Many people, from children to adults, love books, movies and TV shows that are scary. This can include spooky paranormal stories, creepy Gothic romantic dramas, adrenaline-packed action flicks, or true terrorizing horror.
“I’ve always loved stories of the supernatural,” Christopher Golden, author of the Body of Evidence series, once said in an interview. “As a child, I enjoyed anything creepy or unsettling and I loved monsters of all shapes and sizes. Ordinary life is so mundane, and things that went bump in the night were always the most intriguing to me.”
What’s the appeal?
Part of it may simply be the adrenaline rush, the excitement we don’t always get easily in daily life. We are still wired for action, the fight or flight response that our ancestors probably had to face on an almost daily basis as they hunted, or defended themselves against wild animals and other tribes. Now the stress builds up slowly, at school or at work or at home. A good scare can release it.
Scary stories can also help you deal with your own fears. They can give you specific tools to use, like examples of how to escape from kidnappers or fend off a mugger. Watching characters survive dangerous situations, or overcome the bad guys, can give you confidence that you could survive a similar challenge.
“One of my all-time favorite books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak,” editor Joshua Glazer has said. “It introduced me to my first monsters—and taught me how to make friends with them. I think that’s the role of scary literature in a kid’s life. It provides a safe and neutral realm where kids may engage their fears without becoming consumed by them.”
Granted, it’s unlikely that your average reader will ever have to face a true Wild Thing, diabolical super villain, alien, ogre or vampire. But sometimes the example is more of a metaphor.
“Growing up is intrinsically horrific,” Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Tantalize, has said. “You’re a shape-shifter in your changing body. You’re a vampire in your thirst for life. Your emotions can turn you from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Essentially, Gothic fantasy is all about reflecting this reality through metaphor.”
We hear a lot about escapist literature. But sometimes literature helps us to face our fears instead.
What does your choice of literature say about you? Does it change depending on the circumstances of your life? Do you feel better after a good scare? Why?