Do you recognize that darkness that seeps through the ink of a page? That seeps out slowly to conjure fear in your mind? The darkness, the fear, the terror—the horror of it all. It shakes us to the core and unsettles our bones, but ultimately, we keep turning the pages in our books to read on in morbid fascination. That is horror fiction, one of the most unique, enduring, and versatile genres in literature. The question to ask is why exactly are we drawn to these books?
When I studied literature in college, one of my favorite genres to read was horror fiction. Like many others, I love reading horror fiction because it’s so thrilling, interesting, and the most fascinating of the genres to read. There is something about the hair-raising, chilling monstrosity of horror that captivates our interest and attention time and time again. We enjoy the dark unraveling of the plot, the revelation of the monster and/or villain, and the cool realization that everything is not the way it seems at first glance.
This makes me ask further—why are we so fascinated by horror? What makes it so compelling that we can’t even turn our eyes away for a second?
I think in part, we are so captivated by the horror genre because it illuminates what we don’t know or fully understand. The horror genre and all its sub-genres like gothic, dark fantasy, and paranormal, allow us to explore the unknown and the unfamiliar. It’s almost voyeuristic in which we as readers and consumers of horror are allowed entry into a space that will unnerve and rattle our senses. Ideally, that is what we want when we read horror. We want our beliefs, the thin glass of reality and of what we understand as reasonable, to be shattered.
In most of the horror content that I consume (by books, series, movies, and art), the horror is evidently not as unfamiliar as we originally would think. The horror isn’t obvious. The best horror to me is a story, a sequence of great story-telling, that provokes our understanding of our very human reality, emotions, and reactions. As with a one Victor Frankenstein, the true monstrosity within our material world is not a larger-than-life, humanoid creature fleshed together from the limbs of corpses. It is the unkindness—the cruelty of people that recoils from what is “other”.
Good horror horrifies, terrorizes us with the unfamiliarity of the familiar, and that makes horror so interesting to us. It is with the realization of our treatment of the “other” that the horror is fully explicated and explored, and this is why horror is a genre for all. It strikes us with the earth-shattering reality of the darkness of humanity within the realm of the fantastic and the unbelievable. Ironically, there is an unbearable lightness to the horror that shines on and urges us to reflect on the self, our interpersonal relations, and our placement and action within the larger societal context.
Horror is for all of us to enjoy at any age and with that said, here are a few horror recommendations that you must check out!
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Modern Fantastic
- Carrie by Stephen King
- The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Chan
- Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
- White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel also available)
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- Small Spaces by Catherine Arden
- Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
- The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda D. Williams
- Ted Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’Connell