What is it about fall that makes people turn to horror novels? Is it the crisp air? The desire to be curled up under a blanket? Or, is it really all to do with Halloween? For me I have never enjoyed the horror genre as much as I do when fall rolls around and it seems appropriate to read these dark and ghastly tales. I certainly am not the only one, right?
I am the first to admit I scream easily and often when put into any situation that calls for it. Haunted house? I’m screaming and running for my life. Haunted hayride? I am threatening bodily harm to the nearest person dressed as a scarecrow or creepy creature that gets near me. Horror movies? If I’m in the theater well it’s a miracle you got me there to begin with but while there I will be screaming, jumping and grasping (tightly) to the arm of the person next to me. If I’m at home chances are all the lights are on and I’m watching curled up with a huge blanket around me and my phone grasped in my hand, ya know, just in case.
So, why would I, easily scared and jumpy person that I am, willingly read horror novels? And why only in the fall? Partially because it is easiest to find this genre during the fall season as bookstores and libraries display their creepiest and most popular horror tales front and center at this time of year. ‘Tis the season and all that, right? Still, I don’t care if I’ve read the story before, and loved it, why is it that I only really enjoy horror novels during the fall?
Just today (October 22nd) I finished reading (well, re-reading) the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. I do this pretty much every fall unless I have something else to focus on. This reading ritual of mine started back in college all thanks due to my school having a course entitled Themes in Literature: The Horror Novel. It was a fall semester class. And it was a night class (6 PM – 9 PM). And this is probably right around the time I began loving scary stories again. Our class would spend the week reading the assigned works and then, every Monday night, we’d file into a classroom to discuss what scared us, the themes at work, allegory, imagery, etc. We also would delve into the history at the time of the work being published and pick apart what it had meant then to what it meant now. Honestly, it was a horror book fan’s dream.
Yet, I found myself attempting to read Poe’s works earlier this year because I had gotten into a discussion on The Tell-Tale Heart with a friend and wanted to refresh my memory on the story. While I read that one at the time it just didn’t feel right. So, once I finished re-reading the tale I put the collection away and didn’t touch it again until fall was upon us. It just felt weird reading it in the middle of summer versus now, when there are leaves on the ground and the air is crisp.
With the finishing of Poe’s works I have moved on to another horror themed novel, one about vampires. What am I starting to read, you ask? Guilty Pleasures by Laurel K. Hamilton (book #1 in the Anita Blake series). I’ve had this book on my pile for a while now, having bought it on sale and now, and only now, do I feel I can read it. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the book given that I know there is a large undertow of romance and I’ve heard mixed reviews on the series as a whole but I think if I’ve got a shot of enjoying the start of the series it’s now.
In trying to figure out why I like horror novels and specifically why I only really like them in the fall I came up with a short list.
- Familiarity – To me, as I’ve said, it is familiar and comfortable to read such stories during the fall season. It feels right, it reminds me of college and it just fits. So, why fight the feeling and I figure I’ll just go for it?
- Adrenaline- I am not an adrenaline junkie by nature so anything that gets my blood pumping (without requiring me to go to the gym first) is enjoyable. So if my heart can race from the comfort of my couch in warm pajamas and a cup of tea next to me I figure it’s a good thing.
- Comfort- Whenever a story gets too freaky I remember that it’s just that, a story. So, with it being just a story I also give myself permission to put the book down and enjoy how unremarkable my own life is from time to time. I take comfort that I’m not being hunted by a madman with an ax or that I need to fight off zombies on a regular basis. It’s the little things in life.
- Exploration- Through the books I read at this time I find myself enjoying the exploration of these crazy worlds and situations. Learning about folktales, supernatural creatures and beliefs through the looking glass of a fictional world is one of my favorite things. I love uncovering facts about different worlds through their beliefs and this is no different in a horror novel. Even if the novel is set in a realistic world, with just a pinch of horror, it is interesting to see what the characters believe and how the react to their world.
- Satisfaction- I’m not sure if this is just me but am I the only one who feels proud when I finish reading a horror novel? It’s like defeating my own demons and fears in a safe way and then being able to move on with my day.
With that I’ll leave you all to enjoy your horror novels of choice during this season (or, even year round if you’re truly committed) and I’ll report back about Anita Blake in the near future. And now, a quote from Stephen King about horror which provides great insight to those that write horror as well.
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” – Stephen King