’re looking for a masterpiece of cinematic suspense-horror, you should definitely see Alien. Its craft is exemplary on so many different levels.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

I thought they were rather obvious. “Present Darkness” in particular underwhelmed me. Yeah, just throw red-dress-wearing Carmen in to tempt that pastor, it’s not like there could have been subtler, more effective methods, even if it HAD to be sexual temptation in the first place (i.e, like that one episode of ST:TNG with the empathic woman who could change personalities to perfectly suit any man in the room).

Kirsty
Guest

The thing is, though, Carmen actually doesn’t tempt Hank. So although it’s a cliche, I think it’s more a cliche on the part of the demons who think it would be a good temptation, rather than on the part of the author. I think the flaw is actually that Hank seems pretty much untemptable by anything.

Christian Jaeschke
Guest
Christian Jaeschke

Yes, I’m not sure why Frank Peretti has been deemed by some as a writer of horror either. He mainly writes supernatural thrillers. His Darkness certainly contain elements of horror but much of it plays out like an action/fantasy/thriller. That said, I’d absolutely class The Oath as horror. Yes, it’s largely a giant metaphor but the town’s evil makes for a truly horrifying read. As for Ted Dekker, he typically writes psychological thrillers that only contain elements of horror.

Sarah Parks
Member
Sarah Parks

I can’t recommend any horror books. Unless Peretti and Dekker count, i haven’t really read any. I’ve skimmed a few King stories and one by Arthur Machen.
I do read some horror, but it’s pretty much limited to one website – the SCP Foundation. All content is user-submitted, but the standards are pretty high, and it’s as much about what is left to the reader’s imagination as what is said. That, and it’s got a lot of comedy and heartwarming on there too. Probably one of the weirdest websites i’ve ever been to.
Sorry, i realize that doesn’t help with your project. 

Cindy
Guest
Cindy

I have grown to love horror books, and have read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I have also read Lovecraft, but not since I did a paper on him in college; I think I OD’d. I’d recommend Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Strange Case Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to start with the classics. As far as current books, it’s very hard to pinpoint a favorite, but I’d suggest Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz and Needful Things by Stephen King. And my own book, Perfect Blood Innocent Blood.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

As far as classics go, do you think “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad counts in any way as horror? It has insanity in common with Lovecraft, at least. That reminds me, I need to watch Apocalypse Now, if only to say that I’ve seen it.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Hmm. I can recommend some, but most of my horror phase was in the early nineties, and I don’t think any of these would reach “one novel” status. 
 
Brian Lumley, Necroscope
 
F. Paul Wilson, The Keep (His Repairman Jack books also)
 
Robert McCammon, Swan Song and Stinger
 
Algernon Blackwood, The Man who the Trees Loved (novella)
 
Stephen King, Salem’s Lot
 
John Steakley, Vampire$
 
Lauren Hamilton’s early Anita Blake novels, before they became porn. Something like Bloody Bones, or Circus of the Damned.

William Hope Hogsdon, The House on the Borderland

These also probably won’t meet your “lack of gore” requirement, though. You might be limited to Victorian works and short stories.

A Christian author who uses horror is Roger Elwood; books like Dwellers, The Christening, and the Wandering had serious horror overtones for Christian fiction. Angelwalk I think used horror in the context of a spiritual warfare/quest book. I’m not sure how dated it is now, but there was a lot of horror in the angel being next to people at their last moments and watching them either rise to heaven or fall to hell. It’s tough to find any of his stuff except Angelwalk, and only the first book had that horror edge to it.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Oh, also Dean Koontz, Watchers. If you want Koontz in a nutshell, that’s probably the template for so many of his stories and tropes it isn’t funny. 

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

M.R. James, an Anglican cleric, wrote quite a few horror stories that relied more on suggestion that gore. The film CURSE OF THE DEMON (NIGHT OF THE DEMON in the UK) was based on his story “Casting the Runes.”  

The Catholic priest Robert Hugh Benson wrote some very frightening stories, based around the theme of a group of priests describing their brushes with the supernatural after dinner in “A Mirror of Shalott” – there are some extremely creepy stories involving encounters with evil, yet written with from a deeply Christian worldview. His horror novel “The Necromancers” dealt with the spiritualist movement. (He was also an early SF author – his early 20th century novel “Lord of the World,” about the rise of the Antichrist, was just referenced by the Pope.) All are available in inexpensive editions on Kindle.

He has a very small body of work and doesn’t write from a particularly religious viewpoint, but T.E.D. Klein is one of the best horror writers working today. See his “Dark Gods” and “The Ceremony.”

G.K. Chesterton “The Man Who Was Thursday” could probably be described as dark fantasy. There are some extremely creepy moments in the book.

Gene Wolfe’s horror stories are deep and rich. Start with “Peace.” 
 
 
 

Christian Jaeschke
Guest
Christian Jaeschke

I don’t read much horror fiction but I enjoy many books that contain horror elements. As for fiction that typifies the horror genre? Here are some that I’ve enjoyed.

Try:
C.S. Lewis – That Hideous Strength

Stephen King – The Stand

Bram Stoker – Dracula

Arthur Machen – The Great God, Pan (holy terror?)

H.P. Lovecraft – I haven’t read many of his stories because I find his adjective overuse to be frustrating, but he certainly has interesting ideas and there’s a palpable atmosphere of fear and dread – cosmic horror.

Charles Williams (I haven’t read any of his works, yet, but from what I’ve read about his works, they seem to be horror and highly regarded)

Jonathan Garner
Guest

I’ve long been a fan of horror. I believe the horror genre has great potential to show God’s power and love in the midst of frightening circumstances.

An ideal example of the genre is The Oath by Frank Peretti.

David James
Guest
David James

I discovered that article which Mike Duran had commented on last night and made a comment myself, then realized I was a few days off of everyone else’s comments. Ah, well.
Now, with this article I can definitely give some recommended reads as I like horror and am picky on what I read in that genre. Pick any one of these:
 
Classics:
Dracula (It’s the classic vampire novel and before you read any other vampire novel you should read this one)
Frankenstein (It’s the classic take on man using science to usurp God’s authority and what happens from it)
Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (It’s the classic on the difference between good and evil and how it plays out inside of someone)
 
Modern:
Stephen King – The Shining (I wanted to say Pet Semetary, but that is considered his scariest by many and it may be too much for you at first, plus King is a big Lovecraft fan and tends to have a Lovecraftian way even if he has much thicker stories, and if you like this one – a classic of King’s – then you may like his most recent Doctor Sleep which is the sequel to this one)
Dean Koontz – The Vision (an early work of Koontz, plus the first novel of his I read; very intense and quick read and I tend to judge all of his other books by this one, but tend to enjoy his other books as well)
Anne Rice – Interview With The Vampire (some might say The Vampire Lestat, and it is a better written one, but TVL wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for IWTV and there is a truly hypnotic way that IWTV draws you in and holds you in its firm grasp; read it after having read Dracula, but it wouldn’t be a bad one to read beforehand either which is why I go ahead and list it)
 
Christian:
Frank Peretti – The Oath (the second book of his I had read and at the time was his most current; I had thought he would write more like this in the future, he is a really good author, but this is the closest he came to horror – not including the House book with Dekker)
Ted Dekker – Thr3e (I thought this was a really good book to read and it flowed quite well, and I’ve read a lot of Dekker, it has good suspense with a nice twist at the end)
Mike Dellosso – Scream (admittedly the only one of his I’ve read so far, but a really good one after I got past the beginning which seemed a little forced for me)
Marc Schooley – The Dark Man (not “horror” per se, but it did have a “Stephen King” feel at times and was a supernatural kind of story mixed in with action and adventure, and it was a story that took me by surprise as well)
 
I know this was more of a list than just one recommendation (and frankly I initially only meant to list two: Dracula and Pet Semetary), but I got to thinking and figured I’d tell you some others and why I picked them. I hope this helps in your search for a book to read as your first “horror” novel, coming from someone that really likes the genre. 🙂

David James
Guest
David James

R.L., sure then. Go with Pet Semetary. King does have “gore”, but not necessarily the “killer/slasher” type which you are wishing to avoid (although “killer/slasher” can happen in his stories just not the way those types of films would be done).

He is one that gets into your head and when the “gore” occurs (if it is even needed for the story) it occurs at the right time in the right way and fits with whatever is going on. Also, and this is probably more an indication of me, but out of all of his novels I have read so far this is the only one that I actually got a chill with as I read the last line. I hope you enjoy his writing. 🙂
 
And for The Oath by Frank Peretti, when you read it, I think it is a good choice. I hope you enjoy all of your reading! 🙂

Scott M. Sandridge
Guest

Edgar Allen Poe. Can never go wrong with Poe. 😉
But yeah, anything from Stephen King (I refer THE STAND, but only if you don’t mind reading a 1200+ pg. novel, otherwise PET SEMETARY). As for current, CINEMA OF SHADOWS by Michael West is one of the best horror novels I’ve read yet.

David James
Guest
David James

Incidentally, I want to make a comment on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And regardless of what I am about to say, that is a movie that is terrifying on a level most other movies just aren’t, and I am very much wondering how anyone could have taken you to go see it at such a young age. That movie would have left scars on ANYONE at that age, and I feel for you big time, R. L.
 
You had mentioned how much gore was in it. I had only “recently” seen the original movie about two or three years ago. By the time I had seen it I had already seen the remake (not the most recent 3D one, not sure if I even want to see that one) and had before that come across Rob Zombie’s House of a Thousand Corpses halfway through on HBO one night thinking it was the remake of TCM (which I had wanted to see) and never seeing Leatherface realized too late it wasn’t TCM, but didn’t know just what movie it was until the credits rolled. I wasn’t planning on seeing that particular movie and was horrified at what I saw and to know which movie it was and do not intend to see it again. House of a Thousand Corpses is DEFINITELY a “gory” movie.
 
For TCM, I finally watched the remake and the prequel to the remake and found both to be a bit strange and with scenes that made me jump. Also scenes that were a good bit gross.
 
Then I watched the original. Obviously, the intensity was in reverse here having seen Rob Zombie’s movie before the remake before the original. Even so, the original was extremely creepy and odd because of the lack of music. Also, the almost complete lack of gore was odd.
 
Lack of gore?
 
Yes. That’s what I’m saying.
 
There was plenty of violence and displays of Leatherface waving his chainsaw in the air, but the lack of blood and gore shown, considering how much could have been shown, with all of it was really odd. Yes, there was some gross stuff around the dinner table there near the end, and yes, there were some things done which would be considered “gory”, especially at the end. But really, the thing that made it work so much as a horror film was how much they left up to your imagination. They showed you “a lot”, but left out things which modern film makers wouldn’t leave out, and as such, it was even more terrifying because of it.
 
I do not know if you would ever consider going back to watch it again as an adult. I’m not saying you have to. And even I have the tin case DVD at home and have only watched it the one time and do not have the “need” to watch it again any time soon. But I would say that if you watched it as an adult and looked at it carefully, you may be surprised just how little “gore” there was in the film. I think the film “American Psycho” with Christian Bale had more gore than TCM. And that’s a film I saw recently and wouldn’t mind watching again. It was nowhere near as horrifying as TCM was. 😉

David James
Guest
David James

If that’s the movie then problem solved for you. In either case it has brought to memory references I have read in the past (perhaps in a Stephen King novel or some comicbook) of a “Mrs. Pringle” so this may be the reference made. I can see how that would scare you as a kid. Glad you were able to clear that up for yourself. 🙂