Killer Clowns, Reading IT and Thoughts on Horror

So where has the past month gone?

I’ve been spending some time revising my Greek mythology eBook In the Beginning was Chaos, mostly expanding the text, doing some additional research, and also adding pictures in the form of copyright-free artwork illustrating the myths. I hope to have the book out in its perfected form within the next couple of weeks.

As far as reading goes, I was oddly inspired by skimming increasingly absurd media reports of the Killer Clown Craze to have a go at tackling Stephen King’s IT.

I remembered watching the TV serial when it was broaclown_feardcast in the ’90s and finding it entertaining, but not especially frightening. Since then, I’ve read other Stephen King novels, including the more recent (2011) 11/22/63 with its  gripping time-travel theme and his much earlier novel The Shining (1977) which I found darkly atmospheric and absorbing and remember later finding the film a little thin and disappointing in comparison.

I approached IT then with a reasonably positive expectation. As before, I was impressed by King’s ability to draw you into the story and make you care about the characters with some vivid brush-strokes. Each of the young protagonists had clearly delineated problems or issues which to some extent defined them. The prose was readable, fast paced and clever, shifting you in and out of past and present and immersing you in the small-town world of the book.

However, for the present at least, I have ended up putting the book aside at a little short of 200 pages of its 500+. Why? Ultimately, the horror itself didn’t convince me. The manifestations of the dark terror haunting the town of Derry were simply too over-the-top, in some cases to the point of absurdity. I found myself watching the mayhem unfold with a kind of distanced scepticism, rather than any remote feeling of disquiet. It was the fact that these things happened so comparatively early in the book that threw me, too, I think. If such horrific manifestations had been the climax after being built up to throughout the book, they might have felt in some sense earned; as it was, it just felt deeply unlikely.

Part of King’s talent, I think, is showing that the real horror, the real monsters are to be found in human guise. That I think is what made The Shining work so well. There were strong elements of that insight in IT, but they were overshadowed by the solid unsubtlety of a monstrous being that simply rips children apart or, indeed, causes them to float.

Horror is a very subjective genre, of course. What will elicit a shrug or a laugh from one person can be the cause of a disturbed night’s sleep to another. I find the idea of a sad shadowy ghost manifesting silently upon one in one’s solitude much more worrying than a big scary monster.

What gives you a genuine chill in a horror story?

 

New Project: Medieval Immersion

CEC128164 Tristram and Isolde Drinking the Love Potion, 1867 (mixed media) by Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Charles  (1828-82); 62.3x59.1 cm; The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford, UK; (add.info.: intended for Isolde the Fair and King Mark of Cornwall;); English,  out of copyright
Tristram and Isolde Drinking the Love Potion, 1867  by Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Charles (1828-82);The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford, UK

My new fiction project is a novelistic retelling of the Tristan and Iseult Romance.

This tragic and bitter-sweet tale, set in the Celtic lands of Cornwall, Brittany and Ireland is known from an array of medieval retellings, including a substantial precis in Malory. Originally seemingly separate from the Arthurian legend complex, it has been grafted in and made part of the story, so that Tristan becomes a knight to rival Sir Lancelot while his love for Iseult, wife of King Mark parallels and echoes Lancelot’s love for Queen Guinevere, wife of Arthur.

After an interlude of forgetfulness, 19th and 20th century authors took up the theme, with poems such as Swineburne’s Tristan of Lyonesse and artwork by the Pre-Raphaelite brethren, who immersed themselves in Arthurian lore to escape the ugliness of their industrialised present.

So, for the next while, I shall be immersing myself in things Celtic, Arthurian and medieval as my own retelling of this tale finds its shape and voice. In the process, I’ll share here interesting and useful websites, artwork, book musings, articles and perhaps the odd ficlet.