Some of the pending changes at work have been announced. Not all. Not nearly enough to satisfy me, but some. I’ll have a new boss between now and July 1. The ad is listed on the site. Freaking minimum salaray is considerably more than I make, but I won’t be applying for the job. I’m too anti-meeting and prefer to speak my mind, while this position will require lots of sucking up.
Remember the other day I was complaining about not having read enough “important” books? I’ve decided to start doing something new with this blog. Probably not every day, but on a frequent basis I want to pose a question or offer a quote and wax philosophic on it. It’ll usually be about something in the horror genre, so it isn’t that related to the important books, but as I read more of those books hopefully my thoughts will become more profound. Gee, I couldn’t help laughing as I wrote that.
Let’s start with the obvious. What is horror fiction? This is something I had to define in the Introduction to my graduate thesis. I was happy with my first answer, but the professor wasn’t, so I had to work on it. A lot. This is what I ended up with: Horror fiction is an opportunity for the reader to vicariously experience a sense of danger from abnormal or supernatural entities in a setting he recognizes as realistic.
My professor still didn’t like the inclusion of a realistic setting, but I won that little battle on the basis of separating horror fiction from the dark elements of, say, J.R.R. Tolkien’s barrow wights. During discussions with the professor (J. Madison Davis, by the way — great guy), I argued that the source of the horror didn’t have to be supernatural, using Jaws as my best weapon. He countered that, while the shark wasn’t supernatural, it wasn’t a normal shark. I returned with The Silence of the Lambs, in which neither of the villains are supernatural or bigger than normal men. He said The Silence of the Lambs isn’t horror, that it’s a thriller. But, I said, it elicits a feeling of fear and dread, so it’s horror. Eventually, we agreed that the killers weren’t normal, so the word “abnormal” was put into my thesis definition of horror.
I still say I was right and think the rest of my Introduction bore me out. For instance, the work of Ann Radcliffe in England and Charles Brockden Brown in America are considered foundation stones of horror fiction, then called Gothic fiction. But both writers eliminated the possibility of supernatural involvement at the end of their stories with perfectly natural (if often contrived) explanations.
Wikipedia offers a nice definition of horror: Horror can be thought of as the feeling of dread and anticipation that occurs before something frightening is seen or otherwise experienced. (Terror is the feeling that follows after the experience has occurred.) Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers: a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay. The Horror Writers Assocation has a nice essay on what horror fiction is (I don’t know who wrote it, though).
Now it’s time to share your thoughts on the matter. What is horror fiction? Tell me what you think.