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Ghosties and Bumps in the Night: Horror as a genre…

June 1, 2012

I may like horror novels more than I think I do.

I’m squeamish and cowardly, and usually, in my media choices, fiercely protective of a certain amount of hope or optimism in my worldview. I’d rather not read relentlessly bleak. The trend toward dystopian worldviews in YA, frankly scares me on a visceral level. While I loved the Hunger Games, I think I was able to work with that dystopia because it had no names that meant anything to the real world, no bridge between here and some distant environmental devastation. (Even that glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes absolutely scares the snot out of me.) Panem was a cartoon, mostly, if a heavy comment on commercial culture.

The scare I feel around dystopian fiction isn’t the good kind of pleasure reading scare, but a visceral fear. Connecting the dots from present news stories, to a post environmental-apocalypse feels… a little too easy. And gets in the way of what would otherwise probably be interesting philosophical reads and adventures.

But I digress.

In that same spirit of cautious squeamishness, I’ve carefully curated my reading and my viewing for most of my life. I’m a coward. I don’t do horror. No Stephen King for me! No HP Lovecraft! I do not want to fuel my nightmares. Monsters? No thanks!

Yes, I like the odd zombie book now and again, but I like them as camp, not scares! I want to laugh at them, and know that they’re going to get their butts kicked, after invoking a good B-movie atmosphere.

I was eyeing my YA genre syllabus dubiously, getting to the June 5th class. Time for… horror! Eek!!! I was picturing rivers of gore, visions of monsters, fodder for nightmares. And worse! The author was going to come speak to us, and so I had pictures of being more squeamish and cowardly than the average 14 year old, and then having to meet the author…

So, I read Tighter, by Adele Griffin.

And I remembered: I like a good ghost story. The more Gothic the better.

And, it turns out, I don’ think I mind a decent psychological scare. Which this was. A nice haunted house sort of spookiness, very atmospheric, a distinct whiff of Jane Eyre. (The novel’s based on The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. Which I took a look at, just to see if it was worth a try to read as well, and said… screw it. I’ll stick to Griffin’s version.) For the most part, I really liked the way the psychological scare unpacked itself, including the way it was resolved and explained. No idea how closely it fits James, though I’m mildly curious.

I’m cautiously wondering whether I should read Stephen King– I have known all my life that he’s a good writer, but was afraid of having nightmares.

And I think I understand a little better what scares me too much to enjoy reading: gruesome squishy gore, intense medical details, environmental apocalypse… But a ghost, or a vampire, or a Gothic finger down the spine… I could do that! I loved The Haunting of Hill House.

Any horror writers that would make good spooky training wheels for me to try? Are there good crossovers between historical fiction and horror? Should I read The Dark Tower?

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