Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman
We fear countless things.
Things that wait in ambush . Bizarre incidents. Crowds and mobs, flocks and swarms. The close proximity of gigantic things. Darkness. Fog. Cemeteries, graves, morgues, mortuaries, tombs, and other places of the dead. Attics, basements, closets, crawlspaces, and other little-used places. Caves. Underground places. Castles. Mansions. Remote locations. Isolation. Foreigners and foreign lands. Strangers. Men, women, and children. Figurines and statues. Toys. Clowns. Dungeons, prisons, and torture chambers. Disease. Famine. Hunger. Thirst. Death. Dismemberment. Disfigurement. Rape. Pain. Grief. Loss of control. Madness. Sex. Wild animals. Wilderness. Swamps. Deserts. Mountains. Forests. Jungles. Islands. The open sea. Frozen wastelands. Becoming lost. Perversions. Skeletons and skulls. Suddenness. Doctors and dentists. Indifference. The unknown. Natural catastrophes--avalanches, blizzards, droughts, earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, landslides and mudslides, lightning, pestilence, plagues, storms, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, whirlpools.
“Misery is manifold,” as Edgar Allan Poe observed.
We fear loss--the loss of life, limb, mind, senses, sanity, but we also fear that we may lose whatever we value: self, certain (but not all) others (spouses, children, siblings, pets), home, job, dignity, liberty, truth, financial security, independence, safety, security, freedom from need, luxury, beauty, intelligence, happiness, health, strength, power, talent.
Anything we value can be damaged, destroyed, killed, or taken away.
Anything can happen. To anyone. At any time.
We fear what can threaten any of these persons, places, things, qualities, or ideas. We also fear those who have themselves experienced such losses, for they are reminders that we may suffer similar fates. The one-armed man or the man with a glass eye or a woman with a disfigured face are objects of fear and revulsion because we could be in their places.
Against threats, we erect defenses, physical and emotional, social and otherwise intangible: militia, psychological defense mechanisms, law and social institutions, police forces, firefighting and rescue organizations, philosophy and religion. Threats to these defenses are also threats to us as individuals and communities, nations and a world. War, humiliation, criminality, political corruption, dishonest police, inept firefighters or rescue personnel, new ideas, idolatries and heresies--all are threats to personal, social, national, and universal wellbeing and survival. On a lesser level, baldness, cellulite, hearing loss, diminished vision, impaired mobility, arthritis, wrinkles, reductions in energy, strength, and stamina--these are signs of deterioration, loss of vitality, and approaching or encroaching death.
The cosmetics and fashion industries are built upon the suppression of the effects of aging and the denial of death. Police organizations and prisons exist to protect the public from predatory criminals, the military to defend the country against aggressive nations.
The pharmaceutical industry exists to prevent, treat, and cure disease (and, more and more, it seems, judging by televised commercials, to remedy men who experience erectile dysfunction).
The Roman Catholic Church sees everything but reproductive sex as sinful because non-procreative sexual activities do not support the continuance of the human species. From this standpoint, non-reproductive sex is a threat to human survival, and many horror stories, novels, and movies introduce homosexuality, fornication among teenagers, or other perversions of the heterosexual drive to reproduce as heralding eruptions of the demonic or monstrous into society. Usually, the couples who are involved in such practices meet doom at the hands of the monster or other threat that menaces the characters in the story.
Many offenses can also be defenses. One may hiding to ambush or to avoid being captured or killed. One may organize to defend a family, a community, a nation, or a world, or to attack and defeat the same. Statues may be erected to commemorate, to protect, or to shame--or, possibly, to warn.
Threats can be literal (a monster hiding in ambush) or figurative (arcane or occult knowledge is knowledge that is hidden from others).
“There is nothing to fear,” Franklin Roosevelt assured fearful Americans, “but fear itself,” and yet he, a polio victim, feared that the public he led would regard him as unfit for such responsibility if the all-but-paralyzing effects of the disease he’d suffered were known to the people and took pains always to appear as vigorous and robust as e could.
There is always plenty to fear, and, as long as there is, horror fiction will continue to thrive--and writhe.