Though Flawed, Thriller’s Second Season Remains Frightful
A First Time for Everything
by John C Adams
From the age of eleven onwards, there’s pretty much a steady stream of things you’ll be doing for the first time. In all types of society, the public role of the rite of passage is an important sociological aspect of the transition to adulthood. Yet it still remains the case that most of the more interesting rites of passage involve sneaking around behind your parents’ backs…
Sometimes, the rite of passage occurs in early puberty rather than when we stand on the cusp of adulthood. And they don’t always have to be traumatic. They can be about connecting with your true self.
In Richard Matheson’s delightful little short story Blood Son Jules has always been certain that he doesn’t belong. That’s because he has a strong personal certainty that he fits in somewhere else entirely. His difficulties are that his parents and schoolteacher just can’t understand. Sound familiar? Well to many of us it probably is but Jules is a plucky little lad and as time moves on he just becomes more determined to find a path to those he can call his own. Good for him!
“One Saturday when he was twelve, Jules went to the movies. He saw Dracula.
When the show was over he walked, a throbbing nerve mass, through the little girl- and -boy ranks. He went home and locked himself in the bathroom for two hours.
His parents pounded on the door and threatened but he wouldn’t come out.
Finally, he unlocked the door and sat down at the supper table. He had a badge on his thumb and a satisfied look on his face.”
It takes a few more years until Jules finds a bat at the zoo and begins to see a way through to making the identity he longs for, and strongly associates with, reality. In Jules’s case his rite of passage is the time-honoured first bite.
Most of us can recognise the importance of the rite of passage in forming our sense of belonging to the group. But thinks that sometimes we have to step outside the mainstream to find that sense of belonging.
The onset of puberty involves first times for girls too. In Stephen King’s novel Carrie, Carrie White doesn’t get a visit from the curse until she’s sixteen. That’s very late and theories abound as to why puberty was delayed so long. What could there be in her upbringing to explain her physical rejection of womanhood? It’s right there in the form of her appalling mother, of course. As soon as Carrie realises that she isn’t bleeding to death after all her first thought is one of anger at everything and everyone who has singled her out and made her different. In Carrie’s case her primary defence mechanism to deal with the pain of her mother’s behaviour is to embrace the darkness:
“She thought of imps and familiars and witches (am i a witch momma the devil’s whore) riding through the night, souring milk, overturning butter churns, blighting crops while They huddled inside their houses with hex signs on Their doors.”
Carrie White is a master class in how anger can spill over when an individual is rejected not just by their mother but then by society as a whole. It’s no surprise that the ensuing prom night doesn’t end well.
The real danger lurks for society whenever the emerging adult is denied a sense of belonging to the tribe and that this lies beneath the importance we attach to rites of passage ceremonies.
In some cases, the choice to belong or not (the fundamental ability to fit in) isn’t ours to make. Sometimes, an uneventful transition to college and the adulthood that lies beyond just isn’t meant to be. In Stephen King’s novel Christine, Arnie Cunningham and his best buddy Dennis are working their way through high school. All’s right in their world: Dennis is a football star set for college. Arnie is keen on mechanics and hopes to persuade his university-lecturer parents to let him skip college and do something vocational instead. Both Arnie and Dennis have part-time jobs that pay well and are saving hard for the usual things – college and a first car. It’s all going so well until they drive past a broken-down 1958 Plymouth Fury with a For Sale sign. From the outset the car seems to cast something like a lovespell on Arnie, as Dennis is well aware:
“I thought about LeBay saying, Her name is Christine. And somehow, Arnie had picked up on that. When we were little kids we had scooters and then bikes, and I named mine but Arnie never named his – he said names were for dogs and cats and guppies. But that was then and this was now. Now he was calling that Plymouth Christine, and what was somehow worse it was always ‘her’ and ‘she’ instead of ‘it’.”
Dennis’s share of the tale is shot through with the pain of watching his best friend’s life implode. Central to that is watching the subversion of many ‘first time’ rites of passage by the dark force that is Christine: buying your first car and doing it up, asking a girl out, taking things all the way. Stuff that Dennis is still able to enjoy but from which Christine is able to exclude Arnie.
It is natural, bearing in mind the importance of getting rites of passage right, that we are afraid of being unable to take charge of our own transition to adulthood. Isn’t that what growing up is all about, after all?
Rituals appear in all forms of society and feature in human lives for thousands of years. The details may differ but the purpose remains the same at every point in history. Ignore them at your peril!
John C Adams is a Contributing Editor for the Aeon Award and Albedo One Magazine, and a Reviewer with Schlock! Webzine.
You can read John’s short fiction in anthologies from Horrified Press, Lycan Valley Press and many others. A non-binary gendered writer, John has also had fiction published in The Horror Zine, Devolution Z magazine and many other smaller magazines.
John’s fantasy novel Aspatria is available to read for free on Smashwords, and on Amazon. John’s futuristic horror novel ‘Souls for the Master’ also is available on Amazon.
John lives in rural Northumberland, UK, and is a non-practising solicitor.
The first 1950’s book I wanted to mention was recommended from Facebook by Zachary Vaudo of the band Witness The Apotheosis. It is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Eleanor Vance is a shy loner who has spent the last 11 years taking care of her elderly mother. One day she receives an invitation from Dr. John Montague to stay in a haunted mansion with other people who have had supernatural experiences. The mansion has gargoyles on the outside and rooms within rooms on the inside. As soon as Eleanor enters the house she starts to hear strange voices and sees ghosts wandering the halls, but despite the supernatural activity, Eleanore feels right at home.
The Haunting of Hill House has been made into movies a couple of times. The best movie adaptation is The Haunting made in 1963 and directed by the late great Robert Wise. There was also a remake made in 1999.The Haunting of Hill House was the first horror novel I ever read and it still stands the test of time. Stephen King called The Haunting of Hill House one of the best horror novels of the 20th century.
Also written in the 1950s and made into three different movies(The Last Man on Earth in 1964, The Omega Man in 1971 and I Am Legend in 2007) is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It was written in 1954 but takes place in the futuristic world of 1976. A plague has wiped out most of the world’s population and those who have survived are now vampires. One man by the name of Robert Neville is immune to the plague but now in a world of vampires he is an outsider and must fight to stay alive.
If your going to mention horror in the 50’s you have to talk about EC comics. EC comics actually got its start in 1944 but the golden age of horror comics began when EC started publishing Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear in 1950. Sadly all three books stopped publication in 1955 when the government started to censor comics and the comic companies created the comics code to keep from being shut down. Though there time was short, these three comics made quite an impact on the world. They have been made into 5 movies , a TV series and a cartoon. They also inspired many young horror writers to start writing such as Stephen King.
All three titles were very similar to each other. with Tales From The Crypt being hosted by the cryptkeeper, the Vault of Horror being hosted by the vault keeper and The Haunt of Fear being hosted by The Old Witch. The creators of the books were William Gaines and Al Feldstein but several writers and artists brought the books to life. These three comics were very popular but the government, parents and school teachers said that the comics were contributing to illiteracy and juvenile delinquency and they disappeared from newsstands before their time. If you want to know more about EC comic’s battle with the government over censorship check out The Horror, The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You To Read by Jim Trombetta.
While on the subject of 50’s horror comics I wanted to mention a comic that I never heard of until I was looking up books to talk about for this blog post. The comic book is The Monster of Frankenstein by Dick Briefer, it ran from 1945 to 1954. When it started in 1945 it was meant for a very young audience but starting in 1952 it tried to follow in EC comics footsteps. It became a disturbing and violent horror comic until it was censored and came to an end in 1954. The comic actually ran monthly in a title called Prize comics. The story followed Frankenstein’s monster as he rampaged through 1930’s New York City and fought with Superheros: The Bulldog, The Black Owl, Green Lama and Dr. Frost.
Going back to novels, set in the 1950’s is Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. The story follows Meg Loughlin and her crippled sister Sarah as they move in to a house with a woman named Ruth. Next door lives a boy named David who realizes that Meg is being tortured by Ruth and she is also letting other kids in the neighborhood torture Meg. Will David put an end to the torture or will he just watch and do nothing?