Beauty and Beast

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I got this email from a friend:

I guess I feel the same way about horror as I feel about those court shows on daytime tv that my patients always watch….

I totally get that not everyone sees as much of these things as others so perhaps horror is exposure to some realities that are not in their realm of experience. Still, the evil I see, or the sin, or the death is overwhelming and nauseating and troubling. I don’t understand the desire to dwell there….

The story you shared with me [She Called Her Carla – a short story I wrote] didn’t seem to be horror because it was about redemption of relationships, and that was beautiful. I don’t usually think of horror as something that contains elements of beauty though.

For those readers that haven’t had a chance to read my short story (which is most of you), I will say that it is a horror story, with a happy ending. You would be surprised how many horror stories are like this. Or, if they do not have a happy ending per se, they may contain elements of beauty and redemption – or punishment of the bad guy – while still having terrifying scenes scattered throughout.

The Stand by Stephen King
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Ghost Story by Peter Straub
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Lisey’s Story by Stephen King
Sandman by Neil Gaiman (see esp. Doll’s House)

There are so many more, but these are some of my favorites.

Yes, they are horror. Yes, you might have nightmares reading them. Yes, some of them are highly disturbing. But all of them contain beauty and redemption (some moreso than others).

Shadow and light are intermingled.

I would call these stories beauty and beast. What about stories that are just beastly?

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I do like a good scare. A movie like Psycho (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) does not speak to me on a level like Ghost Story, but it’s still fun to watch.

(I could argue that Hitchcock was a genius of cinematography and so forth, etc., but what it really comes down to is he knew how to put a damned fine story together, and he used his technical prowess to scare me into believing I was in the story – walking up those stairs, stuck in that car).

And then there is the definition thing again.

Is Hitchcock horror? Or is it suspense? Or a thriller? I don’t waste time in distinctions of genre hair-splitting. If it scares me, it’s horror. If it really scares me, I would say it’s in the horror genre.

But I give my bias away.

The horror stories I love are both beauty and beast. High highs and low lows. Plunge me off the cliff as long as you’ve taken me to the clouds. I don’t agree with Stephen King in sometimes wanting to scare people for scaring sake (a view he propounds in Danse Macabre), but even the horror master himself often surprises me with incredibly beautiful stories (All That You Love Will Be Carried Away). He may scare the hell out of me, sometimes even with cheap carnival tricks, but more often than not he lifts my soul up in beauty.

Food for thought…

In order to be redeemable, how much beauty must a horror story contain?

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I read The Road quite recently and I don’t know, I guess I didn’t catch the redemption or beauty in it. I suppose you are speaking of the ending but it seemed so ambiguous that it left me more confused than anything; I wanted more resolution. I found it almost so dark as to be unreadable.

    However, that said, Cormac McCarthy IS a phenomenal writer. Even if I don’t really care for the writing.

  2. I agree with Allie that The Road was very dark. I am tempted to place this in the beastly category.

    I was thinking more, however, about the relationship between the man and the boy. The man tried so hard to lift the boy’s spirits, give him hope, and keep them both going, despite the darkness of the world.

    I heartily agree that the ending was ambiguous (and I would add not as good as the rest of the book). I should also add that reading The Road has not made me more likely to read another of McCarthy’s books. I did find his style to be very interesting. It is amazing to me that I actually finished an entire book without knowing the names of the main characters! I did not think that possible, and for sheer talent I have to give the guy some props.


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