So here is the second part in my trilogy of scares in fiction. Referring back to the date I had a few weeks back, the woman in question reeled off a list of books that had scared her as an adult. I struggled, personally, to come up with any books that I found genuinely terrifying. This is odd because I nearly always prefer the book to the film version and was able to come up with several scary films, but not books.
So I have been doing a lot of thinking, and here is a list of books that I found genuinely scary for one reason or another.
The Mist by Stephen King
Oddly, I did not find the film scary in itself even though it is very faithful to the source text. The most terrifying aspect of this novelette is not the mist that is so dense you can’t see more than ten feet in front of you, nor is it the undoubtedly deadly and terrifying unearthly creatures that exist within it. No, as I have said before the true horror of the story is what is taking place inside the supermarket. Why? They are safe in there aren’t they, so what is the horror? A certain deeply religious woman who sees the titular Mist as a judgement from God for toleration of all sorts of things including that people have forgotten God. Treated at first with the disdain she deserves for stirring up people’s fears and like a fire and brimstone preacher feeding off of it, Mrs Carmody eventually starts to persuade the desperate group that the revelations in The Bible are being realised. To reasonable people, she is an opportunist and a power-hungry fanatic who eventually leads her followers to kill but to her growing followers, she is the voice of an angry and vengeful God.
What is ultimately terrifying here is that which is terrifying about a story in any genre where you might perceivably be the next victim (which is why The Lord of the Flies and 1984 persistently come up in scariest book lists). In the end, our protagonists are forced to flee, risking their lives in taking a chance with the horrors outside of the store are now seen as a far safer bet than the horrors going on inside. Food for thought.
The Passage Trilogy – Justin Cronin
I have book 2 (The Twelve) on my shelf and eagerly awaiting the time I will get to read it. I’m presently reading Stephen King’s 11.22.63 and I might hop onto that one once I have finished this. Like any post-apocalyptic sci-fi oriented novel, it isn’t scary in itself unless of course, you are scared of end of the world scenarios as a concept. I long ago ceased to find vampires scary (if I ever did) and the rash of what I refer to as SEVs (Simpering Emo Vampires) did nothing to alleviate that. In the first in this series, I made specific reference to the films 30 Days of Night and I Am Legend as being two exceptions (but for different reasons).
I love the vampire concept in Cronin’s work. He has removed most vestiges of their humanity (with one or two exceptions but it is pretty major to the plot so I won’t spoil it). It is one of those rare occasions where a writer looks deep into the minds of creatures that were once human… they are animalistic and that, in concept at least, is incredibly unnerving.
It is a vastly new world from the one we know. Humans exist in maximum security prison-cities to protect them from the outside world. They live in constant threat of virals (who are highly intelligent pack hunters rather like wolves) breaking through the city, so they must defend the borders. There is no respite against an enemy that is ever learning and slowly working out how to defeat your nerve and eventually, your physical defences. The first book has a sense of slow-building and impending doom.
Due to the intelligent nature of the vampires in the book I Am Legend, this too has a sense of unease. Of course, the fact that Robert Neville is the last human being alive adds to that tension. We feel his paranoia every step of the way, we feel it every time the vampires outside try to send him crazy, we feel every attempt they make to break into the house, we follow his obsession with clutching at every moment heading towards darkness.
I also have Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort on my Kindle so looking forward to reading that too.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
I read it as a teenager, perhaps aged 13 or 14, and I found it absolutely terrifying. One helpless teenager’s slow descent into what at first is believed to be madness but is soon revealed to be demonic possession is as harrowing as it is chilling. You feel for the young Regan as the helpless teenage girl and her family go through their own traumas at trying to keep it together. What is more apparent in the book than the film is the sense of wanting to reach out to the family and to Regan especially. Far more focus is given over to the angst one might feel at having a daughter who has suddenly developed a severe mental illness.
Only later does the book become terrifying. Pazuzu digs his heels in, he won’t give up Regan so the book becomes ultimately quite desperate. No other book about demonic possession could ever come close to matching what is a harrowing tale with or without the supernatural element.
A special mention here but I have yet to find a zombie book that genuinely scares me. If anything, I can be unnerved at how they are told. For example, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by Stephen Jones’ Zombie Apocalypse! and had it been told in a conventional format, I probably wouldn’t have been. However, the fact that the stories were so personal as we watched the world slowly fall apart was the true horror behind the book. The diaries, the news reports, the text messages, emails and the coldness of Police reports and scientific papers felt realistic. The real time action happening on the page was highly effective and enough to make you feel that you were there experiencing these events with the survivors – and watching people die before our eyes.
I’ve identified a few more zombie books I would like to read that might prove scary (they are The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell, The Rising by Brian Keene and Zone One by Coleson Whitehead) and I have one of these on my Kindle (the one by Bell).
Right then book lovers, what scares you about the written word?