A series of blog posts I wrote while I was taking an English seminar and a mythology class at Central Michigan University. Both were tough courses, but they introduced me to Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Kiernan and H.P. Lovecraft.
I’ve always liked dark and strange stuff, but it wasn’t until I started this English seminar called “Dark Enchantment: Genre, Fantasy and the New Weird” that I really got into horror and supernatural stories. We’ve discussed cosmic fear(the vast universe and the unknown), the high place phenomenon (a.k.a. perverseness, the will to self-destruct or do something bad because you know you can), the uncanny valley (a place between two mountains, safety and danger, where uncertainty and ambiguity cause one to wonder whether there’s an actual threat) and many other sides of the genre weird, fantasy, thrillers and horror, et cetera.
Why is it that whenever someone writes about the future, the world is doomed? Either it’s physically falling apart and people are fighting each other for scraps of food, or the population is controlled by a totalitarian government, or aliens/zombies/[insert monster race here] are in the process of wiping out mankind. You guys must have noticed this, too, it’s all over the damn place.
Ambiguity is the real enemy. That’s the oldest trick to make stories terrifying, whether it’s horror, thriller, ghost tales, and so forth. As long as we the audience don’t see the monster, we get even more scared than we would be if we knew what it was. The anticipation is indeed killing us. If it’s clear that it’s something like a werewolf, for example, we can hold onto more hope and the protagonist can create a plan of attack, like getting a gun and some silver bullets. It’s frustrating, though, when the monster shows its face and yet no one has a clue what it is or how to fight it.
In that class we read so many cool short stories like “The Midnight Meat Train” by Clive Barker, “The Reach” by Stephen King, “Summer People” by Shirley Jackson, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M.R. James. My favorite novels from that class were The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen and I think The Croning by Laird Barron was pretty good, too. Even though it was a really, really (really!) tough class, I learned so much. The research for my papers led me to interesting articles on Christian mythology and introduced me to Angela Carter; I’ll be forever grateful.
Currently I’m taking a class on mythology, which is officially called “Mythological Background on Western Literature,” but the professor has named it “God, Monsters and Immortality.” While I haven’t written much on that subject or anything related to it, the Horror and the Weird series will be back up to speed in the near future.
The curious thing about oral storytelling are the lack of written records, and every time someone re-tells the tale, the story itself “experiences a different incarnation.” Yes, those things might seem obvious now that I phrase them to you, but thing is there’s something sacred about these stories.
First of all, they’re not written down, because groups like the Navajo tribes don’t want to share those stories with outsiders. Often times, even when a member of the Navajo has shared a story with a non-initiate, it’s been the child’s version, so some of their secrets remain hidden. Secondly, they don’t want to translate those stories to English, because then everything about the story will lose its meaning to them. To them, there’s something inherently wrong hearing their stories spoken in a different language.