dragoness_e: Living Dead Girl (Living Dead Girl)
[personal profile] dragoness_e
Horror can stop working as horror if the reader has a sufficiently different cultural background from the author, because what horrified the author may be mundane to the reader. Alternatively, what the author accepts as good and right may horrify the reader in ways the author never intended. This can happen over time as well as across borders.

I recently read Arthur Machen's The White People. Not only couldn't I find any horror in it (beyond the mundane horror of how badly Machen treats female character in general), I had trouble finding any plot or even what the hell was going on. I can't say I agree with H.P. Lovecraft's analysis of "what was going on"--it's not really in the text and I think HPL pulled it out of his aft. Machen's idea of horror seems to be Women With Agency Doing Things, which really, really doesn't age well.

And then there's H.P. Lovecraft, who wanders freely between cosmic horror of "man was not the first, and won't be the last being to rule the Earth, and they will return when the stars are right", the existential horror of losing your identity to undeath, body-theft, gender-change, or species-change; and the racist's abject horror that Those People live in his neighborhood, possibly even right next door!. Guess which aspect of HPL's horror has not aged well?

Writers need to pay attention to the classic horror tropes they're using, or they might find themselves saying "Genocide is morally good" or "Slaves are by nature inferior beings whose lives and desires are worthless and meaningless" in the themes of their stories. (Looking at you, Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft). Or you, the writer, could think about those tropes and deconstruct them instead, giving us wonderful stories like Elizabeth Bear's "Shoggoths in Bloom".

January 2019

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