I’ve been on something of a horror literature kick lately. Well, to be more specific, I’ve been on something of a H.P. Lovecraft kick lately. I have an entire book of his short stories, including two novellas. The book is simply called: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft: Dreams of Terror and Death. At this moment, I have but one more short story to read, and then I’ll be done. Of course, I’m going to go back and reread some of the short stories and review them for this blog; I’ve already started that process, but I’m going to complete it. Anyway, for much of my life, the bulk of my literary diet has been fantasy. One of the first series of books I ever read were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Prior to that, I think was Watership Down which I think I read for the first time when I was about eight. I’ve been reading ever since. And most of it has been fantasy.
As a result of my fantasy diet, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of horrors in literature: undead warriors, dark magic, death, chaos, blood … you name it. I’ve seen it all. Because of that, special effects don’t faze me one bit. A witch casting a spell … is that supposed to frighten me? Come on! I’ve seen it a million times before. The first time I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I read it as a fantasy novel. I thought it was okay, but pretty tame by modern standards. Last year, I read it again for about the fifth time and I walked away knowing I had just read a masterpiece. You can read that review here. I don’t get frightened by horror stories (I’ve read too much fantasy for that), but I do appreciate them more, now—as my review of Dracula will attest to. Fantasy stories are full of adventure and action. As a result of such, sometimes horrible things happen, or at the very least, are expected to happen should the hero fail. The horror of such events is usually derivative of the events themselves. In a horror story, the horror is more ambient and all-pervading. There is an appropriate mood and tone that carries the sinister appeal of the story. There is also a greater probability of death on the hero’s part in a horror story. And if done well, that can be a plus.
It is worth pointing out, that by horror I mean horror literature not film. Rarely does a horror film live up to something even approaching the magnificence of the novel, Dracula. Most of the time, horror movies are just blood baths. I wouldn’t even want to put them in the same category. Then again, my experience with horror is fairly limited. I’ve read Dracula and a few Lovecraft stories; but I liked the same thing about both: that ever-present atmosphere of dread and doom. And that, I think, is the distinguishing feature that separates Horror from Fantasy.