I lost a major client (his sales died before the first of my books for him came out waaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!) and am slammed with other things at the moment, so I’m probably going to be a bit spotty until May.
But I had to get this off my chest.
I have been struggling with the question of what makes horror worth reading for some time now. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a screed of why horror was a) dead, and b) was a waste of time anyway. I’m not going to link to it. People get to have their opinions, and his wasn’t exactly wrong, because horror doesn’t sell like it used to and probably never will again, and I think the genre made some huge missteps, from what I can reconstruct (and also from the general behavior of more than a few people involved in the genre).
So this is more of a personal rebuttal, not to this other author, but to myself. Every time I read a horror book that’s just flat-out terrible, I wonder, Why do I do this to myself? Here’s my answer, for me.
I’ve read a fair amount of horror lately.
A lot of it has been shit.
It glorifies destructive, malicious, abusive, and contemptuous behavior.
And I hate it.
With the fire of a thousand suns.
But that is not all that horror is.
That’s just the trash end of hitting the self-destruct button.
That’s just going, “I have fantasies about hurting people, and here are my justifications.”
Oops, the black character died.
Oops, the slut died.
Oops, the fat/disabled one died.
Everyone gets weeded out until it’s the white guy hero and the white chick heroine.
Then the white guy hero throws himself away so the white chick can escape. Yay. So much for self-rescuing princesses.
Or maybe it’s the end of the world, hahaha, let’s burn it all down.
Probably because there are too many hicks in this backwoods town.
Which just happens to resemble the place where the author grew up.
Simmering with hate.
But that’s not horror. Just hate. Not even catharsis. Just wanting to punish.
That isn’t what I love about horror.
It is possible to love horror.
It is possible to love the horror that digs down deep into the soul and brings out ugly sludge. This is mine and I own it.
It is possible to love the horror that captures the ugly hot tingle across the backs of your hands when you realize that you’ve fucked up once again, and good this time.
It is possible to love the horror that faces the situations where “good” and “bad” don’t mean shit. Now what? When you’re trapped between can’t do and must do, what do you do? To love horror is to have a passion for dilemmas.
What is worth dying for?
When is dying a fucking cop-out?
When is dying the best gift you can give yourself?
Nobody else will talk about this, not the way horror will.
Horror talks about toilets.
Horror talks about everything your parents ever told you to shut up about in polite company.
Horror has a terrible sense of humor, and I love it for that.
Horror, when it is not busily dumping the question of “evil” onto mental illness when mostly the question of “evil” should be dumped on assholes, does talk about mental illness.
And unfairness, when it is not being completely unfair as a genre. And horror is unfair. Just check out how much of it is about straight white men who are sad that they aren’t being appreciated the way they deserve to be.
Which, all right, maybe one book out of a hundred should be about that. The Shining.
But the best horror is about how, in order to get something worth having, you have to walk into the scary woods. Where maybe you discover that the something worth having, wasn’t.
Or how the place that should have been safe never really was, and if you don’t get out, you’ll die.
Or, worst of all, what if I was wrong?
It’s not coincidence that horror sounds like fairy tales.
What should I do when the unthinkable happens?
Be polite and kind, even to the people who you think don’t matter. Trust your gut. Swallow your pride and do what you have to in order to survive. Don’t lose your temper. You don’t deserve to have other people give you what you want; if they do, it’s too good to be true. Say you’re sorry. Don’t be a bully. Make the most of every opportunity.
And never, ever sleep with close family members, because hoo boy, that’s never going to go well.
Horror is a bunch of lifehacks.
I know, go ahead and laugh. But there is it. Sometimes the lifehacks come from assholes. “How to be a better asshole, the movie.” Sometimes the lifehacks come in the form of what not to do.
Horror isn’t moral. It’s not an Aesop’s Fable. It’s about how to best get through an unfair world. Everyone has a different answer to this.
“PUNISH THE PEOPLE I DON’T LIKE” is one of those answers. I think it’s a bad one.
“O WOE THE BAD GUYS ARE HURTING EVERYONE” is another. Another one I think is pretty much terrible. Horror isn’t about the forces against which we struggle.
It’s about you.
Did you give up?
Did you eat humble pie where necessary?
Did you love?
Did you become a monster in order to get what you wanted? Did you yield to the ugliness inside? Did you nudge things for your convenience, even though someone else suffered for it?
Those are the good questions.
I already know the world can be a bad place.
What I love about horror is adaptiveness and perseverance.
I should be dead by now but I am not. I may not be what I once was. But here I am. Still hanging on.
1 thought on “What Makes Horror Worth Reading?”
Pingback: Think Like A Librarian – Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado – Wonderland Press