Fear Is Always With Us

A week and a half ago, Jack Tyler opened our discussion by talking about fear. The fear we choose to enjoy.

In this post, I’d like to personalize Jack’s post: the fear I choose.

In his classic essay, Supernatural Horror In Literature, HP Lovecraft noted that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

My first experiences of horror in literature were the short stories

  • “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken (a psychological tour-de-force)
  • “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki (a striking tale of slow burn hate and vengeance)
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (a slow burn terror masterpiece)
  • “The Colour Out of Space” by HP Lovecraft (a magnificent example of horror of the unknown)

If I were to add Doyle’s Gothic stories “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, I’d have to say my elementary school days were not your ordinary fun with Dick and Jane.

In high school, I met Dracula and reveled in revenge tragedies with their ghosts and insanity.

During the early 1970s, I joined a horror fan group. There I renewed my acquaintance with HP Lovecraft and soon came to know other giants in the field of horror, such as Robert E Howard and Arthur Machen.

I also met Donald Wandrei, Charles DeVet, and Carl Jacobi.

The die was cast, as they say.

In the ‘80s, I was introduced to Nero Wolfe and developed a love for the traditional mystery. But I’ve never abandoned my first love — horror.

Today, mysteries and horror are my mainstays as a reader and as a writer. And will undoubtedly continue to be so.

As Jack pointed out, there are innumerable horror sub-genres. And lovers of horror have their favorites.

I am partial to the slow burn story in all its forms. But especially when it comes to horror. I think the slow burn approach allows for the greatest build up of tension and terror. Allowing the writer to get maximum effect out of the smallest means.

For that reason, I tend to be partial to psychological and cosmic horror, occult detective tales, and the ghost story, because they rely on a slow build up to achieve their effect. Shadowy cryptids just waiting to prey on us are also favorites. Because they too are often hiding, sometimes in plain sight.

In horror, the threat is very often worse than the fulfillment. Once the terrible act happens, the tension dissipates and I, the reader or viewer, am left with nothing more than a rapid heartbeat.

But the terror that lingers long after the last word is read or the last scene is viewed — that is true horror, memorable horror.

That is why I still recall those above mentioned short stories, first read over 60 years ago — yet the impact remains.

We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Yet fear is the one emotion that has the greatest chance to accompany us to the grave.

4 responses to “Fear Is Always With Us”

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