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Horror 101: Introduction

by Kevin Lucia

“It’s a matter of roots. It may not do any good to know that your grandfather liked to sit on the stoop of his building with his sleeves rolled up and smoke a pipe after supper, but it may help to know that he emigrated from Poland in 1888, that he came to New York and helped to build the subway system. If it does nothing else, it may give you a new perspective on your own morning subway ride…”

– Stephen King, Danse Macabre


Two events led me to study the evolution of the horror genre. One was an illuminating night spent with genre legends Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Stuart David Schiff, editor of the famed Whispers magazine. They spent the evening regaling their experiences in genre fiction while I listened, a rapt audience of one. I came away convinced my horror reading diet was too shallow, that I needed to explore earlier contemporary voices in horror. This led me to discover Ramsey Campbell, Charles Grant, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Lieber, Karl Edward Wagner and so many others. As a writer, I was never the same.

The second event occurred later that year, at the very first AnthoCon, a small but wonderfully intimate speculative convention held annually in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Brian Keene’s Keynote address, “Roots,” exhorted young horror writers to examine the horror genre’s roots to better understand where it’s already been, so we could write stories within the horror tradition that were also uniquely our own. At the time, I was reading The Philosophy of Horror, by Noel Carrol, and Danse Macabre, by Stephen King. I was working on a paper for a graduate class, Film & Philosophy, charting the evolution of American horror cinema. I started blogging about my findings, and my thoughts about the evolution of horror as we know it.

Right around then, the late Larry Santorro approached me about running a monthly segment on his podcast, Tales to Terrify, charting the evolution of the horror genre. “Horror 101” was born. Of course, I realized right away charting the evolution of the horror genre through all its divergent iterations was a weighty task. To try and organize things as best as possible, I decided to follow four tracks in my initial study, understanding there’d be multiple crossovers between them: The House & the Gothic, The Ghost, The Beast & the Monster, and The Weird.

Unfortunately, I only got halfway through The House & the Gothic before increased writing demands and equipment issues (read: my laptop crashed) forced the podcast into hiatus. Sadly, not long after, Larry Santorro passed. Horror 101 was shelved indefinitely.

Recently, editor, colleague and friend Jacob Haddon approached me about writing a quarterly nonfiction column for Lamplight Magazine. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity to resurrect Horror 101 from the dead (which happens so often in the horror genre it deserves its own sub-genre), I pitched the return of Horror 101 to him, with my original four installments: The House & the Gothic, The Ghost, The Beast & the Monster, and The Weird. He liked the idea, so here we are.

One thing to keep in mind, however, especially former listeners of Horror 101: Because of length restrictions, I won’t be able to cover the strands of the horror genre nearly as meticulously as in the podcast. Because of this, I will need to paint with a slightly broader brush.

Defining the horror genre can be a slippery proposition. Probably the best definition comes from Douglas Winter, literary critic and Stephen King biographer, “horror is an emotion” and any tale invoking the emotion of “horror” in its readers is, therefore, a horror tale. This definition, however, opens our focus incredibly wide. If any story invoking a sense of “horror” could be considered a “horror story,” tales not necessarily considered as horror from a marketing standpoint could now be viewed as horror stories. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Beowulf. Titus Andronicus, an early Shakespeare play. “A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathanial Hawthorne. The Kite Runner. “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Where do we begin?

For our purposes, I’ll begin by approaching four branches of the horror tale: The House, the Gothic & the Bad Place; The Ghost; The Beast & the Monster; and The Weird. These by no means encompass everything considered to be horror. It’s merely somewhere to start. We’re sure to stray off path, and should we survive with our sanity intact, there are other facets of the horror genre to consider: The Splatterpunk Movement, the Zombie Phenomenon, Quiet Horror; Religion, Myth, and Folklore in horror, and Post Modern Horror, only to name a few.

A note concerning source material: I’ve drawn much of my information for these columns from The Philosophy of Horror by Noel Carrol, Sacred Terror by Doug Cowan, Christian Horror by Mike Duran, Vortex by Robert Dunbar, and Danse Macabre, by Stephen King. I highly recommend all these tomes, though regrettably The Philosophy of Horror is expensive. For this article, I also drew from an online exploration of German theologian Rudolph Otto’s theories concerning “numinous dread.”


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