Horror Literature

SuiteU is closing and will disappear soon. There is a lot of great content there. People who wrote the courses put a lot into them. It’s a shame for them to just disappear. Here is the free ecourse for Horror Literature. I’d like to write horror but so far it all starts out all wrong for me. I need a new way to write it.

Horror Literature
By Catherine Bitzer


Welcome to the lair of horror literature! Dark minds over centuries have scared the wits out of their readers by harping on our most subconscious of fears. Below is a description of what you might expect to find in the course.


Fear, the greatest ally of horror literature, has had a home in the human heart since the beginning of time. According to H.P. Lovecraft, a horror fiction master whom you will learn more about in the course, said that fear is the oldest and deepest emotion of humankind. And he is right.

Consider for example your childhood. Were you afraid? What were you afraid of? Abandonment? The death of your parents? These are the two greatest childhood fears.

Consider your adulthood. What are you afraid of now? Your own death? Your child’s death? The loss of a job? Loneliness? These are the greatest adult fears.

Both adult and childhood fears find a kindred spirit in horror literature. If one for example looks at the literature of Stephen King, he has combined these in his novel “It”. Children, with their fears, become adults, with their grownup fears. And grownup fears are worse than children’s fears, although they may seem less intense. The thing about adult fears is that there is no consolation. The adult is now the parent who must provide consolation, and there is nothing that a grown-up person can turn to. When an adult asks, “Will I die?” the answer is yes, and there is nothing you can do and no way in which to know what is beyond.


This is the realm of H.P. Lovecraft. Life is one big abandonment. According to the fiction of Lovecraft, human beings were created to exist as servants and food for aliens from outer space. This knowledge renders life meaningless from a human point of view. Religion, spirituality, and life itself is nothing in terms of the monsters that were their creators. This is a parody of religion, where humanity was created by a loving god.

Thus a more daring approach is taken by literature with the emerging idea of “the death of god”. God is dead, and some critics claim that horror literature is there to replace him and the love that he stood for, with a love of fear.


H.P. Lovecraft died in malnutrition-induced poverty and obscurity. However, his publisher, August Derleth made sure that his work lived on. During the seventies, when the world of literature and culture was ready, Lovecraft’s work experienced a revival that is seen by some as the biggest in horror history.

An example is the author’s influence in the world of subculture and the occult. The gothic subculture, whose main emotion is sadness and whose main philosophy incorporates nihilism, finds that H.P.L. strikes a chord in their hearts. They read Lovecraft and wait for the end of the world, where monsters would rule.

The field of occultism is similarly influenced. The most recent development in the various ways of magic, Chaos Magic, uses creatures from Lovecraft’s fiction to empower its rituals. Some extreme occultists even go as far as believing that the alien creatures from Lovecraft can be invoked through ritual and contacted through dreams.


Of course much of Lovecraft’s and indeed any author’s horror literature derives from nightmares. What is interesting is that Lovecraft makes these nightmares so real that some take them for the truth. This is also a theme that will be thoroughly discussed in the course.

Meanwhile, write down all your nightmares, and believe in them. Thus you migh uncover and release some of the darkness within!

Lesson 1: Introduction to Horror

The lesson briefly explains the history of horror literature. This is followed by an introduction to the authors that are to be discussed in subsequent lessons. A further section focuses on various personal views of the genre in society.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives:

Learn about horror literature, where it originated and the various perspectives associated with its art.
Familiarize yourself with the authors of horror literature to be discussed in this course. Seven authors will be discussed. A short introduction is given to each author and his or her work.

Authors that are discussed are Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, Gaston Leroux, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite and Tanith Lee. These authors have been chosen for themes in their work that relate specifically to themes in the lessons. They also represent various perspectives and evolutions in the genre, which are discussed in subsequent lessons. As this is only a four week course, there is not nearly enough space to discuss all the important authors in this genre. However, there will be a recommended reading list at the end of this course.

Recommended resources for this lesson include The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien by Valdine Clemens and The Supernatural in Literature by H.P. Lovecraft. From the work by Clemens specific reference is made to the introduction of the work entitled “Gothic Nightmares”. From Lovecraft, the introduction and second section of his essay, entitled “The Dawn of the Horror Tale”, are referred to. To prepare for this lesson, please read the above sections.

Please note: Recommended resources are not mandatory

Think about this question: where, in your opinion, did horror literature first start? Where is the official beginning of the first horror novel? From what you have learned in Lovecraft’s essay, is this the kind of work that would appeal to horror readers today? Why or why not? These questions are dealt with more fully in Section 2.

Before starting Section 2, you might also want to think about your own reasons for enjoying the genre and indeed for taking this course. Think about what you have read, and apply it to yourself. Why do you like reading horror literature? What is it that inspired you to sign up for this course? What is it that makes your hands itch when you see the newest horror novel, complete with bloody skull on the cover? We deal with these questions later on in the course, when we talk about the effects of horror. Right now, let’s look at the origins and the reasons of existence for horror.

Horror literature is probably the most intense and enigmatic genre that there is. With this lesson and subsequent lessons you will learn what it is that gives the genre its popularity. Why torture yourself with images of blood and gore? The answer is simple: it’s a psychological need.

Lesson 1: Introduction to Horror
A Brief Horror History

From the essay by Lovecraft it becomes clear that horror has always been part of the human mind. Indeed, when looking at history it is also clear that horror stories have existed long before the art of writing has emerged in human culture. In fact, all cultures have something to scare their children with. Dark Africa for example has a host of spirits and spooks to keep people in place. European Gypsies tell decidedly spooky campfire stories of the “molo”, who seeks contact with human beings. The molo is the spirit of somebody who died and can appear in any shape, although it usually happens in the shape of an attractive woman or man. And of course England and particularly London is filled with a ghostly legacy from the past. It is even possible to take a spook and spirit tour while visiting this wonderful city.

So, long before the written word, the human need to be afraid has been alive. There is something primal in being afraid. And perhaps it is for this very reason that horror literature as a genre only emerged long after the invention of writing. Western culture during Victorian times have been extremely repressed in a psychological sense. Books were only read by the most refined section of society, who could afford the luxury both in terms of money and time. And they read only things that they felt were appropriate for the time. This is when The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole made its first appearance. This novel, although odious and long and obvious in its plot line, is nonetheless officially recognized as the first Gothic novel.

Gothic literature is the predecessor of horror literature as we know it today. The terms “Gothic” and “Horror” are in fact still used interchangably in some circles. Specific elements of Gothic literature include huge, dark mansions or castles, ghosts, and damp cellars. While this is a far cry from “mainstream” literature of the time, Gothic works still drew a very clear line between right and wrong. They also usually had happy endings and steered clear of things considered inappropriate.

Then came Edgar Allan Poe, pioneer in the horror genre. He was the first to advocate that the disgusting, disease and death were appropriate subject matter for literature. And of course this is exactly what he put into his work. This was a time during which psychology also made leaping advances. Its influence on the genre was considerable. The subconscious and its fears made a greater impact on horror than it had before and gave the genre an extremely poignant edge.

H.P. Lovecraft represents a pivotal point in the horror genre as we know it today. This author broke all barriers and boundaries between the accepted and the unacceptable. Many of today’s authors owe a large amount of their influence to Lovecraft. Stephen King for example found the first twinkling of inspiration when he appropriately discovered an ancient Lovecraft volume in a dusty attic.

Something to Think About:
Why do you think horror today differs so vastly from what it was when The Castle of Otranto was written?

Lesson 1: Introduction to Horror
Horror Authors

This section will deal with each of the authors whose works will be used as thematic clarification in the rest of the lessons. There are seven authors who are discussed in subsequent lessons.

(1)Edgar Allan Poe.

It has been mentioned above that Poe was a pioneer in terms of subject matter. He, rather than Walpole, is often recognized as the father of horror literature as we know it today. Poe wrote a vast amount of short stories, longer works and poetry. His contribution to horror literature is invaluable, as mentioned by Lovecraft in his essay. The entirity of Section VII is devoted to this author.

Poe produced a large body of work, including poetry and fiction. In subsequent lessons works such as “The Telltale Heart” and “Premature Burial” are mentioned.

(2)Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker was, like Poe, a pioneer. With Dracula he began a trend of vampire fiction that is showing no sign of diminishing more than a century later. In fact the popular monster has developed in wide variety of ways. Since his creation, Dracula has inspired nearly all of emotion available on the human spectrum, including love, lust, fear, jealousy and hatred.

Chapter 7 in Clemens deals with Dracula.

(3)Howard Phillips Lovecraft

From an early age Lovecraft cultivated his reading and writing talents. When he grew up the author kept up a large amount of correspondence and writing, which he continued throughout his life. Several blows, such as the death of his mother and the failure of his marriage, resulted in periods of lethargy where the author did little. But his body of work is nonetheless remarkable for his relatively short life.

(4)Gaston Leroux

Gaston Leroux, the creator of Phantom of the Opera, began his writing life as a journalist. The most remarkable work of his creation is Phantom, which, like Dracula, is showing no signs of diminishing fame.

(5)Clive Barker

Clive Barker takes the concept of “disgusting” to new heights with his horror. His Books of Blood hit the market with a storm during the 1980’s. This talented author also practiced his art in other areas such as film. One of the results is “Candyman”. This tale deals with urban myths and includes certain gothic elements such as dark, damp, enclosed spaces.

(6)Poppy Z. Brite

Brite is also a hot young author of our time. Her first work, Lost Souls, is in my humble opinion also the best. She smashes subject matter taboos with her extreme and bloody imagery combined with homosexuality. Brite draws on the Gothic subculture to sculpt her vampires. These vulgar and drug-addicted creatures are an entertainingly far cry from Stoker’s gentleman.

(7)Tanith Lee

Lee deals with the vampire theme in a more subtle, but equally devastating way, as Brite. Her Dark Dance Trilogy is however by no means innocent. All sorts of interesting taboos are thrown away. Incest for example is one of the main kinds of sexual encounters in her novels. Lee manages to make these appear perfectly acceptable and romantic.

Through these authors, I am attempting to demonstrate the increasingly daring way in which horror themes are used in literature with the progression of time. Themes such as fear, damnation and salvation will be discussed in future lessons. Lesson 2 deals with fear.

Something to Think About:
Who is your favorite author and why? Do you like a lot of gore or do you favor subtlety in horror literature?

Lesson 1: Introduction to Horror

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien.University of New York Press, 1999.

Lovecraft, H.P. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Dover Publications, Incorporated, 1977.

Internet Resources:

Bram Stoker

Edgar Allan Poe

La Rue Leroux

Tanith Lee

The H.P. Lovecraft Library

The Official Home Page of Clive Barker

The Official Home Page of Poppy Z. Brite

Lesson 2: Fear

Fear is explored in terms of psychoanalysis and theories regarding the horror genre. The main focus of theoretical discussion is the work of Julia Kristeva. Her ideas on abjection are introduced.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives:

Learn about the role of fear in horror literature.
Examine the different points of view regarding fear, such as those brought to light by the advance of psychology in H.P. Lovecraft’s day. Julia Kristeva has also developed advanced ideas on the subject, such as the abject and the uncanny, which are discussed below.

Resources that will be used include: Section I from H.P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural and Chapter 1 from Repressed by Clemens, entitled “Gothic Fear”.

Something to Think About:
What makes you feel afraid, and what sources of these fears you like to encounter in your horror literature.

Preparation: Before plunging into your darkest fears to make the most of this lesson, first try to examine what they are. Make a list. What did you fear most when you were a child? What do you fear most now? These could be either supernatural forces, or things from the everyday world, such as the loss of a job. Why are you afraid of these things? How do these fears dictate your actions? What does fear make you do, in other words?

I believe that most of us are afraid of the dark. The dark relates directly to the unknown and our fear of what we cannot see. Stephen King (1981:183-184) deals with this fear fairly extensively in Danse Macabre. He calls it the most “child-like” fear. But it is not a fear reserved for children. In fact, when having finished Phantoms by Dean R. Koontz, I was obliged to spend the night with my light on, since I imagined that every noise I heard was a phantom coming to get me. Also, when having to get up at night to go the bathroom in the dark, how sane and secure do you really feel? The tendency is that such a feeling safety and security is indirectly proportional to the distance from the bedroom to the bathroom and back again. My four-year-old (whom you will learn more about as the course progresses) woke up the other night and scared me silly, screaming about the dark. His screeches filled me with an almost supernatural dread for what I would find when I reached his bedside. But all was good again when I left a light on for him.

Darkness is scary, because darkness hides things from view. The hidden things are not always good, and this is what scares us. The thing in the dark might get us, and the picture will not be pretty. Darkness is also associated with evil, which is chased away by the “good” force of light. As mentioned in Lesson 1, darkness was a prevailing element in Gothic fiction, and it is still extensively used in horror today. From the Gothic tradition, darkness is the most poignant and longest-surviving inspiration for fear.

Very well, now that you know what you are afraid of, let’s look a little more closely at fear in all its ghastly glory.

Lesson 2: Fear
Views of Fear

H.P. Lovecraft opens his essay by referring to fear as mankind’s “oldest and strongest” emotion. He also asserts later in the section that we remember pain and menace more strongly than pleasure. When this is taken into account, it follows that in order to experience life in a truly intense degree, it is impossible to only do so with pleasure. With horror literature, pain and fear are turned into a kind of pleasure. You read horror literature because you like it, don’t you? You also go to horror movies that finish after dark because there is a delicious thrill in fear, isn’t there? Something in a human being likes being scared. It is as if the emotion of fear brings to life a kind of joy that is absent from other emotions. Perhaps this is due, to some degree, to evolution. What is there really to fear in a world of technology and electric lighting? Compare this to what there was to fear at the dawn of time. Man knew practically nothing. Death was at the order of the day either through predators, disease, or hunger. There was no security and on a daily basis the struggle for survival was real. The average horror reader of today has no such immediate fears to struggle with. In such relative security, there is still the evolutionary need to feel adrenaline pumping through the veins. Horror literature and its imaginary scares provide this. It adds spice to life.

Fear comes in two categories. First, there is the above-mentioned imaginary fear, which uses as its source for adrenaline things such as monsters, ghosts and spectres. However, these are only manifestations of the real fear, which is the second category. Fears of things that might really happen, and that might really go wrong. I stated above that in the world today we really are not acquainted with fear in the immediate way that our ancestors are. However, consider yourself, and get your list of fears in front of you. Compare and contrast your childhood and adult fears. How much do your fears differ? What do you fear now in comparison to the subject of your fears when you were a child? Here is a list to spark your ideas:

·Children fear abandonment.
·Adults fear loneliness and a loss of control.
·Children fear darkness.
·Adults fear death.
·Children fear the unknown.
·Why are so many people afraid to try new things?
·Children fear monsters.
·Adults fear the implication of the machine and the computer.

Thus adult fear is really just a mature child’s fear. And although fear is therefore a distant acquaintance, it is still very much present in the mind of human beings. It has been driven to the subconscious by today’s electric lights. But monsters lurk just underneath. Let’s explore the unknown a little further in Section 3.

Lesson 2: Fear
The Unknown and the Disgusting

Lovecraft goes deeper into his theory of fear when he mentions the oldest and strongest kind of fear in man (or woman, I’m sure). The fear of the unknown. I have mentioned above that both adults and children fear the unknown in some form. For children, nearly the whole world is unknown, but as long as there is sunlight things are okay. Children fear a physical unknown: a world that cannot be perceived by the senses. For adults, this is more complex. Adults, having become more rigid than children in their attitude to new experiences, also categorize these new experiences under the category of “unknown” and therefore fearful. Think again about yourself for a while. Would you move to a different country right now if you could, not considering all the red tape you would have to go through? The thought strikes a bit of apprehension into the heart doesn’t it? Even if you travel to a different country for the first time; there is a great deal of excitement. But spicing this excitement is also fear.

Julia Kristeva and other psychoanalysts have a term for the unknown: the uncanny. The uncanny is really a feeling, rather than the unknown as such. Uncanny refers to a feeling that something is somehow not right somewhere. The word comes from the German term das Unheimlich. Its opposite, das Heimlich, refers to the homely, the familiar, friendly and comfortable. Everything that the unknown is not. Das Unheimlich then refers to what is hidden and obscured: the unknown, and the feeling of unsettledness associated with this. Now take a moment to think about things that make you feel unsettled in some way. On top of my list is certainly darkness, especially if I have to tend to my fearful baby who is scared of some “monster” or “witch” that he cannot see in his room. Having children brings you back towards childhood unknowns and fears in a very forceful way!

A further aspect of things that can be feared or reacted to in horror literature is what Julia Kristeva terms “Abjection”. Abjection is whatever is disgusting or can make you vomit. Kristeva has listed many common human fears such as death under this heading. Clive Barker, in The Damnation Game tries very hard to make his readers vomit with his visions of death and living corpses. This sheds an interesting light (as opposed to darkness) on the fear of death, the fear of being a corpse, and the fear of being buried alive. This fear is extensively described in Edgar Allan Poe’s Premature Burial.

When you read through Lovecraft’s essay, you will see that he is not a great promoter of extreme abjection in horror fiction. King refers to it as “opening the door” – how much do you let a reader see, and how much do you leave to the imagination? Chapter V of Danse Macabre deals with this issue through a discussion of imagination. Spectres conjured up by the human imagination are often much more fearful than those shown clearly by an author. Darkness also plays a role here. When the darkness and the unknown are taken away, the fear is diminished.

In the next lesson, let’s discuss nightmares.

Lesson 2: Fear

Barker, Clive. The Damnation Game. New York: Ace/Putnam, 1987.

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien. University of New York Press, 1999.

Lovecraft, H.P. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Dover Publications, Incorporated, 1977.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of horror : an essay on abjection. New York : Columbia University Press, 1982.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Wordsworth Classics, 1993.

Lesson 3: Nightmares

A primary source of both adult and childhood fears is nightmares. These come directly from the subconscious and the fears stored there. This lesson looks at the implications of the nightmare in horror literature, with a discussion of the authors Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives:

Explore the role of dreams in horror literature.
Discuss the images of nightmares.
Discuss Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and their use of nightmare in literature.

Resources referred to are the Introduction and Chapter V of Clemens’s work, and Chapter III of King’s work.

I am once again going to refer to my little boy. Children and nightmares are inextricably linked. During the day children play and run and have fun. During the night the fears that they never gave a thought to in the sunlight come to haunt their dreams. My little one screams even louder for a nightmare than he does for the darkness. A nightmare to him is real. His fears come alive in his bad dreams. Of course my goosebumps are directly proportional to the terror and the volume of his cries. Poor child.

There are two nightmares that I had as a child that continue to haunt me to this day. The first is an abandonment nightmare. I was alone and lost in the snow. Filled with the most ghastly loneliness, and a wish for my mother, I finally came to a little wooden house. The old lady inside let me in and told me that she had a phone. When I tried to phone my mother, I had forgotten the number! I felt more lost than ever, and woke up in chills.

The other nightmare concerns death. One of my cousins had died and his corpse was in a house with bare white walls. I came into the house carefully to look at the body. There was no furniture apart from the bed on which he lay. He suddenly sat up and grabbed my wrist. I woke up finishing the scream I had started during the nightmare.

Other interesting nightmares that I frequently hear about are those in which you dream that you “wake up”. I had one like that recently. I kept waking up and thought it was real, making it all the more terrifying, until I finally did wake up.

Nightmares feed on our fears. Above I dreamed of abandonment, death and entrapment, all of which are common human fears. In preparation for this lesson, think about your dream history. If possible, write down the last nightmare you remember having. Consider which of your fears were manifest in this nightmare. What would be your greatest nightmare in real life?

Now. Let’s dream.

Lesson 3: Nightmares
Nightmares: Your fears made real

When you read the Introduction of The Return of the Repressed by Clemens, you will learn about the Gothic nightmare. Discuss how this nightmare compares and contrasts with what constitutes a nightmare in the modern world. Nightmares are closely related to the mind’s fears. Previously fears have been identified as fear of the unknown, abandonment and darkness. Many of the creatures that we fear represent the fear of these ideas. Look at Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, Chapter III: “Tales of the Tarot”. Here he discusses the various archetypal images manifest through our fears. Specifically he deals with the ghost, the monster, the vampire and the werewolf as “Tarot” images of our most primal fears. King makes some interesting points about how these creatures make our worst nightmares come true. Compare this with Chapter V: “The Industrial Demon” by Clemens. Do you think man has held any particular nightmare image since the beginning of time? How has the view of the nightmare changed?

Horror and nightmares, and horror fiction particularly, are results of the human need not only for feeling fear, but also for dealing with fears. Fear is very much linked to the subconscious. It is the growing knowledge of this part ot the human mind that also gave horror fiction its boost at the beginning of the twentieth century. A greater understanding of psychology and the subconscious brought about an advance in horror literature. Edgar Allen Poe was the first to recognize the human need for an inescapable nightmare. He understood that the more powerful emotion is pain, fear and gloom rather than health, beauty and pleasure. And thus he sought to scare people out of their wits by using a more poignant imagery and subject-matter than had ever before been the case.

Indeed, because they understood the importance of the subconscious and the way that it deals with fear, both Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft frequently used their nightmares as a springboard for horror tale ideas. Lovecraft even wrote down one of his dreams exactly as he dreamed it and used it for a short story. This is now discussed in Section 3.

Lesson 3: Nightmares
The Nightmare Worlds of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft

Many of Poe’s tales read like like a nightamre. Some of these include “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The last-mentioned will be dealt with in subsequent lessons. For this lesson, I would like to take a brief look at “Premature Burial”. Poe begins the story with a factual discussion of suffering, and then moves to the specific depiction of the nightmare of being buried while alive. He calls it “the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.” (Poe, 1993 Wordsworth Classics: 271). And mortality is indeed the prime concept here. We fear what we do not know. We fear death and we fear the grave. Most badly we fear being in the grave prematurely.

In his story Poe continues to relate several tales from historical figures buried alive and the agonies they suffered. The most horrid of these I found is a story of a woman buried in her family vault. She had been mistaken for dead and buried alive. She died in terror, trying to get out by beating her fists against he door.

Finally Poe ends with his hero, a first-person narrator who was subject to death-like swoons. This man lived in perpetual fear of being buried alive. Upon waking one day he found that his nightmare had come true. But I would hate to spoil the story for you. In the final section of this lesson is a website where you can read the ghastly tale. There is enough there to provide nightmares for a long, long time.

Nightmares are particularly scary, because there is nowhere to run and no light switch to flip in your dream world. The darkness is all-pervading. You cannot run and you cannot hide. Your darkest fantasies are real and they are out to get you. And your feet are nailed to the floor.

Particularly poignant is a story that Lovecraft took directly from a nightmare. The heroes were the author himself and a writer friend. The friend had gone into a dark tunnel to investigate some sort of archealogical find. The author remains above ground. From the darkness he suddenly hears his friend screaming at him to run, and then silence. The only response to the author’s calls is a ghastly voice saying to the author that his friend is no more.

This nightmare story depicts the fear of the dark and also suggests live burial, being in a dark, underground place. This becomes the grave of Lovecraft’s unfortunate nightmare friend. Also in later works by this author those among humankind who were particularly sensitive, artistic or both, would have strange nightmares about the end of the world or the monsters coming to devour the earth. Dreaming therefore played an important role in depicting Lovecraft’s horror. Lovecraft takes the unknown and the supernatural further than Poe does in his story. In Poe, the fear is of a largely imaginary nature. The woman interred with her dead family for example, must have conjured several spooky images of rotting skeletons and corpses just beyond the dark surrounding her.

Nightmares can take many forms. They are basically dark and filled with nameless threat, or the uncanny, as previously discussed. Whether we are children or adults, nightmares, like death, do not diminish much in the terror that they invoke.

As in the tale by Poe, nightmares are not limited to dreams. They sometimes come true. Especially adult nightmares such as those pertaining to money and security. In Chapter VI of Danse Macabre Stephen King deals with the all too real nightmare of the modern American, for example.

Sleep well!

Lesson 3: Nightmares

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien. University of New York Press, 1999.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkeley Books, 1981.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Wordsworth Classics, 1993.

Internet Resources

Edgar Allan Poe

The H.P. Lovecraft Library

Lesson 4: Religion: Salvation and Damnation

The state of modern humankind and its relation to the divine is explored. The consequence of the death of god is damnation. This is discussed as presented by the author H.P. Lovecraft.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives

Cosider religion in its context of time.
Discuss the implications of the “death of god”.

Recommended resources referred to: Lovecraft’s Essay, King (page 303-304), Clemens Chapters One and Four.

Please note: Books are recommended but not mandatory.

Student preparation:
Consider yourself and your religious conviction. Do you have religious convictions? What are they? Do you consider yourself “saved” in terms of death and religion? Can you think of any human fears that are addressed by religion? Are such fears of yours allayed by your own religious beliefs if you are really honest with yourself?

When considering the fear of death and the unknown, religious issues inevitably arise. Religion in itself in fact contains a lot of horror. Consider for example the crucifiction of Christ. Could anyone think of a more abject depiction of humiliation and suffering? Thousands of martyrs after him also suffered similar humiliations and abject deaths in the name of ultimate salvation.

In this lesson religion and religious ideas in their various time contexts are considered. Gothic fiction for example depicts religion and demons in a much different way than does horror fiction today. The Castle of Otranto for example dealt with the theme in terms of popular religious ideas of the time. Demons were evil, God was good and women were innocent heroines in need of salvation by their strong and mighty men. Damnation would occur if a demon became inextricably linked with the human soul. Salvation at this point would not be possible and the human soul would be lost. The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby are two good examples of how traditional religious codes are depicted as the salvation of mankind.

However, more or less at the beginning of the twentieth century, scientific and psychological progress gave rise to the idea of the “death of god”. H.P. Lovecraft, himself a scientist of note specializing particularly in astronomy, called himself a “mechanistic materialist”. He depicts in his works a world created by aliens, where no religion is meaningful and no god can save. In Lovecraft’s work God is not only dead; he never was. This is what Lovecraft calls “cosmic alienage” in his work, and all his horror fiction focusses on this alienage. This is the ultimate loneliness. Humanity has no God and no salvation. Damnation and annihilation appear to be the only fate of humankind. This lesson will also speculate about the role of horror fiction in the possible salvation of mankind. The idea of the “other” is introduced.

Lesson 4: Religion: Salvation and Damnation
Religion: Yesterday and Today

It is obvious that religion a hundred, or even twenty years ago was seen much differently from what it is today. During the time of gothic horror, religion was very much taken as a given. God was in his heaven, and if things were not always quite in order, that was the work of those pestilent demons. But you just had to have the right equipment, and they could be easily overcome. Clemens deals with the gothic idea of demons in Chapter I of The Return of the Repressed. The individual was the object of continuous demonic onslaught. People’s attitudes to these demons also varied widely; from active horror and fear to good-natured humor. Humor was seen as an effective antidote to evil.

This corresponds to the dualistic world view of the time. Heaven was in opposition to hell as was humor to evil. These worlds were taken for granted, without question. The collision of these opposite worlds; the sacred and the profane, were then also a frequent theme in Gothic fiction.

Cosmic terror came from man’s impotence in the face of nature, whereas the Church – the human being’s connection to the sacred, protected. The Church provided a sacred space, a timeless place where the refugee could seek respite from the horrors of the world. Here protection could be found from primordial fear. Salvation could be found in the midst of demonic attack. Just think for example of the vampire who cannot enter a church.

From gothic times religion evolved to become very different. The Church no longer holds a sacred role. Instead free will is exercised in later fiction to choose between the good and the bad. Religion has become something inside, rather than outside a human being. In this way the individual evolves from someone knocked about by continuous attack to someone who reacts to the world as seen from an individualistic perspective. This translates into the views of society regarding good and evil. Horror fiction after the Gothic era ofen depicts a battle between good and evil, where good stands triumphant.

The views of society regarding good and evil relates to Chapter IV in Clemens. Public censorship relating to subjects considered “taboo” had a strong effect on horror. There were certain things you just did not let people see. Edgar Allan Poe uderstands this about the fiction of his time, and begins his “Premature Burial” (1993:270) in this way:

“There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction.”

And then he goes on to write just such an abhorrent piece of fiction. Poe is a pioneer in overstepping taboos of religion and good taste to create something shockingly irresistable.

H.P. Lovecraft is another. His “cosmic alienage” has been mentioned above. Lovecraft overthrows boundaries and taboos, especially of religion, completely overboard. In the next section we look at this.

Something to Think About:
Do you have any personal taboos? Is there anything that horror fiction can depict which is unacceptible to your sense of propriety?

Lesson 4: Religion: Salvation and Damnation
The Death of God

In the fiction of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, there is no loving, benign God. Instead there are a number of alien space creatures, too horrible to name, mention or describe. To look at them would drive any mortal mad. They have existed long before mankind and will one day return to reclaim earth. But best of all: these terrible, reptilian, slimy creatures are not only out to take the earth from her inhabitants; they are also the creators of humankind. And humankind has not been created to serve any intelligent purpose; instead they were to be devoured as food or used as slaves. That, says Lovecraft, is the purpose of human life. The earth is nothing, humankind is nothing, and in the end they will all vanish into continued nothingness. For Lovecraft, the terror lurks outside of the human mind and the horror is in the fact that there is nothing his characters can do. Their proverbial feet are nailed to the proverbial floor.

This is of course a far cry from “normal” depictions of religion that are found even today in horror fiction. See for example page 303-304 of Danse Macabre where King discusses Rosemary’s Baby. Salvation is possible, but the precise depiction of this as opposed to the absolute sanction of the Church in previous centuries will be discussed later.

To return to Lovecraft. God in his fiction is not dead; he never was to begin with. The only purpose he serves is to furnish mankind with the shadows necessary to stay sane in an insane world. The horror is bigger than humanity, and bigger than humanity’s God. At this point we can look at the psychoanalytical concept of “the other”.

The other is used to depict whatever is not good and proper. This is normally projected into some object or entity outside the self, such as an alien or a demon for example. The Gothic others were usually ghosts or demons, whereas in Lovecraft they are the alien forces taking over the world. Neither reconciliation nor salvation is possible. Although some primitive tribes attempt such a reconciliation through rituals to contact the alien monsters, and although some sensitives are contacted through their dreams, the ultimate end of all human life is oblivion. The other is utterly alien to humankind. It is monstrous and drives a person mad. It is unmentionable in its worst sense, and indeed nearly all of Lovecraft’s protagonists go crazy when faced with the utter destruction of human meaning.

Optional Project:
Go to the Lovecraft Library and read “The Call of Cthulhu”. How did you react to the story? Was it scary? Why or why not?

In the above sections the various states of damnation and salvation have been discussed. In future lessons damnation and salvation in horror fiction, and the role of the other are considered.

Lesson 4: Religion: Salvation and Damnation

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien. University of New York Press, 1999.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkeley Books, 1981.

Lovecraft, H.P. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Dover Publications, Incorporated, 1977.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Wordsworth Classics, 1993.

Internet Resources

The H.P. Lovecraft Library

Lesson 5: Vampires

The history, origin and current view of vampires are discussed. This is done in terms of the previously discussed ideas of abjection, religion and salvation. Authors featured in this lesson are Bram Stoker, Tanith Lee and Poppy Z. Brite.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives

Learn about the history, reality and mythology of vampires.
Consider Bram Stoker’s Dracula and how this relates to vampiric fiction by Poppy Z. Brite and Tanith Lee.
Discuss damnation and salvation as developed through the vampire theme.

Recommended resources focussed on are Clemens Chapter VII and King p. 26 and 66.

Please note: Books are recommended but not mandatory.

Ever since reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula as an impressionable and passionate young girl of twelve years old, this vampire has been my favorite horror entity of all time. He still is and probably will be until the day I choose death or undeath. Vampires are a strange (or perhaps not so strange) mixture of fear and desire. They are undoubtedly sexy, but they are also filled with exciting danger and the possibility of infinite pain. And then of course death, if the victim is so lucky, is also a very real threat.

With the vampire, especially as depicted in Stoker’s work, a new dimension of damnation and salvation is touched upon. Another duality emerges: there is both repulsion and pity for the creature who cannot help himself. He is damned to inflict damnation upon others.

The other also comes closer. The vampire at least looks human, whereas Lovecraft’s monsters were too dreadful to even look at. The other in terms of the vampire is still dreadful and fearful, but there is also an element of desire. The desire of reconciliation now not only lies in the heart of the most primitive tribes. Instead innocent, beautiful young women throw themselves at the feet of the vampire to seek reconciliation and fulfilment from the other, although it still does lead to ultimate damnation. Sex plays an interesting role in the evolution of vampire fiction. Let’s discuss this below.

But before we do that, go to this website, relating to everything you need to know about vampires:
It is hardly possible to have a neutral reaction to vampires. You either love them and desire them and even desire to be them, or you hate and are repulsed by them, suffering the severest abjection at the mere thought of their actions. Consider your own feelings. How does the thought of say, Count Dracula carressing your neck with his cold teeth make you feel? If you are male, imagine a female version of the Count. Or perhaps one of his voluptuous ladies at the Castle.

Vampires have perhaps inspired not only fiction writers, but also fiction readers to explore this theme to its full capacity. Section 2 discusses the real Count, the fictional Count and all related to this figure in history and in life.

Lesson 5: Vampires
The Count

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written in 1897, has become a veritable cult figure in society today. The repercussions of Stoker’s novel has doubtlessly far exceeded any of the author’s expectations. According to Elizabeth Miller (1996), Stoker did not know much about the real Dracula, who was also known as Vlad the Impaler. The author came upon the name in a book on Wallachia that he was researching. An inaccurate footnote stated that “Dracula” meant “Devil”. And Stoker had a name for his Count.

In actual fact Dracula means “little Dragon”. It was a family name that the Count took from his father, Dracul. Vlad the Impaler was also not a Count, but a prince. He was given the nickname Impaler for his tendency to impale those who angered him on large wooden stakes.

Optional Project
Read Chapter VII, entitled “Dracula” in Clemens. Do you think that Stoker should have conducted more research before writing his novel? Should he have been more true to the real account of the real Dracula?

Where the myth of the vampire comes from is difficult to say and shrouded in the mists of time. However, most scholars place the birth of the vampire as we know it today somewhere in the eleventh century. The vampire existed in Slavic countries, mainly in folklore. The first vampire in literature is found in a story by John Polidori, called “The Vampyre”. The story was however not very good and it remained in obscurity. The first really popular novel of vampire lore was Stoker’s work.

Various works of fiction containing vampires were spawned as a result of Stoker’s work. In fact the author himself wrote a collection of short stories, “Dracula’s Guest” (1914), as a continuation of his Dracula theme. Since then there have been countless collections of fiction and full length novels dealing with the Count. The Dracula theme was revived during the 1990’s with Francis Ford Coppola’s film starring Winona Ryder as the unfortunate Mina. Fred Saberhagen, a collaborator on the script for the movie, also wrote a novel featuring Dracula, called The Dracula Tape. This work features Dracula as a first-person narrator defending his actions.

Several accounts of the “real story” have also been inspired by the original Dracula. One of these is I am Dracula, Know Me, by C. Dean Andersson. This story features a mixture of the historical Dracula with folklore and Stoker’s story. Another novel, coming in three parts, is called Dracula Lives! by Peter Tremayne. The three parts are set in different epochs and the Count’s actions during these times. The first two stories sketch the main character as the evil spawn of hell, as he is also viewed in Stoker’s novel. However, the final part deals with Dracula as a misunderstood and unhappy creature, who, fully aware of his own shortcomings, manages to win the heart of a woman. Both the above make an attempt at greater historical accuracy than Stoker. In fact, Tremayne goes even further back than the history of the Impaler to Egyptian lore and the cult of the dragon.

It is evident therefore that this figure will never lose his appeal. There is just something about an elegant gentleman with jet-black hair and sharp, white teeth … isn’t there?

Lesson 5: Vampires
Damnation, Salvation and Sex

I’ve mentioned that the sexual appeal of Dracula is undeniable. Stephen King (1981:66) asserts that the horror story allows for its readers a vent for their frustrated and repressed selves. The sexual appeal of the vampire also provides such a vent. Below let us consider how Stoker’s novel contrasts with two of today’s leading novelists in the genre, Poppy Z. Brite and Tanith Lee.

Stoker’s work is typical of its time in terms of social taboos. You did not write about explicit sex. So instead the author made his vampire as sexy as possible, and the scenes as passionate as possible, without ever letting his characters remove so much as a thread. However, this social taboo has long since been overthrown and vampire fiction today reflects this. The modern vampires in Brite’s Lost Souls are disgusting, beer-drinking 400-year-old juvenile delinquents. They have sex in every possible, explicit way that the 19-year-old author at the time could imagine. Incest and homosexuality are also at the order of the day. Such extreme content allows the reader to indulge in anti-social imaginings without the danger of accountability. The same is true of Lee’s near-Gothic Dark Dance trilogy. Her vampires also live for a prolonged period of time. However, they do not drink blood to live, as such. If they drink blood, it is mainly for pleasure. But they do have sex with family members. It is also interesting how Lee manages to make her sex scenes primal in their passion while both the reader and the main character are fully aware of the social taboos practiced here.

This brings us to the themes of salvation and damnation once again. The vampire in Stoker’s novel is a lost and damned creature. Religious symbols and the Church are used effectively as protection against him. The only peace achieved by Dracula and indeed by all his victims is when they are impaled through the heart by a wooden stake – another possible allusion to the Impaler. The peace described as the last look on their faces before crumbling to dust is the purely religious bliss of knowing they are ascending to heaven.

The characters in the works by Lee and Brite experience no such peace or salvation. They purely exist to enjoy what the earth offers them. Their point of view is materialistic, and the continuation of the family is the only means of continuance after death. Death is the end for the unfortunate modern vampire.

Abjection is also developed to greater extremes than ever before, mostly because the constraints on such subject matter is much less in this century than in Stoker’s day. Dracula’s feedings were very clean. He hardly spilled a single drop of blood when he attacked his ladies. The greatest abjection found here is the fountains of blood and the crumblings to dust at the vampires’ deaths. In contrast to this Brite especially uses abjection in its highest degree. When one of her vampires dies, he is opened up by his companions and all his organs devoured in a sort of “last meal”. This could be seen to have religious connotations, and is a sort of salvation for the dead vampire. But it is not a spiritual salvation, nor is it a salvation from an outside source. The salvation, if any, comes from within. For Lee’s main character, salvation comes in the form of acceptance, both of her own nature as part of the vampire family, and of the vampire family members themselves.

Lesson 5: Vampires

Andersson, C. Dean. I Am Dracula … Know Me. New York: Zebra Books, 1993.

Brite, Poppy Z. Lost Souls. New York: Dell, 1992.

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien. University of New York Press, 1999.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkeley Books, 1981.

Lee, Tanith. Dark Dance. London: Warner Books, 1992.

Saberhagen, Fred. The Dracula Tape. New York: Tor Horror, 1989.

Tremayne, Peter. Dracula Lives! London: Signet, 1993.

Internet Resources

Miller, Elisabeth. Dracula’s Home Page

Everything you need to know about vampires.

Lesson 6: Ghosts

Ghosts are closely connected to the human fear of death. Much of this fear is founded in fears regarding the meaning of life and religion. Thus religion, salvation and abjection are explored in relation to ghosts. The work of Edgar Allan Poe and Clive Barker is discussed here.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson Objectives

Discuss ghosts as representation of the fear and desire of death.
Consider ghosts as the other and the self.
Discuss the use of ghosts in fiction by Edgar Allan Poe.
Consider the damnation and salvation of ghosts.

Recommended resource referred to: King (page 257), Clemens (Chapter IV).

Please note: Books are recommended but not mandatory.

Ghosts are probably the most archetypal form of horror literature. Of all creatures, these spectres are perhaps most representative of human consciousness and fear when it comes to death. The ghost is closer to the self still than the vampiric other. The ghost as other reflects the self in death. The ghost represents everything we fear about death. The fear of death is a very primal and instinctive fear and this translates to the fear of ghosts. The restless grave imprints itself upon the consciousness with a force that is matched by few other horror entities.

I remember when I as younger. My father was going to buy a house at a river side. The house was large and beautiful. In daylight. I once spent the night there with some friends, but I kept feeling that something just outside the door was watching me. But as soon as I looked, it is as if the thing quickly hid from view. The next day I heard that the previous owner of the house had committed suicide in the room where we were sleeping. Dad never did buy the house.

Dit you see the movie “Sixth Sense”? The dead people. The scariest scene in the whole film for me was when the first dead person manifested itself in the form of a nightgown-clad shape passing an open doorway. Some winter mornings, when I have to get up and it is still dark, I would imagine the nightgown passing doors just out of my view. A delicous thrill would then run up and down my spine.

Another story, associated specifically with South Africa (where I live), is the ghost of Uniondale. This is the restless spirit of a young girl who died in a car crash. It is said that she was asleep when she died, so she does not know that she is actually dead (almost like Bruce Willis in “Sixth Sense”). This ghost then hitchhikes at night, trying to get home. Every person who picks her up hears a bloodcurdling scream just as they reach her house, and she vanishes from her place in the car.

A ghost is an unhappy spirit. A person who died in a state of discontent of some form becomes a ghost until whatever is wrong is made right again. Ghosts give us as human beings the ultimate feeling of the uncanny. A thrill of fear, which is also somewhat exciting, accompanies the appearance of spectres. In this way ghosts represent both the human fear and the human desire for death, or nothingness, or reconciliation with the other.

Lesson 6: Ghosts

All of life is about the avoidance of death. Human beings do not want to know or acknowledge their own mortality. This is a pressure point which horror literature frequently uses to evoke fear, but also to reach beyond what is termed by Clemens “personal repression” (Chapter IV). The knowledge of death is therefore repressed by most human beings. Through the relative safety offered by horror literature we are allowed to examine death from a variety of angles. Especially in the modern world, where a greater amount of sympathy is allowed for those who are “different” from the norm in some way, the ghost is also seen in a sympathetic sense. Death as experienced from the ghost’s point of view is also explored, rather than merely living human fear as caused by its appearance.

Thus control is put back into human hands. Human beings in ghost stories such as the “Sixth Sense” movie are able to help the unhappy spirits to achieve peace. Just like the vampire hunters in Dracula, salvation lies in what was done by the living person involved. However, in the ghost story there is less immediate danger to the self, and also less brutality and violence. The ghost is after all already dead. It cannot do anything except scare in a psychological sense, nor can it be hurt. The salvation for the ghost exists in making right what is in its mind not right. Then it peacefully vanishes.

There is however also the malicious ghost, who seeks to possess the living. Such an example is the earlier mentioned “molo” from Gypsy lore. This is a spirit of a person who was once living, and seeks to live again through sex with a living person. There are certain ways to protect oneself against such a spirit, but there is no salvation for the spirit itself.

Thus death represents the ultimate fear of the unknown, and ghosts are the representatives of death and the harbingers of the uncanny. Ghosts are what we fear about our future. All human beings are destined to die at some point. Ghosts are ourselves and the other, with which reconciliation is inevitable. The thrill of fear when experiencing this kind of uncanny is a desire to explore the repressed truth about our own mortality.

Horror authors have used the archetype of the ghost in a variety of ways. Edgar Allan Poe of course uses the ghost theme and the uncanny in an unconventional way. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” he explores the way in which guilt and the desire to confess return in the form of the departed.

Lesson 6: Ghosts
The Ghost and the Guilt Complex

Ghosts as the other are often not only representations of our fears and our future selves, but also of our guilty selves or those parts of us that we are less proud of. Or the other. It has been seen earlier that the other is a projection upon some outside entity of the qualities that we do not like in ourselves. This is what happens in Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”.

The story is told from the first-person point of view. The narrator very early on asserts that he is “not mad”, telling the reader that this is exactly what he is. Like many of the narrators in Lovecraft’s fiction, this one is unreliable. The first thing that begins to bother him unreasonably is his boarder’s eye. An extreme paranoia and abjection eventually drives him to kill the boarder and bury him under the floor boards. When the police arrive to investigate a noise, the narrator invites them to the very room where he has buried the unfortunate victim. This is where the narrator’s guilt begins to project itself. The murder vicitm’s heart begins to beat under the floor boards. The narrator imagines that the policemen are looking at him in a knowing manner. This projected guilt later becomes too much for the narrator and he shouts out his confession.

Here the restless murder victim was purely a projection from the fevered imagination of the murderer. His own guilt was projected onto the heart, until the urge to confess became so strong that he had to confess. The murderer is reconciled with his other; his guilt.

Thus all malicious spirits that human beings fight against in an attempt to overcome them represents either a negation of death, and attempt to reconcile with death, or a negation of some negative quality in the self. See for example the chapter on repression (Chapter IV) in Clemens. The human relationship with the ghostly other is a complex and uncomfortable one. Reconciliation means an acknowledgement of death or of a negative trait. Neither acknowledgement is particularly attractive to the human psyche. Yet when acknowledgement and unity with our ghosts are achieved, a healthier psyche is the result. This is helped by horror literature.

Something to Think About
What is the scariest ghost story you have ever read or heard? Why did this particular story scare you? Have you had any personal experiences with ghosts? If so, are there any particular traits or fears that you projected onto your apparition?

Lesson 6: Ghosts

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien. University of New York Press, 1999.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkeley Books, 1981

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Wordsworth Classics, 1993.

Lesson 7: Monsters: Inside and Out

The monster, usually seen as something outside the self in horror plots, really comes from within. The subconscious creates for itself another, a monster, upon which to blame shortcomings. This theme is discussed with the work of Gaston Leroux in mind. The nature of salvation in the modern world, after the death of god, is explored.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives

Learn about the monster as the other and the monster as self.
Discuss Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.

Recommended resources referred to: Stephen King, Page 32-41.

Please note: Books are recommended but not mandatory.

The monster is the scariest of the horror archetypes in terms of psychological fear. Monsters, like any other form of the other, can be seen from the perspective of the outside other, as in Lovecraft’s monsters. On the other hand, monsters can be seen as the monster within the self. Normally monstrosity manifests itself in physical deformity. How for example do you feel when seeing a severely deformed person? When I was young I had frequent nightmares of deformed people chasing me and wanting to touch me with their deformed hands. This to me was scary. Their “monstrosity” set them apart from what to me at the time was acceptible. Monstrosity inspires abjection, because of its physical appearance.

Monsters also inspire a kind of fascination. Think for example of freaks at the carnival. People pay money to gape at the horrible deformities of those considered physically outside of the norm. There is fear, but there is also a fascination in the monster. Perhaps this more than anything else proves that the monster is the other that is yet closest to the self of all the horror entities we have so far discussed.

The fascination with monsters is also, like the ghost, a projection. The monster is what we are glad of not being. What if you lost an arm? A leg? A finger? You would feel abnormal; monstrous. And it is likely that you would be regarded as such too. Anything that is not fairly close to the norm of the rest of the world is reacted to as monstrous. From Lovecraft’s fiction, the monster in horror literature has moved closer to the self. Where Lovecraft created monsters who were not remotely related to human beings, others, such as Gaston Leroux, have created a monster who is in fact human, but has a monstrous face.

With the depiction of monsters that are in fact human in horror literature, the theme of salvation moves from the monster to the observer, the normal, the reader. What does our reaction to physical monstrosity say about us as human beings? Here the other, the monster, shows us the other in ourselves. Recognition can start and salvation can be worked out without anyone being nailed to a cross for it. When one’s own monster is faced, a new beginning is reached.

Something to Think About
Think for a moment back to what scares you. What about abnormality? What if someone without a hand tried to touch you with his wrist? Would you pull away? What is you reaction to physical deformity? And what do you think this says about you?

Lesson 7: Monsters: Inside and Out
The Inside and the Outside Monster

It has been mentioned before that H.P. Lovecraft precludes the possibility of salvation in his stories. There is no god, and humankind is delivered to the mercy of an alien who has no sympathy with human emotion. The monster, being so removed from anything that is known and loved by humanity, is utterly alien and utterly abject. Thus humanity is justified in its feelings about the other. There is no possible reconciliation. Contact with these entities lead to nothing but madness and devastation. Even those attempting contact through barbaric ritual will reach the same end as those who do not. Death and devastation. That is the only eventuality for the human being in Lovecraft’s work. And the result is madness. Monstrosity spawns monstrosity. Reconciliation with the other meant either madness, death, or turning into a monster oneself. There is no salvation and no peace. The self and the other are separate both in life and in death. This is the power of the fear that Lovecraft evokes in his readers. This is also the power that he still holds today for his ever-increasing audience. This will be covered in greater depth in Lesson 8.

Another monster has been emerging. This is the monster that is human. Again there are two kinds. First, there is the monster whose monstrosity is physical, and secondly there is the monster which is within, where nobody can see it. Both are human, but the second I think is much more chilling. But let us deal first with the physical. Stephen King mentions fat (King, 1981:36). He speculates on how extreme fatness would have to be to qualify as monstrosity:
“…those human beigns so enormous that we wonder about how they perform acts that we mostly take for granted: going through a door, sitting down in a car, calling home from a telephone booth, bending over to tie our shoes, taking a shower.”
And what about our reaction to such people? Or any kind of deformity? The human being inside is perfectly normal; in need of love and acceptance like any of us, but their physical appearance inspires repulsion and abjection.

Such a reaction from those who are “normal” is the real monstrosity. And here we come to the theme of the other inside ourselves. The outwardly monstrous human being makes us aware of the monstrous, the imperfect, the ugly inside ourselves. Thus we are closely related to the other that we consider mentally monstrous: criminals such as murderers for example. Not a nice thought, but at least salvation is possible. Lovecraft does not mirror us, but he does not offer hope either.

Hope and salvation make their appearance when the monster within is faced. When we can face and deal with the things that are not praiseworthy in ourselves, we can also work on change and improvement. So, as the demon moves inside, the source of salvation follows. Humankind no longer has to rely on an outside source for salvation from an outside evil. The evil is inside, and so is salvation. One only needs to make the small sacrifice of acknowledging the other and accepting its presence.

Lesson 7: Monsters: Inside and Out
The Phantom

The main character of The Phantom of the Opera is one example of human monstrosity. He is a human being like the rest of us, but the problem is that his face is horribly deformed, and he has to hide from society. This of course takes its toll on Erik’s psyche and his physical monstrosity translates into a mental disturbance as well. He enjoys terrorizing people for his own ends and justifies this with people’s monstrosity towards him. The perpetrators of this abuse towards him in turn justify their actions by the assumption that Erik is a monster. Thus monstrosity begets monstrosity, until Erik falls in love with the beautiful Christine.

Love is Erik’s salvation, and Christine’s. Of course upon seeing Erik’s face for the first time Christine reacts with horror like everyone else. But eventually love is her salvation as well. She recognizes her own monstrosity and the meanness of her and others’ reaction to Erik. Erik dies in peace and Christine lives on in hope.

Leroux’s work marries the physical horror of Erik’s deformity with the deeper and more sinister horror of the reader’s own psychological monster. The monster within is often more dangerous than the monster that can be seen and fled from. Therefore this other can no longer be projected for a prolonged period of time. It has to be recognized and dealt with.

Something to Think About
Think of yourself, and then of society. What psychological monsters does horror literature reveal in humanity?

More tolerant attitudes toward physical difference has manifested itself in the world today. In theory at least, there is a greater understanding of physical deformity and of people’s inner beauty. This is reflected in the novel Phantom by Susan Kay, again with Erik as the main character. Kay sketches the monster deliberately to evoke reader sympathy. He is portrayed first as a boy mistreated by his mother. When he subsequently runs away, he is mistreated by humanity as a whole. It is only at the end of the novel, and at the end of his life, that Eric learns to deal with both his monsters: his physical appearance, and the cultivated monster within. This is done through the salvation offered by Christine’s love.

Like many horror novels, Ms. Kay’s work offers us a mirror. Society and the individual sees him or herself in this mirror. King (1981:48) summarizes the idea:
“We have met the monster, and … he is us.”

When we can overcome the fear and stare the monster in the eye, salvation is begun.

Lesson 7: Monsters: Inside and Out

Kay, Susan. Phantom. London: Doubleday, 1990.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkeley Books, 1981

Leroux, Gaston. Phantom of the Opera. Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

Lesson 8: Conclusion: Horror Effects

The lesson gives a summary and draws conclusions from previous lessons. This is followed by a description of the effects of horror literature as seen in subcultures and occultism. Finally the future of horror literature and its influences is considered.
Lesson Introduction

Lesson objectives

Consider the ideas we have discussed so far.
Discuss the effects of horror on modern society.
Consider the future of horror literature.

Recommended resources referred to are Clemens: Conclusion, and H.P. Lovecraft: the final section.

Please note: Books are recommended but not mandatory.

During these lessons both you and I have learned a lot about horror literature and the reasons why we love it. It is interesting to me that horror literature never evokes a neutral reaction. All the people I have ever spoken to about this react either with repulsion or delight when I tell them that I’m doing a D.Litt. in horror literature. Some just don’t take it seriously and place it roughly in the same category as humor and science fiction. However, I tend to have the same attitude to them as Lovecraft does to those who would not read anything other than what makes perfect realistic sense: they just don’t have an imagination and should not be taken seriously themselves. Perhaps that’s just me and I shouldn’t be taken seriously!

It is however undeniable that horror literature has evolved with leaps and bounds during the twentieth century. Look for example at the authors of horror during the beginning and during the end of the twentieth century. Stephen King is a widely acclaimed author and pays his mortgage with his writing money. H.P. Lovecraft on the other hand never had more than two sparse meals per day and died fairly young and in poverty. Horace Walpole, after the publication of The Castle of Otranto refused to admit any connection with the novel. Today both Lovecraft and Walpole are hailed as pioneers.

The effect on society of horror literature is also significant. After H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction has received its revival during the 1970’s, it spawned a wide variety of reactions. Subcultures and occultists both made his fiction their own and treated it as fact. There are those today who believe that Lovecraft in all seriousness meant his writing as a warning to human beings. In Section 2 this is discussed to greater depth.

In Section 3 we discuss the trends that horror literature might follow in the future.

Optional Project
Please read the conclusion to Clemens’s work. How do you think horror literature affects us today, and what you think the future holds for the genre?

Lesson 8: Conclusion: Horror Effects
Horror and Culture

This section deals with two effects of horror literature on modern culture. The first is subcultures and the second is occultism.

H.P. Lovecraft particularly spawned a culture where horror fiction is taken deadly seriously. It is hard to say why this author particularly has been thus singled out. Perhaps it is the general feeling of hopelessness and annihilation that appeals to young people in a world where they are constantly bombarded with pressures and repression. The gothic subculture is said to particularly find an affiliation with the subject-matter of the author, and with vampire literature as well.

Members of the Gothic subculture wear black most of the time. Both men and women (or boys and girls) heavily make up their faces. The primary emotion experienced by them is depression or sadness. Many of them also fancy themselves or try to in effect be vampires.

In Brite’s Lost Souls for example the gothic subculture features prominently. Like a ritual, the teenaged devotees gather at a bar every night where the band begins with the words “We are not afraid…”, and by this very profession it is clear that they are. Members of this culture as mostly teenagers whose fears are not properly addressed by society. Their love for living in the world that they create from imagination and horror literature help them to deal with this fear.

It is rumored that many Goths are also occultists or heavily involved in occultism. There is no proof for this. Many of these people are attracted to this subculture simply because they think it is cool. They like the sadness and nihilism of the gothic mindset. So although goth and occultism are not necessarily interchangeable, it is possible that occultism has found a certain affiliation with some members of this subculture.

Occultism involves a very wide range of traditions ranging from the extremes of Christianity to the wildest of modern breaks with the norm. The influence of horror literature, and especially H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction on occultism is especially prevalent in the newest form of occultism called “Chaos Magic”. Chaos magic is a mixture of every religion and every occult viewpoint ever existing in time. The magician is supposed to find what works best and discard the rest. However, there are a few points of focus which gives the tradition its unique edge in the occult world. One of these is the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, and particularly his “Call of Cthulhu”. According to the Chaos Magician, Cthulhu can be contacted with dreams and thus add power to a spell. Some have even gone as far as attempting to recreate the “barbaric rituals” mentioned by Lovecraft.

The above are two effects of horror literature on contemporary culture.

Optional Project
Please read Chapter VIII: “American Gothic” by Clemens and think about other effects, however mild, of horror literature in culture today.

Lesson 8: Conclusion: Horror Effects
Horror: the Past and the Future

So, what do you think the future holds for our favorite genre of literature? In the final paragraphs of his essay, Lovecraft speculates about the role that horror literature or “weird literature” would play in the future of an increasingly scientific world. He deplores the attitude of those who would crush any literature not faithful to reality. However, he also finds hope in the growing fields of mysticism. This is ironic, since Lovecraft himself was not much interested in such fields, apart from the fantasy world of literature. Nonetheless, the point is that Lovecraft was being carefully optimistic about his art.

What do you think his reaction would have been to his world wide acclaim today? He would probably have been quite shocked at how many people actually take his fictional worlds seriously. But I also believe he would have been delighted that such a diversity of reactions could have sprung forth from the humble beginnings of the genre. Look for instance at the most prominent horror novelists of today. Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Tanith Lee and Stephen King all make handsome profits on the strength of their names, but I must add also on the strength of their brilliant art. If this is taken into account, increasingly extreme horror literature and film will probably be increasingly popular in the future.

Another interesting trend in horror literature is the use of humor. Countless novels have been written with a humurous rather than a sinister undertone. The Dracula Tape is one such example. It is as if the need for laughter, cited in the first Chapter of Clemens’s work, has returned. Laughter drives fear away. Or at least it drives fear far enough away to be examined and dealt with. The other becomes less horrible and devastating in the light of laughter. In this way, laughter and humor become the switch in the nightmare of our minds. Thus perhaps, through the therapy provided by horror and its combination with other genres such as fantasy and humor, mankind will live healthier lives. Fear is healthy when it is tempered with a good, long look at what in ourselves and our own other caused this fear. This has been the role of horror literature in the past. And this it will remain.

Congratulations! You have now completed my course on horror literature. I want to thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with me. It is with the hope that you have learned something valuable and with my wishes for all the best that I leave you now in the safe hands of your other. Thank you.

Note: Please find a suggested reading list of my favorite horror works after the Bibliography section.

Lesson 8: Conclusion: Horror Effects

Brite, Poppy Z. Lost Souls. New York: Dell, 1992.

Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from Castle of Otranto to Alien. University of New York Press, 1999.

Lovecraft, H.P. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Dover Publications, Incorporated, 1977.

Saberhagen, Fred. The Dracula Tape. New York: Tor Horror, 1989.

Internet Resources

Concerning the Gothic Subculture

The H.P. Lovecraft Library

Lesson 8: Conclusion: Horror Effects
Recommended Reading

Below is a list of the best horror works you’ll ever encounter.

Poppy Z. Brite. Love in Vein (I).

Charles L. Grant. The Orchard.

Stephen Jones and David Sutton. Dark Terrors

Stephen King. Pet Sematary.

Stephen Laws. Macabre; Daemonic.

Also read brilliant horror on the web:

Stories by Email.
Click on the “Horror” section to the left!

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