Why Horror? Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dark

It’s hard to articulate what first drew me to horror and dark fiction. It began at such a young age and has become so much of who I am, it’s difficult to step outside of myself and examine why. What is it about the dark that fascinates me, and countless others?

Is it merely the shot of adrenaline we get after a good scare? I find it hard to believe that that is the only thing that keeps us consuming dark media in the form of books, television, and movies. It’s often contemplated and addressed from various perspectives as to what fuels the horror fans’ attraction to the genre. Are we all deviant? I know it’s a common refrain that horror fans hear.

I can’t answer that. But I can distinctly remember the moment I became a horror fan.

I was seven years old and already an avid reader. My favorite books at the time were the Andrew Lang colored fairy tale collections, which contained all kinds of dark tales from around the world, and Nancy Drew mysteries. So, perhaps I was predisposed to darker work. But the instant that truly cemented my journey down this twisted, often bloody, but beautiful road was when I saw a picture of a cat.

Not just any cat, mind you. No, the cat that drew my attention was the “screaming cat’s face” on the cover of Stephen King’s iconic novel Pet Sematary. I can still remember, to this day, staring at that cover and feeling that electric thrill in my blood. That sweet zing! I didn’t know what the book was about, but I knew immediately that I wanted to read it.

And I did.

This passion for King’s dark works would lead to the first nickname I became aware of in the third grade: “The Girl Who Reads Stephen King”. This moniker would stick for years, despite my branching out to other authors like R.L. Stine, Anne Rice, and Robert McCammon. (Later, in high school, it would transition to “The Girl Who Always Wears Black” which I preferred.)

Horror was dead for awhile, did you know that? So said many think pieces. Of course, you can never really kill horror. Like Jason Voorhees, it always comes back. In fact, these days, horror is healthy and thriving with a younger, more diverse audience. This just goes to show you that there is no one simple demographic that defines a horror fan. We span all ages, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic strata. I am one of the horde, and oh-so-happy to be there.

I can’t say what it was about that cover that flipped my switch, nor what it is about the genre that consistently draws me more than any other. I fear the unknown just as much as the next person. Perhaps more. But I still love turning on a spooky movie or opening a horror novel and slipping into the darkness. The other shadows know me there.

What is it that you think draws us to the horror genre? What’s your first memory of being a fan? Comment below!

2 thoughts on “Why Horror? Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dark

  1. Hi Morgan!

    I, too, am of the spooky bent. I tell ghost stories, I read horror novels, and I love a good scary movie (now, not *slasher* movie – there’s a difference between gore and scary). I’m not entirely sure what draws me to the genre, and I have thought about it. I think for me, though, at least part of it has to do with decay and decline, and the fact that everyone, everywhere, and everything has a story, and sometimes those stories aren’t so nice and don’t have a happy ending. Sometimes the best-learned lessons are through fear, and when we find someone who shares our fears and understands them, perhaps we don’t feel quite so alone in the world. There is beauty in decline and decay, and we can see the time, the effort, and the love that someone put into building a great house or a fantastic castle, and we are now left to wonder what could have happened that caused the place to be abandoned, to fall into rot and decay. Writing — and reading — tales of the creepy, paranormal and horrifying can help us answer some of those questions.

    What do you think?


    1. Hi Linley! I think as long as people have been telling stories, they’ve been telling scary stories. That inclination to huddle around a fire and spook each other is primal. But I think you’re right about it connecting us, making us feel less alone. That communal experience is I think what makes horror so popular in the theater.

      In Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius, she talks about how we experience the emotions of the protagonist of a story as if they were our own (I’m paraphrasing), and that it teaches us how to handle situations we might not otherwise come into contact with. I think a lot of people wonder “Why would you want to experience something negative?” But we all experience bad things at some point in our lives, so reading horror gives a connection and, a lot of the time, hope. Even bleak horror gives us hope because it’s not really real. (Or is it?!)

      Thanks for taking the time to read and reply! I appreciate you.

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