Horror and Dark Fantasy: One and the Same?
by Steven Rose, Jr.
Like the epic or high fantasy, the horror story also involves the unknown and mysterious, but these two elements are much more threatening to the individual. They are usually threatening to a character’s life either spiritually or physically. Therefore, the threatening force is some sort of unfamiliar being such as a ghost, demon, or vampire and often associated with the underworld like the enemy characters are in epic fantasy. But the emphasis is on the threat to the individual than it is on the one to a whole society. Although the term horror primarily has referred to a sense of fear for a person’s own soul and therefore spiritual life (as is the case with Dracula) it has also come to be associated with an extreme fear for one’s physical life.
If the threatening being is not of the supernatural realm, then it is often associated with it through superstition. This is the case with The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom is not really a supernatural being himself but, because he hides in obscure parts of the opera house and kills people, he is thought to be a ghostly presence. Throughout the horror narrative, there are many unexpected attacks or pursuits from the monster, often in dark settings, resulting in shock on the audience’s part. Needless to say, such evoking of fear plays a crucial role in the horror story.
Often at the end of a horror story, the reader or viewer is left hanging, but not in the sense of a lack of a satisfying conclusion. The audience is left hanging in the sense that they wonder what will happen to the characters’ lives after the characters have faced the traumatic situation brought on by the threatening figure or monster. Therefore the conclusion to a horror story tends not to be as joyful or promising as that of the epic fantasy, and because the story has been focused on the menacing being itself and the terror it has caused, the other characters’ lives are not elaborated on in the conclusion making it much shorter than that of the typical epic fantasy. The monster may have been destroyed by this time or somehow banished from the setting, but what happens to the characters next is anybody’s guess. The monster may return, as is the case with many Hollywood horror films (and so why sequels are so popular with them) or the main characters may have post trauma to deal with that may drive them to insanity. Because of these possibilities, the conclusion to the horror story is more realistic than the more fairy tale happy ending of the high fantasy.
- Beyond . . . a Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy
Steven Rose, Jr. is a journalist and writer of fiction. His non-fiction includes book, television, and movie reviews. His fiction consists of horror and science fiction short stories, although he plans to write novels in the near future. Besides writing, Steven serves as a public relations rep for the Sacramento based network, Sylvanopolis Writers’ Society. For more information about Steven, go to: http://faroutfantastic.blogspot.com/