“And as the imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
That stanza from Shakespeare defines for me the act of literary creation. I would carry it another step forward to define a particular literary form—that of the horror tale. A story in the Oct. 28 edition of the Washington Post had a round up of favorite horror stories of some well known authors. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/27/AR2009102703745.html
What constitutes a horror story is a subjective matter. What chills me might leave you cold and vice versa. I contend a central factor must be an element that is fear-inspiring. To quote Shakespeare again from that same noble work:
“Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!”
It’s all to do with the imagination, baby. Webster defines fear as apprehension of evil or danger; dread; anxiety. All conditions deriving from our imagination.
As I said, what gives me goose-bumps may bother you not a whit. I’m not afraid of snakes, but spiders give me the willies. I know others who are psyched out by clowns, monkeys and other critters most find innocuous.
It’s all in the imagination.
Frankly, I’ve had enough with the vampires. They’re too familiar to be scary anymore and few have come up to Stoker’s Dracula. And the slash and gore stuff so popular in film is (sorry fans) not horror.
Some tales that have frightened (and delighted me) would include Poe’s The Premature Burial, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and his Thrawn Janet (despite the dialect), and W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw.
I’m sure you have your own list.