Canadian Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas is somewhere in the near future, so it must be nearly Halloween. I don’t know if it’s well-placed marketing, the decorated houses, all the mini-candy bags being sold at the groceries stores, but I do have that familiarly annual hankering for the macabre and ghoulish.
When I was younger, reading horror was an anytime-of-year pastime. Looking back, I think my introduction to the truly terrifying came in the form of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in Dark. Though branded as children’s stories, they spooked me and my cousins thoroughly. The illustrations by Stephen Gammell alone made for some sleepless nights.
Later on, I read R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. When those writers weren’t getting me frightened enough, I graduated to Stephen King. I loved his writing, and I still do. While most of his film adaptations were campy at best, the novels and short stories still haunt me. I was eleven years old when my classmate let me borrow her copy of Desperation, a narrative filled with corruption, murder, the supernatural, and extremely graphic body-horror … I loved it.
Some of the most noteworthy horror writers have also been quite insightful in their commentaries and advice about the craft. I have mentioned it before, but it’s worth a reminder: Stephen King’s On Writing is part-advice and part-memoir, and it has treasured place on my bookshelf.
King is a nail-on-the-head familiar, and there’s also (among countless others) Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Lovecraft, and of course Mary Shelley. One could argue that Orwell’s 1984 is a horrific cautionary tale that the world seems to be spinning toward treacherously. When you think about all the post-apocalyptic and dystopian works out there, it’s fair to say that we terrify each other across the board.
I’ll end with this, to all those who have misgivings about the quality of horror writing — when written well, regardless of the designated genre, words can resonate what’s truly most bright … and most macabre about the realities of life. Edgar Allan Poe may have penned it best:
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
Happy Halloween, to all those ghoulish folks who revel in it!