“The Count’s eyes gleamed, and he said. ‘Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!’”
This extract from Bram Stoker’s Dracula is perfect to make anyone quiver at this sombre time of year. Fear, that frightful feeling which grips us suddenly, a spasm that shakes us and leaves us with little memories other than a case of the cold sweats. Some authors have understood this perfectly and are particularly gifted at giving us the goose bumps. Let’s take a look at some of the techniques they use to terrify us.
A forest, a secret, a transgression and some orphans… The magic recipe for the dreaded children’s tales of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Originally inspired by urban legends, myths and folklore, the authors were able to skilfully remodel these tales which reflect the structure of the human psyche and manage to cast us back to our primary perils.
A bit later in the nineteenth century, we saw the development of gothic fiction, which was the predecessor to horror literature, and would later lead on to the fantasy genre. Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley are perfect examples. Gothic works are often structured in a similar way: a natural backdrop (a haunted house, a crypt, a prison, a cemetery), a tortured character (a young distressed woman, a cursed person, a vampire, a monster) and a hopeless situation (a deal with the devil, a torture, a past which comes back to haunt the protagonist).
During the twentieth century, a handful of authors breathed a breath of fresh air into gothic horror and revolutionised the genre: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby or even Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and of course let’s not forget the master of the genre, Stephen King. So why so much success? Horror writers go where most don’t dare venture, into a world where the strange and unknown are at their strongest. By breaking down the barriers and structures of the adult mind, these creators of fear push us back into our childhood phobias, which until then remained dormant deep inside of us.
Reading is a way of overcoming our fears. By turning the pages, we stay safe, contrarily to the characters of the book, whose chilling destiny we get to see unfold before us.
So, which book did you find the most spine-chilling?