Had a bit of an epiphany moment last week and wrote about it for class. We were assigned to read the book The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Alan Poe, and my professor asked the question: “What is the appeal of psychological horror? Thought I’d share a bit of my answer here:
For me, the appeal lies in knowing we ALL have this within us. Whereas other forms of horror might be attached to something external (ie. a place you can choose to visit or not, a ghost that maybe you’ll see and maybe you won’t), psychological horror has to do with things we all have inside of us, simply by virtue of being human. I may not have ever been irrational to the point of wanting to murder someone because of his eye, but I have been irrational to the point of wanting to cause harm to someone simply because they hurt me. I have never carved someone into pieces with a knife, but I have certainly carved people into pieces with my words. This type of horror often takes us through very dark emotions–emotions that we all have within us. One of my favorite quotes is by Carl Jung: “No tree can grow to heaven unless it’s roots reach down to hell.” I think seeing/recognizing/facing those parts of ourselves is imperative to our growth as human beings. Psychological horror gives us a moment in time where we are allowed–even encouraged–to face the demons that reside within us all. In that sense, I think it this makes the horror genre an extremely important part of human psychology. It becomes a method and means by which we face parts of our own nature we often otherwise never face.
Recognizing the power of the this genre to allow us to step into that part of ourselves we so often regulate to our deep subconscious makes me think I have probably done my children a great disservice by not allowing them access to these types of stories. I grew up reading stories like Tell-Tale Heart, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Grey (my absolute favorite book as a teenager), but in my early twenties, I embraced an extreme form of Christianity and raised my children within that framework. As they grew older (and I grew in understanding) I dropped many of those beliefs and patterns, but some of those old practices still remain, sometimes just by habit. One of those is not allowing my children to watch or read horror or even tell ghost stories, because as a young adult I adopted the belief that to expose them to this could somehow make them vulnerable to the “demonic.” (I feel half crazy even admitting this, but I would imagine that, as someone who studies folklore, this belief is not new to you, and there is probably even some coherence in beliefs throughout culture that lend at least some–if not validity then at least universality–to this kind of idea). I don’t think I realized before now how much those stories may have shaped who I am as a person, especially some of the things I want to cultivate in my children.
Thank you for that. I just ordered a few books for my kids!