Raindrops? Roses? Nope. I have been inspired by Jonathan Maberry’s recent guest post on Horror World, where he discusses his love of the genre and his favorite influences. It got me thinking a lot about how I came to horror, and what my favorite books in the genre are.
My mother tells me when I was very young, Scooby Doo scared the shit out of me. But I kept watching. I didn’t get into horror through movies. Movies were strictly controlled when I was growing up, but books not at all. I can recall my mom telling me I “I didn’t want to” read any of the large number of Stephen King books we had floating around, because they were too vulgar for a little girl. But she didn’t tell me not to. Nor did she put them out of my reach. I had an adult library card in Elementary school, and King, Crichton and Koontz opened the doors of horror to me. I’d read enough King that I slogged through Danse Macabre in seventh grade. I hadn’t seen any of the movies, hadn’t read any of the suggested books. I thought it was boring. But it gave me some clues as to where to go next.
So I’ll toss out a few of my favorite books, and why they appeal to me.
The Terror by Dan Simmons (2007) is a monstrous tome, a fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin’s attempt to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. The two ships the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror become frozen in the ice. This is bad, but the crew has prepared for an icebound winter. The ice doesn’t thaw on schedule, the food stores are contaminated, and there’s something bigger than a polar bear out on the ice, stalking, hunting. The book’s pacing mirrors the tedium of being frozen in the ice day after day. That may sound like a strike against the book, but I sure thought it worked, giving the reader a real sense of bleak desperation. I want to read more books like this: historical event + monster = awesome.
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959). Oh man, the opening paragraph. Poor Eleanor. Jackson takes a disturbed young woman and plunges her into hell…Is she crazy? Is she causing the hauntings? Jackson lets her tale unfurl slowly and organically, parsing out information on a need to know basis. No monsters, no axe murderers…but every page is infused with terror.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (1967) might be the scariest book I have ever read. I’m fascinated by the trope of the monstrous womb (think Alien and Cronenberg’s The Brood) and RB brings that down to a personal level. Rosemary is left to wonder if she is going mad. She has such a strong support system…but are they really supporting her? And she’s so pleased to be having her first baby, so excited to step into the role of mother—it juxtaposes so well with what is being done to her. Some people argue that Rosemary isn’t a strong enough protagonist, that she’s just a puppet, but I think based on the time and Rosemary’s history, she behaves like anyone would.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990) is a flawless blend of sci-fi and horror. I’m not thrilled with the precocious kiddos, but the bloodthirsty velociraptors more than make up for it. Hammond’s naiveté means you can’t call him a villain because he’s so excited about the dinosaurs…but his enthusiasm can’t stand as his creations start eating everyone. Nedry is a great character; Grant is badass…a hell of an adventure tale. And the movie is just as good.
Watchers by Dean Koontz (1987) is a perfect tale of yin and yang, good and evil. Einstein the genetically modified golden retriever is so good, so pure so fun…and his antithesis, the Outsider is an amalgamation of everything that is evil…but it’s his shame about being evil that makes him a multi-dimensional villain—though villain isn’t even the right word…there’s a nasty hit man for that (who I find to be the least interesting part of the tale). The Outsider is a created monster, and he does what he was built to do. Because it’s Koontz, one has a pretty good idea of how things will end, but the way we’re led to care about the characters still makes readers worried for them. Great novel.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King (1999). This is his most underappreciated book. Though I love the woods (and growing up in Maine, I can picture down to the veins on the leaves the woods in TGWLTG), I think they’re terrifying…who knows what’s out there. The ambiguity of the story is what sells it for me…is Tricia really face to face with The God of the Lost? Or is she just a little girl who’s sick and starving in the woods? Tricia’s character is rendered so lovingly and realistically, King sells every piece of this novel.
So…what’s your favorite? If you’re a writer, what inspires you?