The way that writers write about horror is constantly evolving. Humans have been telling horror stories for as long as we’ve been able to speak. From the Vikings telling horrible stories of war, to the Celtic peasants telling tales of terrifying creatures and spirits that would steal your soul whilst you lay on your deathbed, (make sure to close all the windows facing west if there’s a chance you may be passing over to the other side any time soon).
But the specific Horror genre didn’t come about until 1764 when Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto, which centres around the supernatural, and was the first book to be considered a part of the ‘Gothic’ and ‘Horror’ genres.
Although the supernatural remained a constant theme, the antagonists and concepts in these horrific tales changed over time. From tales of bloody battles from the Vikings, to conversations of the human psyche during the Victorian era, Horror is a blatant exploration of Zeitgeist and primary evidence of key cultural events experienced by the writer.
“The 18th century was a time of great reflection and “enlightenment” resulting in the questioning of society, and changes in science which saw the belief in evil spirits regarded as superstition”
It is easy to see in the work of Victorian/Gothic authors, such as Henry James, and Bram Stoker that this was the case, mental illness being at the forefront of the plot, often insanity being a fate suffered by female protagonists, as some form of female ‘hysteria’. Edgar Allan Poe’s work is a clear indication of this, from his plots referencing the human psyche, to his clear formula for writing seen in his work, especially as he himself suffered with ‘bouts of insanity’;
- “The isolation of the reader
- The stunning of his sensibility
- The victimization of his emotions
- The premature burial of his reason”
As time goes on, there is a difference in what we become scared of as a reader, and this means there is a clear difference in what a writer will find horrific and will go on to write about. The 1980s in America saw the hysteria around the AIDs virus, a worldwide fear that put the 1960’s – 70’s sexual revolution on the back burner.
“The message to kids coming of age in the 1980s and ’90s was that sex—even thinking about sex—could kill.”
And Stephen King used this to his advantage in IT, published in 1986; in which Beverly’s fear of becoming a woman, and therefore having to face up to her sexuality truly navigates the plot. However, despite the key differences in horror over time, there are solid similarities. The fear of isolation and the fear of ridicule, all social, human fears that have not changed over time. In Poe’s work it shows an isolation from society, in IT you see children being separated from the safety of adults, the children being deemed as crazy or over imaginative.
“He thrusts his fists against the posts, and still insists he sees the ghosts”
You can even see this in the 2017 film adaptation of the book. Whilst sex is not at the forefront of the plot anymore, the clear themes of isolation, and ridicule are shown in the form of bullies and controlling parents, and are key themes in the film, that fit our current generation of Horror consumers, the children’s main fears even being changed to fit a more current view of horror, (creepy clown dolls replacing werewolves etc.) and King most definitely agrees;
“I had hopes, but I was not prepared for how good it (the new movie) really was. It’s something that’s different, and at the same time, it’s something that audiences are gonna relate to.”
Although innate human fears remain the same,
they’ve been given different masks as each era passes. Horror Writers have
adapted through time to provide work that will realistically frighten readers
of a certain generation. We are all frightened of isolation, but as a
generation, we aren’t really frightened of werewolves anymore.
 Walpole. Horace, The Castle of Otranto, 1764
 David R. Saliba, A Psychology of Fear (Washington D.C: University Press of American, 1980), p.17
 King, Stephen, IT, 1986, Viking Press
Ever since the day I latched on to the concept that there were things in this world that I couldn’t quite understand, I made it my mission to learn everything there was to know about absolutely everything.
Even a trip to Thorpe Park with my friends wasn’t complete without endless days of research… As a result, I could tell you all the mechanical ins and outs of most rollercoasters and rides… but I won’t do that right now because you would probably get very, very bored.
This obsession with needing to know everything has become the bane of my existence. When I was thirteen, I knew something was wrong with me, I felt different and strange. I liked things a certain way, and would regularly get anxious and upset over the silliest things. I spent hours researching what I thought it could be, only to be caught out when a trained medical professional told me it was Autism. I was devastated. Not that I was autistic… but that I didn’t see it coming.
What can I say? I’m a control freak.
I have this genuine need to be the cleverest person in the room. One step ahead of anyone or anything that’s out to get me. I tell you, there’s nothing scarier than playing the Sims 3 late at night in your room when you’re supposed to be asleep and watching a burglar tiptoe across your screen when there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.
I guess you could say my relationship with horror stems from my need for control and knowledge, and I’m not alone in this. It was M.M. Owen who said: “Horror thrives on discombobulation.”
I think that’s why Stephen King frightens me so much. His work is never predictable… until it is. I was shaken to the core (and honestly kicking myself) that I hadn’t realised that ‘redrum’ was ‘murder’ spelt backwards.
Owen went on to say that “the best way to survive a horror setting is to be supremely, boringly, sensible: don’t talk to strangers, don’t stay the night in a foreign town, don’t go to the aid of anyone who looks sick, don’t go in to that crumbling old building. If a very attractive stranger tries to seduce you, it is almost definitely a trap. Respect tradition, do not commit sacrilege, listen to the advice of elderly locals. At the heart of a lot of horror is a conservative craving for the predictable and the known.”
And in all honesty… I quite agree. As humans, we fear the things we don’t understand. This is why the concept of the uncanny is so terrifying. The whole idea of everything I know suddenly being switched for something else that’s pretty much identical makes me feel quite sick.
Muriel Gray’s ‘Roundabout’ is a perfect example of this. An utterly normal, (even boring) setting, but behind that facade lies a lurking beast, ready to change your life completely.
People read horror for many different reasons. Personally, I read it to cling on to the normalcy and boringness of everyday life. After all, “by putting normality in jeopardy, it creates a desire for its return and future security”
And if you’re like me, and want something genuinely terrifying… go and watch one of those driving safety PSAs… I’m still absolutely petrified by the fact that I NEVER SAW THE MOON WALKING BEAR.
- Electronic Arts, The Sims 3, (2009)
- M M Owen, Our Age Of Horror,
- Stephen King, The Shining, (1977)
- Muriel Gray, Roundabout, New Fears, Mark Morris, (2017)
- Kimberley Reynolds, Geraldine Brennan, and Kevin McCarron Frightening Fiction. (2001). p.8
- user: dothetest, Test your awareness: do the test, (2008),
My mother always told me
That there’s more to a mince pie
Than the pastry on the top
and the filling that’s inside
But one day I did ask her
full of curiosity
What is actually in a pie and
why is it called minced “meat”?
“Well Tilly,” she began to say,
as she knelt down to my height
“Maybe you should ask santa
what you’d find in a mince pie…
Because it’s santa’s elves who make them
And they really must be proud
Because they are so very yummy
and they are so perfectly round…”
“Yes but mummy what’s inside them?”
I asked her, my voice becoming low
She just laughed, tapped her nose and said:
“wouldn’t you like to know!”
But that night I lay in bed
and dreamt of what could be
Inside of those mince pies…
Why wouldn’t she tell me!?
So I waited til the morn
And asked her once again
“What is in a mince pie!?”
and she told me something strange
“The reason they never tell you
is they’re quite misunderstood
Because the elves who make the mince pies…
Are why they taste so good…
They mix them up so well
And they make them all themselves…
but the reason no one tells you,
is because they’re made of ELVES”
I looked at her in shock
And a shiver cut right through
But she gave me such a look
That I knew it must be true.
“But it’s not a bad thing!”
She quickly told me so ,
“For them it is a good thing,
and I really hope you know –
They do it to the old elves
Who have served santa well
and they line up by the mincer
and wait to hear the bell”
I listened very closely
Because I didn’t know what to say
and my mother told me something
That blew my mind away
“When the bell starts ringing
The elves all dive right in
And the younger elves start singing
to celebrate their win
Only the kindest elves
Get to become a mince pie
Because it’s very important to santa
That the mince pies taste just right”
And then it all made sense
“That’s why they’re so delightful!
But I wonder what they do to the elves
Who have been a little spiteful…”
“That,” said my mum
“Is not a story for tonight,
after all how do you suppose,
Santa’s beard is quite so white?”
This year hasn’t been the best, I think we can all agree.
But I think despite this, I have been very good, and that is why I would like to ask for a little extra this year. First things first, I really want a blanket. Not just any old blanket – a thick, cozy blanket that’s like a duvet for the sofa, because really I am just an old lady at heart.
Secondly, I want my mum to have a pain-free Christmas. Her EDS plays up something chronic in the cold weather and – well; let’s just say that nobody wants a painful Christmas.
Another thing: there’s going to be lots of us together at Christmas. A very busy household… It would be great if you could make sure that there were no arguments, and everyone got along just swell. You know what, while I’m at it, I might as well ask for world peace. I know it’s a big task… but maybe just one day would be fantastic… and then everyone would see what they were missing out on when they spend the whole time fighting. I also want to wish a Merry Christmas to a few people I have met on buses throughout the year:
- The man who I sat next to that one time when a lady tripped him over with her walking stick
- Archie, a special friend that I never thought I would have met on the bus that day
- The guy that looks just like my Grandpa (but definitely isn’t him)
- The baby with a moustache that pulled my hair
- The man who eats jelly with his fingers
- And the lady who told me all about her holiday. Have a lovely time in Gran Canaria!
And that’s just to name a few!
So Santa, I know it’s a big ask… but can you make sure that they all have a great Christmas too? Thanks, I think they really deserve it. But you know who else deserves it? Every single person that’s put up with my nonsense for another year… and will have to continue dealing with me for the next year – hopefully, (please don’t leave me).
All in all, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas! Don’t forget to eat as many mince pies as you can, I know I surely will be! All my love and the happiest holiday,
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Marcel was known for being quite a peculiar cat.
He was black and white, with no inch of grey and his moustache was perfectly placed across his face. But it was not just his looks that made him such a strange cat…
It was at 6 o’clock exactly every single morning, that he would let out one strangled meow at the top of the stairs indicating that it was time for his favourite breakfast, (salmon from a tin no doubt), and would continue to meow until exactly 6:45, when his favourite human would take him downstairs.
Now, Marcel liked his things to be in a certain place. His bed was by the fire, just a few inches away, and at a particular distance at which he could see any incoming intruders to the house through the glass front door.
He would dine at exactly 12 o’clock and then later at 5, and once again at 9 o’clock as his humans went up to bed, at which Marcel would take it upon himself to walk around the house finding the comfiest place to sleep, (usually the stairs where upon anybody could trip)
But things began to change.
All of a sudden, Marcel’s bed had been moved a little further away from the fire, in order to make room for logs and various other things… strangely coloured items that glittered like the eyes of another cat. Marcel did not like this.
Furthermore, he did not like the large intrusion that had been made by a large, spiky tree in the corner of the house. This tree could not be climbed as the needles would stab his paws, and it smelt quite strange… Marcel knew that trees were not for inside the house.
Another thing he did not like was the repetitive sounds coming from a large, black box. It was loud and sounded far too merry for a cat such as Marcel. It sounded, to him, like a strangled cat. Marcel had finer tastes.
After a few weeks of this nonsense, Marcel was fed up. Particularly when his favourite human stopped coming down to feed him at exactly 6:45, due to her lack of promptness, and it was left up to one of the other people to feed him, (at quite an unreasonable hour might he add – lunch time was not a time for breakfast.)
But still, Marcel had the night to wander about the house and find his bed on the stairs, at just an angle that he could see the front door. This is what he held on to when his life felt too upside down for him to handle.
Until one fateful night. Marcel was awoken from his dainty slumber by a loud thump. He stretched his legs and tip-toed down the stairs to see what could have made this noise (but first stopping to scratch his claws on the door mat).
He peeked in to the living room to see a big fat human wearing red (a colour Marcel particularly despised) chomping on what looked like quite a tasty food.
Marcel cautiously walked to the man and sniffed his big, black boot. This startled the old man and he turned with a loud laugh: “Ho ho ho!”
Marcel did not like this sound and he quickly turned and fled to the front door where he could escape at a moment’s notice. Yet the sound of stomping boots followed him. Marcel meowed in fear as the large figure bent over him, his black silhouette darkened the corner in which he sat, and Marcel could smell the stale stench of milk on his breath…
Marcel tried to hiss but nothing would come out, he tried to meow but his family were all fast asleep and they could not hear his cries – who was this man? Why was he here terrorising such a lovely little cat?
And at this thought, the man held out a big, puffy hand. “Merry Christmas Marcel.”
He chuckled and gave the little cat a small treat. Marcel decided that this man was no danger and he took the treat in to his jaws, swallowing it with little effort. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was… His humans had really messed up his eating schedule…
The man turned and headed back inside the living room. Marcel took this as his opportunity to head back to sleep, but this time he nudged open the door to his favourite human’s bedroom and jumped on her bed, just in case anybody else tried to sneak in to the house without his permission. Soon he fell in to a deep sleep…
At exactly 6 o’clock Marcel awoke and padded out to the top of the stairs, ready for his morning meow. His favourite human came out immediately and whispered to him: “Merry Christmas my boy!” to which Marcel purred in reply. That morning Marcel was fed at exactly 6:45, and he had a cuddle with all his humans, (plus a lot of extra treats!) Marcel decided, although he didn’t enjoy these last few weeks, in hindsight they led up to a pretty special day. He didn’t know why it was such a special day, but he realised, (since he was getting so much attention), that it must be a day all for him.
And it was as he settled down that evening on his bed near the fire, his little tummy nice and round from all the food he had eaten, that he thought of the big, fat man in a red suit, a colour which he no longer despised, and how he had laughed when he said: “Merry Christmas Marcel.”
“Maybe not every day has to be the same” meowed Marcel, and he rested his head on his arm, and fell asleep.