Through Pharyngula, I found a link to The Little Professor, a blogger of Victorian stuff, who linked through a lovely website to some of her favorite ghost stories. (Following me so far?) This seemed like a good idea, so I thought I'd contribute my own mini-list of favorite classic horror. Enjoy!
Archive for: October, 2007
There's been a couple of reports in the past few days about pirates operating off of the Somali coast. Several days ago, a U.S. destroyer pursued and fired upon a hijacked Japanese ship, sinking the pirate skiffs attached to it.
Apparently pirate attacks have increased tremendously in 2007, up 14% in the first nine months.
H.P. Lovecraft, in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, remarked that, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
He was, in my opinion, completely correct. The best horror stories, the ones that give you that spooky, unsettled feeling, are those that leave you with unresolved questions. Obviously, however, there are other things that we can fear, and excellent horror can tap into other emotions, such as love.
I was thinking about the use of love as a vehicle for horror fiction the other day. There are, of course, many stories which do this, but one subset of 'love-horror' fiction gets relatively little play, to the best of my knowledge. There are stories which treat, either directly or through metaphor, the awful uncomfortable feelings one can get when faced with genuine, but unwanted affection from an unsuitable suitor. I don't count stories which deal with stalkers or evil, twisted suitors, of which there are many.
I thought I'd start my discussion of 'Masters of Horror' by talking about my favorite horror author of all time, and perhaps one of the most unappreciated horror authors ever. The shelves of your local bookstores, which no doubt carry dozens of copies of the latest King and Koontz may at best have one recent Campbell novel lurking about. If you're a fan of horror, though, and you've never read any works of Ramsey Campbell, you haven't read horror.
The British native Campbell has been a published horror writer for over forty years now, and started his career like many of the greats: writing pastiches of H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic horror. He quickly distinguished himself as a unique voice with a beautiful, eloquent literary style. To me, horror has never sounded so good.
Today has been relatively interesting. First, I received an email that my physics textbook proposal was reasonably received by the publisher and I could have a contract within a month! I'll post more on that when things are more certain.
Second, today was the second day I returned home to find a lovely, friendly cat (a white/tabby mix) lounging on my front doormat. I left him a bowl of water (I don't have cat food, or pretty much ANY food, in my place) for now. One of my neighbors tells me that the cat isn't owned by anybody, and just happens to be fed by various people in the neighborhood. "He wants you to adopt him," he said. We'll see...
Most people are hopefully aware of the very strong religious right movement to incorporate creationism (the belief that God created the world and everything in it in its present form) in science classes as valid topic of study alongside evolution (the reality that all living species evolved from 'lower' forms of life, and continue to evolve over timescales almost incomprehensible). This dishonest movement, now referred to as 'intelligent design' or ID to get past the religion ban in classrooms, has no evidence in its favor and consists almost entirely of negative arguments ("You can't explain that? Then God did it!"). The biology website Pharyngula, written by PZ Myers, is a good place to get the latest scoop on creationist nonsense. And these things have potentially catastrophic consequences: a Presidential candidate, for instance, is on the record as saying he doesn't believe in evolution, and has other ideas that are far out of the mainstream of reality.
Leafing through the collected science essays of H.P. Lovecraft (hey, that's what I do for kicks), one finds that similar problems have been around before.
I'm planning to write little posts highlighting the works of a lot of the true masters of horror fiction, including a bit about them and what I consider to be their most enjoyable yarns. One aspect that I will address is the main 'theme' of the author's work, and I wanted to say a few words about what I mean by that.
In all of creative writing, authors tend to have settings, topics, or metaphors that appeal to them and which they return to again and again. The one place I don't usually hear this discussed is in the genre of horror fiction, perhaps because horror is generally considered to be a 'low' form of writing. Such 'themes' of a writer can be very insightful, both in understanding the author himself and the times he lived in as well as in understanding what makes certain authors' fiction effective.
To consider a few illustrative examples, which we'll no doubt return to in detail:
One of the things I love to do is make lists. Often I'm doing this in my mind when I'm driving around town. Today, I got thinking about the best swordfights in movies: the sort of clashes of metal that leave us exhilarated.
I've always been of the opinion that a good action sequence is like a little story-within-a-story, with its own plot of sorts, twists and turns, and climax. The same holds true for that special category of swordfights.
My thesis advisor has often lamented the rise of email in society, mainly because the electronic correspondence isn't as permanent as the written letter, and lots of interesting historical anecdotes can get lost.
I delved into one of these recently while reading H.P. Lovecraft's letters. Lovecraft was, in many ways, a 'dream citizen' for scientists. He had an active interest in all branches of science and attended popular lectures on many subjects. He also vigorously defended science against the encroachment of pseudoscience on one occasion (more on this in another post).
The particular letter which I want to describe is dated May 9, 1936 to James F. Morton:
I've been in a 'magnet mood' since I did my big post on the physics Nobel winners a week ago, and I thought it would be nice to show one of the most spectacular applications of magnetism - magnetic levitation (maglev) trains. China opened the first high-speed commercial maglev train line in the world in 2004 in Shanghai. I was there this January and my colleague set it up for us to take the train to the airport on departure.