“The Need for Horror” by A. Craig Newman
Like literary mad scientists in our labs, we horror writers mix verbal solutions and concoct new terrors to unleash on the world. We take the wholesome goodness of something like a child’s laugh and pervert it until the reader feels a chill at its mention. Every culture has a Halloween, Day of the Dead, or similar event where Death is not a spectre floating in the background, but the guest of honor. But, why is any of this true? What is the obsession with the macabre that makes us want to be afraid and stare at scenes no one should ever see? Why do we need to be afraid?
Let’s start with “What is Horror?” Horror – for all its gore and guts, monsters and devils, fears and frights – is an art. Like all art, it has beauty, strange though it may be. It is a beauty that is not seen by all, but such can be said of any art form. Not everyone can appreciate the grace and strength of ballet or the ordered chaos of abstract paintings. But just as every pas and pirouette adds to the beauty of the dance, each carefully placed shadow and echoing footstep adds beauty to the work of horror.
Beyond beauty, all art has salubrious purpose. If it did not, art would be as useful as cotton candy – a pleasure to consume but of no nutritional value. Each art form enriches the lives of us all by giving society the shared experiences that bind us together as one body and gives that body the senses it needs to thrive. Dance gives us the sense of grace in motion. Paintings demonstrate how simple color forms and combinations can hold meaning and power. Music trains our ears to hear the melodies in life around us.
If this is so, then what value does horror give us?
Horror addresses fears. The dark. The unknown. The mad, wild, and insane. Evil in its infinite disguises. Pain. Bloodletting and disembowelment. And, the timeless King of Fears, Ole’ Mr. Death. These are things which cannot be controlled and, as such, cannot be avoided. What cannot be seen cannot be stopped. True madness is never understood because it defies logic. Rules of Good and Righteousness cannot be applied to what clings to Evil. There will be pain. Injuries will happen. Mr. Death is coming.
Horror tales are our waking nightmares with lessons to share. We must face the monster in the dark and decide: fight or flight. Horror gives the reader a chance to experience this sensation and look at Death, Evil, and Uncertainty in a safe and controllable manner. If the fear grows too great, close the book, turn off the movie, look away, and feel safe again. We learn that we will face Evil we cannot defeat. When we return safely, we can be bold enough to look again, replay that movie and read the book again.
We Horror Masters and Mavens give society these nightmares. If scared enough times by the monsters hiding in the dark, we become accustomed to the feeling and it scares us less. The monster is not so big and the dark is not so mysterious. When the Inevitable Uncertainty finds us, we can face it though still afraid because we have dreamt of this battle in the past. And when we face Mr. Death as we must all face him, we can meet its empty-eyed stare with a steely-eyed glare of our own.
So, write on, you Stealers of Sleep and Knitters of Night Terrors. Make the witch cast her spell, the ghost rattle his chains, and the werewolf howl at the moon. Bring Mr. Death in all his many forms. Create the nightmares the people of world need so badly. After the screaming and the tears, they will all thank you and line up again for another fright.
A. Craig Newman is a budding writer and blogger from New Jersey. Horror is his first love, but he has dabbled in dramas, comedies, and scifi/fantasy. He received his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Wilkes University in 2015 and has been writing feverishly since. He is eternally grateful to HorrorAddicts for the opportunities to present his work to the world and have his voice heard. If you like what he has to say, visit his website, blogs , and follow him on social media where he is constantly shooting off his mouth. Good old fashioned email is appreciated, too.