Danse Macabre by Stephen King and the Introduction to Dark Descent, ed. by David Hartwell

If you haven’t already, read part 1.

I likewise found his discussion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde interesting. He likened that to the werewolf, and the ‘inside evil’. I’ve read and enjoyed many werewolf novels, but when it came to writing my own, I went with vampires over werewolves. I tend to think it was because of what the vampires represent: immortality, eternal youth, sensuality – whereas most werewolf depictions have them as mortal (with the exception of Kresley Cole’s werewolves, who are as immortal as her vampires). Werewolves are warm-blooded, passionate, hierarchical. They are long-lived and have extended youth, increased strength and vitality – but are mortal.

He talks about vampires as the external evil (along with the ‘thing’), and werewolves as the internal evil. And that works for horror, where the vampires and werewolves are truly monsters, not just outside but in. But there’s an entirely different dynamic in this more recent crop of novels, where the vampires and werewolves are ‘other’ but also essentially human. Where they are lovers and friends and comrades, in addition to being predators. So I wonder, in these stories, have we stripped the monsters of their monstrosity? Or have we finally admitted that the monsters are us, that we cannot see them as ‘other’ because they are not really so different, after all?

But King goes further than that, suggesting “that the horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit; that its main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands.â€? This is where I think the horror story parts company with the ‘paranormal fantasy’ or ‘dark fantasy’ or ‘urban fantasy’ or whatever you’d like to call them involving vampires and werewolves and demons. The stories on the fantasy side of the line, which depict the monsters as friends and comrades and lovers, suggest not that ‘awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands’ but other things entirely…that we can venture into taboo lands and find friends there. That some of us are more comfortable and at home in the taboo lands than in the ‘real world.’ And, as I said above, that we are not so different from the monsters, after all.

King talks about the ‘real world’ as being Apollonian, and the taboo lands as being Dionysian, suggesting that in horror books, the goal is to reject the Dionysian and get back to the Apollonian. But in paranormal fantasies, what I see is a balance. Here is your Dionysian wildness, here is your Apollonian control; you must live with them both. It reminds me of Eric Maisel’s book Fearless Creating, where he talks about artists needing to find a balance within themselves between their Dionysian and Apollonian impulses. Too much of the Apollonian, and you’re too tame, too staid, you follow the rules and it kills your art. Too much of the Dionysian, and you’re too wild, too crazy, you break all the rules and can’t get your point across. The key is finding the balance.

Anyway, I digress. Point is, I see differences in the basic concepts underlying the horror genre and the new monster fantasy sub-genre (whatever that sub-genre may be called). While they share much on the surface – the monsters, the dark nights, the frisson of fear – at their hearts, they are different beasts entirely.