copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
Aphorisms, as themes, can give rise to story ideas. Consider the possibilities with regard to such a maxim as “Be careful what you wish for.” This adage could well have been the basis of W. W. Jacobs’ classic tale of terror “The Monkey’s Paw” (see the column to the right), in which a mother wishes for something she believes she wants, even though it is likely to be horrifyingly monstrous. (The same proverb, incidentally, could have been the basis for Stephen King’s novel, Pet Semetary, a sort of expanded and updated version of Jacobs’ story.)
Could “Two heads are better than one” have inspired Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”?
When the antagonist is dealing agonizing death, the saying, “It’s better to give than to receive” certainly springs to mind as a basis for any number of horror stories, especially of the slasher variety.
Had the alien shape-shifting protagonist of a Ray Bradbury story hearkened to Polonius’ advice to Laertes, “To thine own self be true,” he wouldn’t have suffered the fatal fate that he did.
The cruel king and the courtiers upon whom Hop-Frog takes revenge in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Hop-Frog” would have done well to remember, if they had ever learned, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” because it was the king’s insult to the protagonist’s girlfriend Tripetta that initiated her lover’s plan to avenge her honor.