I really hate I missed the chat on this one. There’s nothing like discussing such things with people who have actually read it, too, or at least thought it was a good idea that the stories were even written. Believe it or not, some people don’t really like or care to discuss horror.
For instance, I tried to discuss the short story The New Mother with a friend of mine, and all she did was listen politely and give the occasional requisite response of, “Oh, really?” I knew she was just being polite, but I was really moved by the sheer horror of this story of bad little children whose mother abandoned them and was replaced by a monster “new” mother. Both she and I have a slew of little ones at home, and while I was actually contemplating how such events might have affected my own kids, she didn’t see the point. So I went further about how so many of the fairy tales we were told and tell our kids are really terrible when you really think about it. I even rattled off the names of Disney movies we both let our kids watch over and over again that are really full of horror. I even told her how I thought thinly veiled threats of, “Wait till Daddy comes home,” were fraught with scariness, in painting Daddy as some sort of being to be afraid of. Finally, I just stopped and changed the subject. I was fighting a losing battle: she just didn’t care how intriguing I found these horror stories.
And I blamed the increasing violence and progressing scientific discovery of our times for her disinterest. How can something as menial as a monster mother with a wooden tail be frightening when Sunday school teachers are abducting and killing children? And how could the science of a reincarnated man re-living his own death as in There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding be scary when the previously unthought of idea of using cloned animal cells in the near future is actually now a reality? Little girl eating wolves and orphaned Disney characters have nothing on the real life terror facing us and our children on a daily basis.
But then, I defer to Stephen in Danse Macabre when he talks of fantasy replacing these real life terrors, so that we can focus on the make believe world and forget the one we live in. And I really get it now. We will continue to tell the horror stories and write the horror novels because we need them. We have to have an escape, and though quite horrible at times, the fiction is at least escapable in a way real life will never be. A naughty child can escape the wrath of Daddy by behaving properly. A child can escape having his parent killed by doing what the parent tells him in the first place instead of getting himself almost stamped to death where his father will have to rescue him. The conclusion of a fictional terror usually brings about resolution, where true crimes may never be solved. This was truly a lightbulb moment, when I understood this function of horror in a different way.
So maybe I’ll get off my soap box and start writing. You know, for the salvation of humanity and all that.