Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Humility of Horror

I was reading the New York Times Sunday Book Review this morning. Terrence Rafferty had a review of a number of ghost stories entitled, The Thinking Reader's Guide to Fear. Either my attention span is really short today, or the article was a bore. I couldn't finish it. Perhaps it was the condescending attitude toward the topic.

Nonetheless, there was a quote that intrigued me. After making pains to tell us that respectable people -- "literate, educated, professional-types" -- find horror fiction "repulsive," the author writes...
...the feeling of being at least a little out of control is basic to the experience of horror. What's terrifying in a story by Stephen King or Peter Straub is, finally, nothing less than the sensation of pure helplessness, of confronting something that cannot be conquered — or regulated, or even understood — by reason alone.

At heart, I think that this is correct. I also think that is the reason why the author believes that "literate, educated, professional-types" don't like horror literature. Horror implies a lack of control. Horror suggests that there is more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Our attempts of controlling the universe, escaping suffering, or cheating death are folly. This would explain why the conservative hero, Russell Kirk, wrote ghost stories. Human beings are limited in knowledge and capacity. Horror teaches humility.

I know that several Christians get uncomfortable with stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts. Many times that concern is warranted. Many of these stories clearly promote a moral universe foreign to the one taught in Scripture. However, the humility that is taught by good horror literature might be valuable.

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