Monday, November 5, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus

And here's my contrib. to the Table's Second Turn, Second Month: fantasy/horror crossovers was the topic, remember?
When I think of horror, SF and Fantasy together as genres, I tend to see a big bog between two slippery hillsides. You can’t get straight from one hill to the other - SF and fantasy usually don’t mix: their license to suspend disbelief comes from mutually opposed sources, science and magic. But both genres can slide down into the bog, representing the horror genre, as fast as you can say “demon” – or “alien.”
The big difference between hills and bog is that the hill genres have the bog as an option – or in more common terms, they can offer the reader wonder as well as horror. The bog doesn’t do wonder. Even if treasure is buried there, the emphasis is on the dead men’s bones accompanying it. Comedy there may be, and entertainingly black, too, but wonder, no.
This doesn’t mean that the bog is any worse than either hill genre, or that such traffic should be prevented by border guards. Indeed, where would the hill genres be without the darkness option? Someone like Nietzsche once remarked, either of Homer or Greek mythology, that, in paraphrase, the greater the light, the blacker the shadows it casts – you’ll excuse the vagueness, I haven’t turned up the quote for years, and it’s too long to resort to Google, even if I cd. remember it right. Nevertheless, the idea rings true to me. The greater the wonder a fantasy text can evoke, the greater the horror it MAY evoke. And a fantasy text with unrelenting light and wonder wd. be somewhat like a medieval Christian heaven: great if you’re immortal, but if you’re still under the sun, eventually conducive to eyestrain and headaches rather than alleluias.
This assumes that the writer of such a roller-coaster story is “in control” – well, intentionally sliding up and down the hill, because who of us is ever “in control” of a story as we write? But unintentional slides can produce awkwardness, bathos, and at worst, audience hilarity when you wanted shudders. I recall a local Hamlet where the ghost walked a “battlement” above and behind the stage. Fine, except that ghost shd. be uncanny, inhuman, silent, unconnected to earth. As this one walked, the audience cd. see his feet shuttling below his robe. They cracked up, and the performance never recovered.
Evoking the spookiness of wonder’s dark side is not easy, either.  It helps to recall the dictum of Old Gothic best-seller Mrs. Radcliffe: “terror and horror are so far opposite that the first . . . awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them . . .” And for Radcliffe, terror’s power lies in “obscurity and uncertainty.” That is, let the reader imagine horrors and outdo your efforts, rather than present the monster full frontal and fail to raise a shiver.