My friend, Marie Loughin, writer and fellow member of TESSpecFic* asked on her blog, “What is horror?” More specifically, what’s the difference between horror and dark fantasy?:
This possibility led to the question, “Just what is horror, anyway?”
In answer, I came up with this checklist of elements that I’ve found in my favorite horror and assessed whether I at least attempted to include them in my book. (The degree of my success is left to the reader to decide.)
1) Creepy atmosphere. (Check)
2) Suspenseful. (Check)
3) Victims experience psychological trauma (i.e. they are aware and helpless). (Check)
4) Inspires fear and/or dread in reader. (Check, check)
(Notice that violence and gore are not essential elements for me, though they are sometimes present in my favorite works of horror and are included in a couple of scenes of my book.)
(Just so you know, I read Marie’s Valknut: The Binding, and consider it fantasy.)
It’s a good question. I think the answer lies in what happens after the reader finishes the story. If the reader is left with the question, “My God, how can anyone live with that?” The story is horror. Horror fiction peels away protective coverings and releases dark things. Once released, they can’t be put back. They can’t be forgotten. They cannot be ignored. They cannot be vanquished. Even killing the monster does no good because the reader is left with the realization that the monster is inside us and never going away.
Take for example, the Master of Modern Horror, Stephen King. He writes horror and dark fantasy and thrillers and science fiction and works that are uniquely King, impossible to define or emulate.
Two novels, The Stand and The Shining, are the perfect examples of dark fantasy and horror.
The Stand, for those who’ve never read it, is an end of the world fantasy. A superflu is released killing almost everybody and the survivors have to rebuild civilization. Forces of good and evil gather to face the ultimate showdown. Despite truly horrific scenes, supernatural elements, and large doses of B-movie schlock, the novel is dark fantasy. The question for readers going in is, “Will good triumph over evil?” The story answers, “Of course.” That particular evil has been vanquished (In the original version anyway. In the author’s uncut version, Randall Flagg washes up on an island, presumably to wait for another opportunity to get his ass spectacularly kicked.). The survivors can now resume rebuilding their lives.
The Shining, on the other hand, is pure horror. Jack, Wendy and Danny are the winter caretakers for a haunted hotel. In order to reach Danny, a child, the ghosts manipulate Jack, the father, driving him insane. In the end, the hotel is destroyed, Jack dies, and Wendy and Danny escape. Sounds a lot like good triumphing over evil, doesn’t it? Nuh uh. Because at the end, the reader knows the real monster is inside Danny. The “shining” is both gift and curse. It’s power. Where there is power, there are those who crave it, who will not stop until they get it. The Overlook Hotel might have been destroyed, but young Danny is going to encounter many ghosts, many entities, many seekers of power. It will not end until he dies. Not only do Danny and Wendy have to deal with their guilt and sorrow, they also have to deal with knowing this isn’t over. What happened at the Overlook is going to happen again, and again, and again. It will never be over. My God, how does anyone live with that?
That’s my answer. To see what others think, check out Marie’s post and watch the blogosphere as other TESSpecFic members chime in.
* The Emissaries of Strange: A Speculative Fiction Writer’s Collective is a group of writers whose fiction fits under the speculative fiction umbrella.
Just in time to load on that brand new ereader you’re getting for Christmas! Marie Loughin’s novel, Valknut: The Binding is live! When I found out Marie was writing an urban fantasy with roots in Norse mythology, reader greed snagged me by the throat. Vikings and Norse mythology are some of my favorite things. Marie not only let me read an advance copy of the novel, she agreed to write a guest post for this blog. She answers my nosy question: Why Norse gods?
When people ask me why I chose to use Norse mythology as the basis for Valknut: The Binding, my short answer is, “Because the Norse pantheon is a dysfunctional, combative bunch. Dysfunctional and combative go better with trains and gangbangers than would, say, the secretive and mysterious nature of the ever-popular Celtic faery.”
That’s the easy answer, though it makes me sound rather arbitrary. As if I woke up one morning and said, “I think I’ll write a book. Maybe I’ll put hobos in it. Yeah. And trains. Every good book has trains. Now, what goes with trains?” Think, think. “Oooo, how about Norse gods?”
Okay, so that’s exactly what happened. I never said I wasn’t arbitrary.
Happily, either my subconscious was at work or the god of serendipity was watching over me, because the Norse gods and their slave-like devotion to Fate were a perfect vehicle for the theme that drove me to write the novel. I’d love to elaborate on this theme, but it might be better if you read the book and figured it out for yourself. (Don’t worry, there are no wrong answers and there will not be a test, later.)
If I were to include all twenty or so Norse deities in the story, there wouldn’t be room for my human characters. I had to narrow the cast. That was tougher than you might think. Norse mythology is full of interesting characters.
Take Thor, for example. He’s hot right now. I could capitalize on that. His temper and impulsiveness would land him in all sorts of interesting predicaments. (This summer’s movie got that right, at least.) But Thor is also a tad slow-witted (also evident in the movie). I wanted someone clever. Someone devious.
Freyja, known for beauty (and, er, promiscuity), has great character potential. She’s associated with both fertility and war. This conveniently makes her capable of perpetuating a never-ending cycle of conflict. Like Odin, she collects fallen warriors and takes them back to her place, though it’s not exactly clear what she wants them for. Maybe Freyja is more suitable for a different kind of story.
Honir is too wishy washy and Hod is blind and all too trusting. They might make good color characters, but don’t fit the bill for clever and devious.
Balder is wise rather than clever, and is the antithesis of devious. He’s depicted as perfect, beautiful, and kind, so naturally some other gods killed him off long before I could consider using him as a character.
Then there’s Loki, the trickster. He’s clever. He’s devious. He’s also unpredictable, which makes him nearly irresistible. In my opinion, he’s the most interesting character in the whole pantheon. I could use Loki. Yessss.
Nooooo. Despite his attributes, Loki plays the wrong part. I wanted the “good” guy to be clever and devious. It all comes back to that theme that I’m not talking about, here.
How about Odin? He was clever enough to trick Fenrir into allowing himself to be tied up with a cord that would hold him until the end of the world. He was devious enough to cheat the re-builder of Asgard out of payment for his labors (long story for another time). Yet Odin was thought to be good. Early poets called him the Allfather and revered him as the greatest of their gods.
And what about Fenrir, the Wolf? He doesn’t play much of a part in most Norse mythology, largely because he was bound when he was little more than a puppy and couldn’t get around much. Even so, the fate of the pantheon—indeed, of humanity—is tied up with Fenrir (yes, that was a pun). In my mind, the treatment of Fenrir and his two siblings, Hel and Jormungand, is the catalyst for the events leading to the prophesized end of the world. Even more intriguing, Fenrir is fated to eat Odin during the final battle. Clearly these two are not friends. That makes them a perfect fit for my story.
Still, I hate to let those other characters go to waste. Maybe a series?
Marie Loughin loves reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. Her current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where she gets to play god with characters from myth and legend. She has recently published a Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, currently available at Amazon. (Available soon at other retailers.) When she is not writing, Marie makes a living as a statistical consultant, teaches a university-level technical writing course, and embarrasses her husband with her artless attempts to curl. You can find Marie at her blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
Me again, I personally think, think Marie should go ahead and turn this into a series. I would love to see further adventures with Lennie and Junkyard Doug and those trouble-making gods.
I just had a birthday. As gifts (thank you thank you thank you, Marina and Abby) I got Kindle bucks. I spent hours browsing Amazon, picking and choosing, adding to my wish list. One of the nicest things about shopping for ebooks (compared to shopping for print books) is knowing that even if I don’t pick up a desired title this time around, I can put it on my wish list and when I go back I’ll be able to buy a copy. As much as I love bookstores, they are very much catch as catch can.
Anyway, thought I’d share with you some of my birthday treasures.
(click here to check out A Bomb Built In Hell on Amazon)
A Bomb Built In Hell, by Andrew Vachss. This is a strange one. According to the author’s notes, this was his very first novel and he couldn’t sell it. I can understand. It’s less a novel and more an indictment of how the Creators in a society create their own Destroyers. The main character Wesley is a tragic figure in the purest sense of the word. He has no hope, no redemption, no chance. If you’ve never read Vachss, I wouldn’t recommend you begin with this one. If you’re a fan of his Burke novels and his stand-alones (especially Two Trains Running, my fave) you’ll find the insights into the author as fascinating as the story of Wesley himself.
(click here to check out the story on Amazon)
Rose In Winter, by Marie M. Loughin. I met Marie online through blogs and Twitter. When she mentioned her short story, I had to see for myself. Only .99 cents! This is a fairy tale. A real fairy tale as opposed to Disney fairy tales with their guaranteed happily ever afters. The story first appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXI, edited by Diana Paxton. I hope Marie writes and publishes more, because I could easily become a fan.
(click here to check out Shotgun Gravy on Amazon)
Shotgun Gravy, by Chuck Wendig. I’m a big fan of Chuck’s blog, terrible minds. Last month I got my first taste of his fiction when I read his short story collection, Irregular Creatures. I couldn’t resist this novella about Atlanta Burns, a young girl with a big past. Chuck calls it YA noir. I personally don’t think he should try so hard to pigeonhole it. It’s a story about bullying, and all ages can relate to that.
(click here to check out the book on Amazon)
Here Be Monsters, short stories by Samantha Anderson, India Drummond, M. T. Murphy, Jeremy C. Shipp, S. M. Reine, Sara Reinke and Anabel Portillo. A fun collection about, you guessed it, monsters. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, aliens and even spiders. I enjoyed all the stories, but I’m not going to name a favorite (okay, hint, spider monsters are cool). My only gripe with the collection is that it includes some beautiful dark fantasy art by Jose Manuel Portillo Barientos and Alissa Rindels. I really want to see them in color. Which means I’m going to have get a Kindle Fire. The illustrations are gorgeous in gray scale, but I bet they’re poster worthy in color.
Doesn’t this make you wish your friends and family loved you enough to give you gift certificates for Kindle books? I haven’t even read all my purchases or spent all my Kindle bucks. Go on, admit it. You’re all green with envy right about now. Heh.