We got a smorgasbord this week! Before I get to my wrap for October and November, I wanted to touch on some of my two of my favorite elements of horror along with a favorite means of enjoying horror stories. I didn’t think these needed their own posts to explore but I still wanted to talk a little bit about each one.
Haunted Houses: Searching for Safety
I’ve been trying to figure out the beginnings of my love for all three of these elements, the origin of when I was first introduced to each one. For haunted houses I think it was the first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House, which centered around a nuclear family moving into an older home. Goosebumps in general was an introduction for me and a generation of 90’s kids to horror, but the first one you read just sticks with you.
I love grand houses and the stories behind them (*coughcough*been to the Biltmore three times*coughcough*) and usually those stories are spooky in nature. Same reason I love going on haunted city tours, I don’t think they’re actually haunted (with the expectation of the Bryce House in Annapolis… If ghosts exist at all then they reside there), I just really love the story telling.
But is there more to it? As I was reflecting on my past, I took note of a pivotal event that happened around the time I started to read horror stories. My house was broken into and ransacked. Thankfully my family was out of the house, but I do remember seeing the aftermath. Your home is normally seen as a safe space, and that everything that is bad is ‘out there’, but at an early age I learned that that’s not always the case.
Maybe these things have nothing to do with one another, but I think there’s a connection there. As a kid you’re adaptable and I know I wasn’t introspective at ten. Maybe twenty years later I can see the throughline, or maybe again I’m just trying to make narrative sense out of something that isn’t narrative.
Slow Burn: The Art of the Gothic Tale
I’ve already talked length about my religious background and how it shaped my taste during my high school and college years. One of the things I discovered during this time was Gothic Classics. I read Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw. It was the best way I knew to be a ‘good christian’ but still enjoy some horror, because they’re classics.
A mainstay of Gothic stories is the slow burn, the perfect buildup to the tragic end. I learned how to be patient with my reading during this time, because a good payoff is worth the climb. That doesn’t mean that the whole book is flat and then everything happens in the last few pages. It is all about buildup, like slowly climbing up a flight of stairs.
Now just add a haunted house and I’m already halfway in love.
Short Story Collections: A snapshot
This is a newer love of mine and one that kinda shocked me. For a long time I avoided short stories because I found them frustrating. As soon as the reader gets to the juicy stuff the story ends. I’m not too proud to say that I didn’t get them or their purpose.
I believe Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado was the collection that turned my opinion around. The first story is called The Husband Stitch, that I would recommend wholeheartedly, about a woman who tries to keep one thing to herself, while her husband demands everything, every inch, even if it hurts his wife. Machado uses the story of The Green Ribbon (or whatever color, it’s been retold so many times) and interprets it through a feminist lens. It’s surreal, heartbreaking, and sadly, the ending is all too real.
I realized then that short stories aren’t there to be complete pictures but to leave an impression. A distinct emotion. I was able to open myself up and let go of my expectations. Many of the stories in Machado’s book really got to me, but I still think about The Resident, which harkens back to The Yellow Wallpaper.
If done right then the snapshots from the short stories bring everything together, usually conveying a certain theme or general feeling, or a certain time or event. And so there might be a frustration with one story, but the whole should be complete.
And there we go! Do you love any of these too? What other elements of horror do you love?