Friday, May 30, 2014

The Importance of Horror Fiction

The Importance of Horror Fiction


“I think it's relatively easy for people to accept something like telepathy or precognition or teleplasm because their willingness to believe doesn't cost them anything. It doesn't keep them awake nights. But the idea that the evil that men do lives after them is unsettling.”
Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot   


It is hard not to walk into a library or bookstore today and not be confronted with vampires and werewolves. These creatures of myth and fantasy have been capturing the imagination of readers for centuries. Zombies and vampires have gained popularity over the past decade with the help from a swarm of authors who write books designed to capture the interest of teenagers; however, the horror genre has been around for hundreds of years. People have been telling ghost stories for as long as people were willing to listen. Oral traditions, such as telling fantastical stories around a campfire or to a sleepless child, help captivate the imagination and offer an escape from the normal routine.

Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror story Dracula and Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Count of Otranto are considered by many to be the earliest and most influential writings in this genre that reached mass audiences. Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, the modern Prometheus is another classic horror story that questions man’s ability to play God. The impact of these classics is profound and has been integral in the formation and popularity of many contemporary horror writers. Fast forward to America, circa the 1970s and the origins of contemporary horror fiction begin to surface.

In 1974 Stephen King, whose name is synonymous with the horror genre, penned a story about a young girl named Carrie White who possessed powerful telekinetic powers. The novel Carrie was an immediate success and helped usher in a new style of writing. King has written over 50 novels and hundreds of short stories since 1974 and has made a lasting impression on the American consciousness.

Horror stories are designed to generate strong feelings from the reader. The reader is allowed to confront terror and suspense—situations and environments that are extraordinary—but return to a normal world by simply closing the book. This ability alone is a primary importance of horror fiction. Horror fiction simply allows the reader to escape to a world that is different, both macabre yet similar to our own, and return and appreciate the normalness in our lives.

We encourage you to stop by the Main Branch in June and browse the special display honoring contemporary horror writers and borrow a few books. We cannot, however, promise that you won’t be sleeping with the lights on!  
Jonathan Hilbert

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