Tag Archives: Horror Literature

Horror Literature versus Fantasy Literature

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.

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula” by Bram Stoker is a well-regarded classic of horror literature. I’ve read this book about four times, now. The first three times through (years ago) I liked it, because I liked vampires and was very interested in the part this book played in the legends that have grown up around them. I walked away from the book thinking it was okay, but kind of tame by modern standards as a piece of horror fiction. This last time through, however, my view of this book has changed. It is a masterpiece.

I think in my younger years, I was too much enamored by sword fights and spell battles, the typical fodder of fantasy fiction. This book doesn’t really have much of that. It is all about a developing plot and building suspense. It is one part mystery, one part horror, not so much a fantasy action book. The prose throughout, although somewhat dated—it was written in 1897—is still remarkable and fluid. It’s a little difficult adjusting to the diary narrative, but once you do so, it is a remarkable read. Having read the story before, I pretty much knew what was going to happen. Even so, I enjoyed pretty much the whole thing. I picked up on a number of different aspects of the story that I don’t remember noting before (of course, it has been several years).

I’ve read here and there that this book is really all about sexual repression or what-have-you. I totally didn’t get that. The only elements that might indicate that, that I picked up on, where as follows: 1) the penetration of flesh by vampire teeth, which is true of all vampire stories. 2) Lucy Westenra kind of idly comments in one of her letters that she kind of wished she could marry three different men because she didn’t want to break any of their hearts. 3) Later in the story, a tacit connection is made between love and blood transfusions and Lucy winds up getting transfusions from four different men in an attempt to save her. Taking all these things together, I think you can interpret the work as promoting polygamy if you want to go that way, but I hardly think it is definitive. There is no connection whatsoever between romance and blood transfusions; maybe at the time it was written, it was thought that there was, but really? You’re trying to save a woman’s life. What else would you do? I’ve also read that the work promotes homosexuality. Throughout the work the male characters are described as “manly men” or something along that route by the other male characters (and the female characters). It’s kind of odd from a modern perspective, but I think that was largely the manner of speaking of the time period. It’s another: if you want to go that route, I think you can, but I, personally, did not think that that was the point Bram Stoker was trying to get across. I just thought it was a mannerism of the time period.

Basically, I’m kind of the opinion that all these literary critics and analysts go looking for things in the books they read, and whether the author intended the work in that way or not, the critics interpret it as they see fit. The critics also enjoy the “shock-value” of their interpretations of classical works. Once upon a time, our society would have been “shocked” by polygamous and homosexual themes being present in Dracula. That’s no longer true today, but by now, it’s become accepted that that is what Dracula is all about. Heaven forbid someone just write a cool story.

Anyway, the book’s great, but I think it was intended for a more mature audience. I don’t think a young adult audience would fully “get” it. I know I didn’t when I first read it. I’m not going to review the plot because I think most people know it already. The Francis Ford Coppola movie from a few years back followed the book pretty closely, although it kind of went with the over-sexualized theme and changed some of the characters around to suit that end. Whatever. If you don’t know the story, and you can put up with some of the older-style language (it’s certainly not as bad as say “Canterbury Tales,” but every once in a while the language may stump you), get the book and read it. It’s well worth it.

Before I part, I’ll list the cast of characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, Lord Arthur Godalming, Quincey Morris, Dr. John Seward, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra, and, of course, the esteemed, renowned, and rapacious Count Dracula. There’s also three other unnamed vampire chics, and a host of minor characters spread throughout.

Anyway, I’ll give this book four and a half out of five stars.

This post originally appeared on Goodreads on 10/15/12.