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Why Do We Read Horror?
Modern horror writer Stephen King described horror as: “Horror is when you know and love characters but you also know something very bad is going to happen to them.” Why do we desire to read about bad things happening to characters we love? King is one of the most popular writers of our times. How did Stephen King sell so many novels when so many bad things happened to his characters? Why do we love horror? Shouldn't we enjoy and be more drawn to escapism and feel-good stories?
I suspect that our love of horror is similar to how people enjoy the thrill of going to the fun house at a carnival or the thrill of riding a roller coaster. You desire a thrill of danger yet deep down inside you know you are safe. You know you won't get hurt in the fun house and you know that the roller coaster won't go off the rails. In a similar vein, when we read a horror story, we desire the visceral thrill of reading something strange and dangerous and entering the realm of the supernatural yet deep down inside we know we are safe in our living rooms.
Another explanation is that reading and writing horror creates a sort of catharsis and helps us cope with our real fears. Stephen King believes this is part of the popularity of the horror genre. “We make up horrors to help us cope with our the real ones. With the endless inventiveness of humankind, we grasp the very elements which are so divisive and destructive and try to turn them into tools—to dismantle themselves. The term catharsis is old as Greek drama, and it has been used rather glibly by some practitioners in my field to justify what they do, but it still has limited uses here. The dream of horror is in itself an out-letting and a lancing.”
As a writer, I have found horror fiction a guilty pleasure. I strongly prefer hard science fiction where there is a logical and believable scientific explanation for events. Yet, like a helpless alcoholic drawn back to a drink, I am embarrassed and perplexed to find that I am periodically drawn back to read and write illogical stories about monsters and things that go bump in the night.
King once admitted, “I'm nervous about going down to the cellar: part of me keeps expecting the door to slam, the lights go out, and the knocking to start. But for me, at least, that's also part of the fun.” For us at the Quantum Muse, October is traditionally horror month. Our writers have taken a break from Science Fiction, Fantasy, and alternative drama to write these little trips into the darkness. We hope you enjoy the danger, and the thrill and the fun.
Your comments are welcome.
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