Saturday, 10 August 2013

Distorted Visions

I like to say, in glib self-promotional moments, that the sort of horror that I write is one where the story reflects the psychology of the characters. You can probably find me saying something similar in the About Me section on this very blog. It’s a short hand, really, to say that my stories aren't just about people having their spleen eaten off by zombies, oh no. It's true as far as it goes. But like most marketing speak it’s too simplistic to mean much.

Thinking about it more, I think that what I am trying to say is that a lot of good horror reflects the world-view of the characters (and readers). But like one of those funfair mirrors, what comes back is distorted. Or even broken.

Clichéd example alert: Lovecraft is well known for his ‘cosmic horror’, one of the central ideas of which is that mankind is meaningless to the universe at large. This is a direct challenge to the prevailing Christian view of earlier times, that mankind was essential to Creation, because God. And even 19C atheists seemed to have a very smug, aren't-we-swell view of humanity. Maybe its because that kind of small-r religious view of the life is less prevalent that explains why Lovecraft’s legacy, amongst his more second-rate followers, seems to have been reduced to pop-culture wowing over the cool monsters with funny names. Few seem to grasp that the Outer Gods are scary because they are gods; debased, insane gods who don’t care about us enough even to punish us.

I'm not religious myself, which is probably why I merely admire Lovecraft’s work as one horror author amongst many rather than hero-worshipping him like some in the horror community (oh, and there’s his repellent racism, too). But I have my own views on life and the horror that I most admire is probably that which challenges these views and throws them back at me in distorted ways. Of course, some opinions I hold are too trivial or subjective to be considered here – my contention that Giant Steps by The Boo Radleys is the most underrated album of the 90s is certainly one that’s been challenged, mainly by my mates in the pub, but such ignoramuses disagreeing are hardly going to destroy my entire world view. But how about these statements, all of which I ‘believe’ to certain degrees and with the usual caveats:

That we have free will, to a greater or lesser degree, and therefore at least some influence over our own destinies.

That logic and cause and effect mean that life is relatively stable and sensible, and that we can understand the reasons why.

That although people don’t have a soul they do have a personality that remains largely the same over their lives.

That despite all the setbacks, society is slowly becoming more civilised and tolerant; we are moving away from the jungle.

All these beliefs are pretty fundamental but I can see that a lot of my stories are essentially trying to test these principles to destruction; to attempt to prove them wrong. The doppelgängers and the ghosts; the conspiracies and the inescapable deaths are all suggestive of the fact that what I believe might be as fundamentally wrong as the idea that humanity is at the centre of you universe. That such fundamental truths are little more than smoke and mirrors. And what could be more horrifying than that?

Over on Martin Cosby's site, you can find a new interview with me, should you be so inclined. Lots of talk about influences and crippling writer insecurity.

I've always found Lauren James to be a very acute and interesting writer about literary horror, and so I was pleased to see the title story from Falling Over discussed in this excellent piece about the theme of 'the double'.

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