Hopper, Associate Editor, Horror
Issue # 2: 03/01/01
and Using Language in Fiction
Is Horror Fiction
By Teresa Hopper
©2001, Teresa Hopper
like a pretty simple question, doesnt it? Im sure that many of you
out there reading this already know the answer, or think that you do. Up
until a week ago I thought that I knew the answer as well, but I was
wrong. You might be too.
what is horror? If youd asked me that question a week ago, I would have
told you that for a piece of fiction to be considered horror, there
had to be a supernatural element. It didnt matter what kind of
supernatural element vampires, werewolves, ghosts, curses, zombies,
witchcraft (and too many more to name), but it had to be there, or I just
didnt consider it to be horror. I was, I suppose, a bit of a horror
read a lot in other genres crime and suspense fiction, dark thrillers,
but I saw them as distinct and separate genres. Sure, at times these
novels had disturbed me, maybe even scared me a little, but they werent
last week I started to read a book that has changed my views on not only
horror fiction, but also the dividing lines between all kinds of fiction.
What is the book that sparked off this insight? A how-to book? No. An
article on the nature of the horror genre today? No. It was a novel by
Jonathan Kellerman called Monster (Little, Brown and Company,
2000). A suspense novel about a serial killer one of those other
genres. For some reason this book got under my skin and into my head in a
way that not many books do. It scared me. That night I had to check under
my bed to make sure there wasnt a madman there, with a long, shiny
knife waiting for me to turn out the light. Ive had to check under my
bed before, nothing unusual in that, but before, I was checking for
whatever monster had been in the latest horror novel that Id read.
that book got me thinking about the nature of horror what is horror
really? If you take the old definition and scrape away all the monsters
under the bed and the vampires and the ghosts, horror is about fear.
Its about abnormal occurrences happening to normal people, which they
are often powerless to prevent. Lots of novels that arent considered
horror are based around fear, and the old me would have said but
theyre different, thats a different kind of fear. But is it
really? Imagine you are in bed at night, naked and all alone, youve
just woken up and hear a noise outside the bedroom door. On the other side
could be a ghost or a monster, or it could be a maniac with a sharp knife
and a grin. One option comes straight from the pages of a traditional
horror story, and the other from crime or suspense. But is there really
any difference? Obviously, one has a supernatural bent, and the other does
not, but both focus on fear. For both types of fiction the fear comes from
horrific and abnormal events happening to ordinary people. The fear comes
from the belief that that person could be you.
what am I suggesting here? That we re-classify anything scary as horror?
No, certainly not, but what I am suggesting, is that maybe we have been
thinking of horror in very narrow terms, keeping it firmly within the
realms of the supernatural, when maybe the dividing lines between horror
and other genres are more blurred. A novel concerning serial killers which
focuses on fear, has elements of both horror and crime/suspense.
one of the reasons that I think this has occurred is the negative image
that horror fiction, and therefore the horror writer, has with the general
public. I often try to get non-writers to talk about horror fiction
(without them knowing that I am a horror writer myself), because I am
interested in their opinions. Invariably it is either something they love
or hate; very few people have no opinion, but even amongst those who like
to read horror, horror writers are still considered to be odd. They are
viewed as strange, almost scary. One person said to me that horror writers
were a bit frightening, because they go around with all that [scary]
stuff in their heads all the time. No wonder then, that a lot of people
would rather not classify themselves as horror writers, even though their
writing might be highly fear-based.
So maybe we shouldnt be looking at horror in the strict terms of the supernatural, but we should widen our criteria. I suggest that two types of horror exist - supernatural horror, and a horror which is not supernatural, but based around the horrors of our real world hate, murder, cruelty. Both are equally valid but related forms of fiction.
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