Why read horror?

I’ve been reading a lot of horror this year. More than I usually do, which was already a large amount. I’ve been feeling the need for extreme escapism. And despite the truism that good horror reflects current societal fears, I still find it very escapist.

Recently, I shared this article from Tor about women characters in horror: “The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women.” It struck a chord with a lot of women, who proclaimed that this is why they didn’t read or watch horror. And I could see their point. But even though I think this particular trope is tired and should be retired, I still love horror, and I wanted to figure out why.

I should clarify that the kind of horror I most enjoy has some element of the uncanny, weird, or supernatural. I do not enjoy slasher-type horror, which just glorifies in violence, often directed at women. That kind of horror is not escapist, not when shooting rampages seem to happen every week. I also don’t like child-in-jeopardy in horror; that’s too close to my deepest fear.

But monsters, ghosts, and zombies are thrilling to me, no matter how violent the stories get. So are those stories where a group of characters are isolated with the scary thing and seem to have little recourse for escape. The reason I love these stories, paradoxically, is because I do not believe in them. Therefore, I’m able to fully immerse in them.

Nope, I don’t believe in ghosts, demons, psychic powers, or the supernatural. My disbelief gives me a buffer from what’s happening in the story. I never accept deep down that the events could be real, that they could happen to me or to someone I love. So the story becomes safely fun for me. The scares are enjoyable in the same way that some people enjoy roller coasters.

Some people find their escape in unrealistic romance or in fantasy worlds very far removed from the realm of possibility. Some people find it in virtually having experiences they’ll never get in real life, such as exploring space or plumbing the ocean depths. For me, the perfect escape is grounded in the real world but with a story element that could never happen in my real world.

I used to love dystopias, but these days, they all seem a bit too close for comfort. And post-apocalyptic fiction, especially related to climate change, smacks of prophecy more than fiction. For the time being, I’ll take the unreal over the could-possibly-be-real.

If you’re also a horror fan, might I suggest you check out the Nocturnal Reader’s Box? I recently subscribed, and I am loving it so far.

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