Sleeping with the Lights On: The Unsettling Story of Horror

Posted: May 6, 2021 in Book reviews, horror
Tags: ,

by Darryl Jones

Why do we frighten ourselves for fun? Why is horror such a huge genre? Books, films, TV shows. Darryl Jones, English Literature professor from Trinity College Dublin, strives to explain.

I’ve always enjoyed horror, right from being a kid and watching old Hammer films. I remember being terrified of the original Blob, and the thought of sleeping with the curtains open still gives me the shivers thanks to the miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, shown on the BBC in the eighties, so Jones’ book appealed. It helped that it had such a groovy cover as well.

It’s a slim text, less than 200 pages, but no less interesting for that. Jones splits his treatise into various sections; Monsters, the Occult and Supernatural, Horror and the Body, Horror and the Mind, Science and Horror, and dips into books and films related to each section. From vampires to zombies to the devil, serial killers to mad scientists. And he doesn’t only talk about (relatively) modern horror, pointing out that horror predates Stephen King, MR James, and even Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Shakespeare deals with horror, and Jones goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks.

Horror has always been with us and always fascinated us, but it isn’t some one size fits all, generic genre, and Jones makes an important distinction between Terror and Horror; Terror is about fear, Horror is about shock (and below both is Revulsion, the gross out.)

Jones has interesting things to say, and even when going over old ground he seemed to find something new to say. I won’t say I always agreed with him, but Jones’ scholarly approach is always interesting, even when I didn’t, and I learned a lot, because for a small book its chock full of little morsels of information; For example the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould who wrote an influential treatise on werewolves in 1865, was also the man who wrote the words to Onward Christian Soldiers, and Jones makes an interesting link between the rise of the supernatural and Darwin’s Origin of the Species, as Darwin strove to explain the world, those of a religious bent reacted by emphasising the spiritual.

An interesting read for anyone interested in horror, or why people gravitate towards horror, that emphasises the cathartic nature of horror, and makes the point that many of those involved in the enjoyment and creation of horror are well adjusted level-headed people. Horror is good for you!

Well I could have told you that 😉

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