Hello, my lovelies. Welcome to day 4 of 🎃 31 Days of Halloween 🎃 my version of #Blogtober. Today, I want to ask the question: Why do we like scary stories?
I used to read horror books during my misspent youth. 😘 Stephen King, James Herbert and John Saul were my favourite authors. I devoured their books with glee. I’m not a great horror reader these days but I do like watching the odd film that I know will make me jump and start at the slightest sound. But why?
Halloween is at the end of the month, the quintessential time of the year for horror.
I’ve been told that the number of adults and children borrowing spooky tales from libraries or buying them in bookshops will increase this month. But why? Why do we like to read stories about ghosts and ghouls, literary tales that are specifically created with one goal in mind – to frighten us and inspire a sense of creeping dread.
Humans spend their lives trying to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
However, we often go out of our way to make ourselves scared or allow ourselves to be frightened. We seek out and enjoy haunted rides at theme parks, watch films that terrify us, read classic ghostly masterpieces and quake under our duvets after reading the latest spine chiller. Why?
For the most part, the reason is that this is the sort of fear we can be in control of.
We know that what we are reading isn’t real. That unlike many of the things in our world which frighten us, this is a fear we have a choice over. We can read it or not read it. We can watch the horror film or switch it off. Either way, a happy – or at least safe – ending for the reader or viewer is assured.
In an article for The Guardian, young adult novelist Lou Morgan said,
“In reading books that frighten us, we have the choice of whether to explore our fears… or not. But if we do, we come away knowing that the monsters can be defeated…”
From a scientific perspective, our bodies are always on the lookout for danger.
When we’re afraid, we go into a state which, although unnerving and frightening, also gives us an adrenalin rush that produces a kind of high. We achieve a heightened awareness of every sound and sight around us. Our hearts speed up and we breathe more rapidly, our muscles are pumped with more blood with increased amounts of oxygen in it – all the things our bodies need to run away or fight our way out of trouble.
Although the feeling of fear is certainly negative, it can produce an addictive feeling of power and control, which reading and watching scary stories can trigger – but all the time you know deep inside that you are safe.
In 2014, author Neil Gaiman spoke in Vancouver about the psychology of ghost stories.
“Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses… It’s good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fear — not governments, not regulations, not infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that don’t exist, and even if they do, can do nothing to hurt us.”
Horror as a genre is built around one truth: that the world is full of fearful things.
But the best horror tells us more. It tells us how to live with being afraid. Teaching us how to distinguish real evil from harmless shadows. Showing us how to fight back. It also tells us that we can fight the worst evils, whether or not we all survive them — and how to be worthy of having our tales told afterwards.
Although you won’t see any reviews for traditional horror stories on Flora’s Musings, there are lots of stories in my archives that had scary scenes that had my heart rate rising. Which stories have you read or listened to that gave you goosebumps? Why do you think we enjoy scaring ourselves? Drop me a comment and let me know so that we can chat.
Let the Halloween fun continue!
Bye for now,