My original title for this post was “Why is Horror Fiction Relevant in 2020?” But I quickly realized that the answers are the same for me as they’ve always been. Still, they bear revisiting:
We really ought to start by answering with another question. Why is horror’s relevancy so often called into question? There seems to be an assumption that horror is somehow a lesser genre than all others, when the truth is that it’s just as prone to excellence, mediocrity, and dreck as every other genre.
Horror is broad enough to contain the full range of human emotions, to an extent that other genres routinely struggle with. It can be fantastic or realistic, thrilling or moody, sad or humorous, romantic or mysterious, quiet or extreme. The sky’s the limit, in other words. Try slipping an axe murder into a bodice ripper, on the other hand … It’s not that it can’t be done, but I’d want to be awfully careful.
Perhaps more than any other literary genre, horror has the potential to illuminate what we have in common as a species, regardless of differences. How so? Because it tends to bring diverse groups together to face off against a common enemy, whether it’s a monster, an environmental anomaly, or a human killer. When we come face to face with a true Other, we’re given the chance to see that the otherness among us pales by comparison to our commonality. Robert McCammon’s Stinger is a fantastic example of this precept in motion. On the surface it’s a science fiction story about one alien chasing another alien across space until they both end up in Texas, where the predator puts up a force field around a small town to prevent his quarry from escaping. But really it’s a horror novel, because the inhabitants of the troubled little town of Inferno are also trapped as a result.
How can we expect to confront the deepest, darkest problems of our times if we fail to address them in our art? Don’t get me wrong. Not all fiction needs to confront violence, racism, end times, etc., but much of it should. There’s a lot of darkness in the world, and it seems to me that if we want to move toward the light, we need to be able to recognize, and avoid, its opposite. Know your enemy.The late Jack Ketchum had it right when he said in a workshop I attended that if you’re going to bring violence into a story, you’d better be prepared to go all the way. I also once attended a reading by Steve Rasnic Tem in which he mentioned that his abhorrence toward all types of violence was the impetus behind his novel Ubo.
These points aren’t meant to serve as an outline of rules. That’s another great thing about the horror genre. Just when you think you’ve pinned it down, a visionary comes along and changes things up. Mary Shelley set a certain standard, of course, by making her monster in Frankenstein sympathetic (another science fiction novel that’s really a horror novel, by the way). Some hundred and seventy years later, Clive Barker would take this thinking to new heights. Others have been redrawing the boundaries of the genre in recent years as well: Josh Malerman, Victor LaValle, Paul Tremblay, to name a few.
Do I see these things at play in my own work? I think I do. I hope I’m not overly conscious of them while I’m writing, but I think the above observations show themselves in my collection Jagged Edges & Moving Parts, for instance. My next two or three books will not be in the horror genre, but when I return with a planned collection of all-supernatural tales of terror, you can bet some of the ideas touched on here will be on my mind. May they haunt you pleasantly as well.
Thank you Pete for a great guest post and for sharing it with us here at One-Legged Reviews.
Make sure to check out Pete's new collection Jagged Edges & Moving Parts available now in ebook and print.
To learn more about the author and his other works, make sure to visit his official site.