What do we mean when we say we like Horror?
More than likely each of us who says we do would give a different answer. It’s subjective anyway, right? And after all, the genre runs the gamut: from the gross out gore of Splatterpunk, to the delicate chills of M.R. James, the decadent riches of the Gothic Romance, to the absurdist existential terror of J. G. Ballard. If any genre won’t be caged, it’s Horror.
But violence and fear are just as much a part of Crime, Thrillers, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Westerns. The shock of violence is so much a part of every dramatists toolbox now, it’s almost mundane: as likely to appear in a soap opera as it is to be part of the illicit thrills of our still disreputable genre, while graphic gore is now a staple of every forensic crime show on TV. But there’s at least one thing that is still unique to what I think of when I talk about Horror…
It’s a very particular emotional and intellectual response, perhaps closest to awe (in the proper meaning of the word). It combines elements of dread and wonder, revulsion and arousal, fear, and respect, and joy, and terror. It is a response filled with possibility, because it is, ultimately, indefinable. Unknowable.
It is the Unknown.
And though it may not be definable, it is tangible.
At its simplest it is the tightening of gooseflesh on your arms or scalp; the flutter of fear in your belly; the gasp of revelation; the realisation of just what’s hiding in the dark.
At its most potent, it is the overwhelming cumulative power of a story by Blackwood, Machen or James, or certain films by David Lynch. We feel humbled and expansive all at once. For the briefest of moments we feel our minds expanding, and our bodies too. At its most potent, we are transported.
That’s what I mean when I say I like Horror. That’s what I want from the genre. It is a combined physical- emotional-intellectual response, more in line with that we get from Music, Art or Poetry than it is from standard prose. This is what I look for in Horror Stories and in Horror Films. This is what I want. This physical-emotional-intellectual reaction, is what I am addicted to…
And that’s why I love Charles L. Grant. He dealt it out in spades. He knew that every tiny shadow was filled with possibility, and he whispered in your ear what might be there, nudged your imagination and let you populate those shadows with your fear. And then he nudged you just a little further…
He was a Master. And he was a Poet.
There are prose stylists and there are prose stylists, inside the genre and out. Charlie ranked with the best of them.
Everybody talks about Ray Bradbury when they talk about the taste of Halloween. But, for me, it was Charlie… dammit Charlie had Autumn running in his veins. The taste of Charlie’s stories is the taste of Autumn in the air. The dying of summer. The cold snap and the mist, dead leaves and rain, the growing of shadows and the whipping of wind, and the sense of an oncoming storm. And people, ordinary people, just holding on…
I wonder if it’s the temperament of the books that accounts for why I don’t think he’s being read as much now as he should. Or why, perhaps, he’s not seen by publishers as so commercial. His work demands your time and concentration. He’s not a writer to read in tiny snatches, because the stories aren’t just about the next beat of the plot. A song will never work it’s magic if you keep hitting pause. You have to give yourself to it. Charlie’s stories sing. They take “your spinal chord and play it like a violin”, as Charles De Lint once said.
That’s not easy in the land of attention deficit and chirruping smart phones. I wonder if maybe future reprintings should come with a free download, the sound of rain on the window, just to set the tone and keep the mood just right?
Maybe. Maybe we need to offer assistance, ambient music for reading to help those who may have lost it, regain their ability to focus. Because, and here’s the real thing folks, Charlie Grant wrote of the essence of Horror. He didn’t dance around and wave his arms, or try to gross you out. He wrote, in every word, every sentence, every paragraph, in every turn of the page, the emotion of Horror. He made your scalp tighten, and your flesh creep, and he made it satisfying, because he made it mean something.
He could take your breath away. He could make you clench your jaw against the sudden tightness in your throat that made you think you might just weep. He could make you question yourself in the dark when the lights go off and you’re crossing the hallway to bed… and enjoy it. He could haunt you with a phrase.
‘When the house grows too small and the shadows too real and the clock in the hallway talks death to itself. When the oven is merely hot and the sheets merely stiff and the clock in the hallway talks death to itself. When the floorboards creak and the furnace pops and the eaves sigh and the windows are too blind… and the clock in the hallway talks death to itself.
Winter… and rain.’
– NIGHTMARE SEASONS
- the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.
- an extract or concentrate obtained from a plant or other matter and used for flavouring or scent.
1.the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts
Charles L. Grant was the Poet Laureate of Horror.
Join us in celebrating his extraordinary talent.
Let him whisper in your ear…
THE CHARLES L. GRANT ‘BLOG-A-THON’ IN FULL
(updated daily as new posts are made) :
LYNDA E. RUCKER
JAMES A. MOORE
PAUL F. OLSON
KEALAN PATRICK BURKE
NEIL SNOWDON on ‘RIDING THE BLACK’
Most of Charlie’s books are currently available via Necon eBooks from their site or Amazon.