Thursday, 9 June 2016

Lost Hearts and Sleepless Nights

Up-and-coming author Chloe N. Clark has an interesting article about M.R. James and the influence he exerted over her younger self.
James is, among many things, one of the finest ghost story writers of all time. His ability to slowly raise dread and create truly horrific depictions in a few pages is, for the most part, unrivaled. When I lecture about horror, which I’m wont to do in front of classrooms, I usually make the argument that there are essentially two ways to make truly effective horror: through dread and through awe. Awe-based horror is the essential feeling of something otherworldly or “wrong.” Dread-based horror is, just as it sounds, the slow building of tension that creates a mounting feeling of dread or terror. Most good horror, in my opinion, does one or the other of these (if not, sometimes, both). James often managed to convey both of these kind of horrors.

3 comments:

Aonghus Fallon said...

Reminds me of something Machen said in later life about his own work - ‘Here then was my real failure; I translated awe, at worst awfulness, into evil.' I can see his point, but would reckon the strength of his work relies on a sense of the unknowable, which - in the context of his stories - is automatically sinister and vaguely terrifying. Stories like that are more about mood rather than any real pay-off (the pay-off is generally pretty weak).

valdemar said...

I agree. A sense of things that are real but wrong, sitting at an angle to everyday reality, lies at the core of the best supernatural horror. Once you've got that things like plot can seem secondary.

Aonghus Fallon said...

Yeah, Aickman is a prime example, but I loved de la Mare's 'All Hallows'. Off the top of my head - in terms of a story that relies on a growing sense dread - Algernon Blackwood's 'Max Hensig'springs to mind, even though I'd see Blackwood as a writer primarily concerned with inculcating a sense of awe in his reader.