Whenever anyone who creates horror fiction says they don’t, it simply confirms me in my commitment to the field. No doubt they have their reasons, but I have mine, which is to support the kind of fiction I’ve loved pretty well ever since I can remember.
The H Word
For generations, the monsters populating horror fiction have, with very few exceptions, belonged to the scary trinity: vampires, werewolves, and zombies. For every aswang, a dozen Draculaesque vampires sip bodily fluids. For every huli jing, a score of humans transform into their wolfish selves under a full moon. For every draugr, a horde of reanimated corpses out of central casting shambles by looking for brains.
Some years ago I left Alaska, land of my birth. Since then I’ve dwelt in the cities and farmland of the Pacific Northwest, and deep in the mountains of western Montana. At the moment, the trail has led a long and winding way to upstate New York, about as far as one can migrate east and still dwell within the continental U.S.
Horror fans may have hammered the final stake! The general consensus is: zombies are in, vampires out. Whether or not that is true, zombies have definitely surged to the fore while vampires have seemingly faded into the mist. Which begs the question—Why?
The Revel is all, or almost all; the weight of the story, and of the reader’s experience of the story, is given over to the physical materials of the catastrophe: the bump in the night, the splat on the wall, the slaughter of the innocents, the razing of the town.
Long before I found my way to horror, as a reader and a writer, without realizing it, I sought horrible female characters to confirm what I knew. In mainstream fiction I was drawn to transgressors who allowed a glimpse of the monster inside the female heart.
The horror audience runs a wide spectrum, but at either end are two extremes. These polarities are divided not so much by conflicting interests as by degree of morbidity. At one end we have people who enjoy horror where the supernatural mayhem is kept in check. Their outré quotient is relatively slim. The internal logic of a horror story must hew closely with everyday life. They take their horror as a teetotaller does honey; a mere tincture to tease the palate.
See if this plot sounds familiar to you: A disillusioned middle-aged writer is forced to return to the small town where he was born to reunite with childhood friends so they can face the ancient evil that almost destroyed them once before.
When we think of Lovecraftian horror, or the Lovecraft Mythos (as it exists in Lovecraft’s works alone), we need to differentiate those stories from what has come to be called the Cthulhu Mythos, a name invented by August Derleth. Lovecraftian horror incorporates aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos (which oozed forth from Lovecraft’s influence), but Lovecraft’s horror fiction is much more than cosmic entities that filter to our planet and corrupt our dreams and sanity.
But there was one story that disturbed me in the more complicated way I would only later come to realize as a hallmark of the true genius of horror fiction. While the other stories left me with a kind of moonlit Halloween glow, this one put a spade into my settled earth and overturned it. I felt weirdly sick after reading it. I felt injured in some obscure way, as though it had betrayed a trust. The story was “The Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs.