Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween Reads

Over on his weblog the other day, William Jones was talking about scary books and movies for Halloween. Me, being the child of a black cat, I'm not so keen on the celebration—too much noise and too many kids—but surprisingly, the Thin Man really enjoys it. So I cried until he came over to read the screen, thinking he'd enjoy the discussion. Instead, he stared at it with that vulture-over-a-crag scowl of his, snorted, and muttered something about Philistines.

"How did this happen?" he grumbled. "I mean, what in the world short circuited in the cultural psyche where people 'don't feel like reading Something Wicked This Ways Comes again?' Blasphemy! It must be a plague born of ignorance; maybe people are too far removed from the work and don't really know what a masterpiece it is."
I suspect this may be another case where he has missed the forest glaring at a tree because the statement in question was a minor segue rather than a main point. "I could put your book review of it up on the blog," I offered. In situations like this, it's best just to humor the crazy person until he calms down.

"No. Save it. Put it up on a nice day when no one is thinking Halloween. The book is too good to be dismissed as mere Halloween fare. Besides, it's not horror. It's dark fantasy and coming-of-age and true art. It's a tale of hope, not fear." He paused, adding, "Come to think of it, the entire concept of a horror novel may be on oxymoron. Most so-called horror books are bloated and drag."

"Henry James, Turn of the Screw," I countered.

"Trust me, cat, that book dragged."

"Shirley Jackson, House on Haunted Hill."

"Disturbing, yes, and scary but not, I think, truly horror, not in the traditional sense. Nice try and a good read but not the same."

I played my trump card. "What about William's book? The horrippilating one."

"The Strange Cases of Rudolf Pearson," he supplied. "Damn fine book that but one that proves my point. It's episodic, interconnected short stories. Cat, I'm not convinced that the best length and form for horror is the novel. It's too long to hold the suspense without a break plus the reader has to put it down. It physically can't be read in one setting and that disrupts the flow. I don't say it can't be done but I do think that it's certainly not optimal. No, the best length for horror is the novella."

"Not short story?"

"Long short stories, yes. Not these little bits of 2000 word fluff that splash some gore around, jerk a few strings, and run away again."

I'll admit, I should know better. I went one question too far. "What about movies?"

Like I said, I should have known better. I had to sit through the two hour lecture about the virtues of the printed word and the dangers of a post-literate society before he wound back to actually answer the question I had asked. He calls it putting things in context; I call it blasted annoying. "There are no horror movies. Maybe Nosferatu," he says at last. "Certainly none made in the last fifty years."


Have I ever mentioned that the Thin Man has a stare that can knock birds out of the air? "Fine. That's one," he snapped. "Happy? Name me another."

"Blair Witch?"

"Bah. Couldn't watch it. Bunch of snot-nosed kids, literally, running around with really bad camera work. Hurt my head. Still, you might have a point. The 'reality' schtick works until the novelty wears off but I think the general application is limited. I think we're back to the novel discussion; it can work but not best."

At this point, I'm ready for a sunbeam and a nap so I steer the conversation around to a stopping point. He won't stop but maybe I can escape while he's distracted. "So, no movies, but what about reading for Halloween? Leaving Bradbury for a time when it can be better savored, what would you suggest?"

The answer surprised me. I fully expected a lecture on Poe and Lovecraft. Instead, he sprinted from the room, returning a moment later with a book in his hand. "I'd almost forgotten about this little gem," he said, opening the cover. "Let's see...edited by Stephen Jones...2006...Pegasus Books...H. P. Lovecraft's Book of the Supernatural, Classic Tales of the Macabre. It's an anthology, of course, but here's the beauty: it's a guided tour of the old horror writers. Remember Lovecraft's essay on horror in literature? Well, they went back and assembled the anthology from stories Lovecraft reference in that essay. There's another on by Jones and Carson in 1993 called H. P. Lovecraft's Book of Horror as well. Wish I had that one too..." His voice drifted off and the Thin Man sagged into a chair, leafing through the book. When I made good on my escape, he was still reading.


Lisa said...

Argh - I was hoping you'd include the name of the story you have in Tales Out of Miskatonic University. Any chance you can tell me? It's for a contest.

MKeaton said...

The Thin Man's story in Tales out of Miss U is called "Strings". Maybe I'm not supposed to let anyone know that but, for you lovely people I'll take my chances. (And go enter the Calamity's Child Christmas contest here as well--why pass up a chance at free books?)

Now, I promised that I'd get the Thin Man to adress Bloch and Matheson:

"What am I supposed to answer? Bah. Listen, I love Matheson, both generation of them--good writers. 'Prey' and that blasted doll? Still creeps me out. And 'Witch War'? Pure genius. Plus there's all the TV work he did which is like movie-short story. Heady stuff.

"That being said, Matheson is a great example of horror in the short form. Even his so-called novel "I am Legend" is actually a novella. It was originally published as part of a larger anthology. Maybe someday they'll make a movie out of it--I mean one that follows the story, although 'Omega Man' wasn't putrid.

"Bloch I have trouble reading. I love his (very) early stuff but most of his work is psyche horror. Saying 'ohhh, be scared of evil, crazy people' is not as much of a challenge as, for example, what Clark Aston Smith did with 'Seed of the Sepulchur' (or 'Seed from...', I can't remember). Also, the human element and my own experiences with mental illness really take away my ability to enjoy a lot of his later work.

"But, yes, Bloch is very good and really masterful at creating atmosphere. Don't confuse the fact that I don't enjoy some of his work with the idea that I don't respect and appreciate it. That's short fiction--if you look at his longer work, it drags in spots. Again, not (what's the word the kids use these days?) dissing him or his work but saying that it is the nature of the media, horror at novel length, that it's going to have slow spots. That even the best (and Bloch certianly qualifies) can't maintain the same intensity in a novel that they can in a short. But if you enjoy psychological horror, I think Bloch is your go-to man. He and Shirley Jackson own the subgenre. (Don't get me started on M. Night 'I have a very good concept but can't execute it worth a nickle' Shamalot. He probably works very hard and doesn't need me complaining about him.)

"I think that about covers it. Now, cat, look at all that non-billable word count and explain this 'blog is a good idea' thing to me again!"

Gotta go. Thanks for dropping by.