As a lover of all things that go bump in the night, I am often quizzed by those non-lovers out there as to why I enjoy these grim tales so much. And I see their point. Why, in a world where there is already so much horror, would I want to go looking for it in my bedtime stories? In all honesty, I don’t really know why I love the weird and wonderfully dark stories of Mr Lovecraft, Mr Poe and all of those other bards of the darker yarns. However, I do know that I am not alone and that the history of terrifying tales is long and steadfast.
For me it started with Lord of the Rings. I remember the thrilling shivers that came over me as I experienced Frodo being chased by the Ringwraiths towards Bree and the safety of the Prancing Pony. Tolkien’s descriptions conjured such vivid images. Of course Tolkien, being a philologist, had plenty of material to draw from in his studies of Beowulf and the Norse sagas. Indeed, most of the names he uses can be found in the tales of Old Iceland and Norway. I fancy he rather enjoyed the darker stories himself. For example, in Beowulf (which Tolkien translated into prose), Grendl’s introduction paints a very frightening picture as the ‘fen-walker, heath-stalker, offspring of Cain’ who cannot be killed by weapons made of man. All very mythic and scary.
Later came other writers and poets such as Radcliffe with her gothic romances and Dante with his Inferno. In America, Lovecraft, Chambers and Bierce all made their mark with the mythos of Cthulhu and The King in Yellow. Poe had his own special brand of chilling tale and magazines such as Weird Tales published them all for a horror hungry audience.
In England, there came the Penny Dreadfuls: magazines of short stories that could be had for, you guessed it, a penny. These were full of stories of vampires and monsters and invariably always included a damsel in distress.
Today we have a bevy of modern horror writers – Clive Barker and Stephen King immediately spring to mind – who titilate and thrill readers with ominous mists, native american ghosts and the denizens of hell. And then, with the advent of film came the opportunity to transfer these monsters to the silver screen. Who can forget Bella Lugosi in Nosferatu! Or the evil clown in IT! (A dear friend of mine could not go the bathroom on her own for weeks after watching that).
Looking at this long history and at my own long-time devotion to scary stories, I admit, it must seem a little twisted. But, one thing I should point out is that all of these stories are, in the end, fantasy. And at the end of most of these stories good always wins out over evil. The ring is destroyed, the vampire is slain, daylight returns and the person in distress is saved.
Perhaps it is this that makes these stories so appealing. It shows the duality of life. There is good and there is a lot of bad, but if you behave like a hero, good will win out.