Examples of Horror in Literature

What is Horror?

In fiction, horror is considered as a genre. It is designed to evoke spontaneous sensations of fear, dread, revulsion and profound terror in its audience. The term itself derives from the Old French word “orror”. It means “to shudder” or “to bristle.” This linguistic connection emphasizes the intent of the genre and to evoke powerful physical and psychological responses of uneasiness.

Horror stories explore deepest and basic fears of the people. They focus directly on topics that make humans anxious for a long time across different cultures and things like death, evil, ghosts, the afterlife, witchcraft and the supernatural etc. Horror writers highlight unsettling ideas. They use morbid curiosity of the human’s about the unknown to create an atmosphere filled with dread and horror.

Example of Horror

The crescent moon’s sickly pallor filtered through the plantation’s moss-draped live oaks, casting an ethereal pall over the dilapidated manor. Somewhere within its crumbling façade, a shrill, inhuman keening pierced the swamp’s primordial silence—a haunting musical phrase repeated ad infinitum. Janeece’s trembling hand gripped the rusted iron gate as she strained to discern any sign of life beyond the overgrown grounds. Her friends’ taunting dares still rang mockingly in her ears even as a preternatural cold gripped her core. Dread coiled like a serpent in the pit of her stomach as she tentatively stepped onto the shrouded path.

The passage contains horrible details, which creates a scary mood. Gothic imagery like “sickly pallor” “dilapidated manor” and “crumbling façade” quickly sets up a ominous decaying atmosphere. The details like “shrill, inhuman keening” and “ethereal pall” add a supernatural feeling that something is wrong.

The writer also focuses on the intense fear of the main character by using the words like “trembling”, “preternatural cold” and “dread coiled like a serpent.” This helps to create a strong sense of horror throughout the passage.

Types of Horror

Following are the types of horror:

I- Gothic Horror: Gothic horror blends terrifying aesthetics with the Romantic tradition’s artistic pleasures. Fear is intertwined with a seductive and sublime beauty in this style. Gothic tales revel in gloomy mystery, doom-laden atmospheres, haunted manors, family curses, and potent supernatural forces. Seminal works include Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.”

II- Supernatural/Cosmic Horror: Supernatural horrors derive their frights from forces and entities beyond the rational, natural world. This could include malicious spirits, ancient deities, dark magic, extraterrestrial horrors, and other ineffable cosmic threats. H.P. Lovecraft’s works like “The Call of Cthulhu” epitomize this subgenre’s ability to cultivate existential dread through its confrontation with the terrifying unknown and humanity’s insignificance.

III- Body/Biological Horror: Some of the most visceral terror stems from violations and distortions of the human form and psyche itself. Body horror focuses on graphic, disturbing transformations and debasements of the corporeal vessel, often through disease, mutilation, or parasitic aberrations. David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” and more recent standouts like “Splice” showcase this genre’s ability to profoundly unsettle.

IV- Psychological Horror: While supernatural forces or biological threats can provoke fright, some of the most bone-chilling horror emerges from the human psyche’s darkest recesses—insanity, psychopathy, the fragility of one’s grasp on reality. Psychological horrors like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” expertly ratchet up tension through ambiguity and challenges to perception itself.

V- Non-Supernatural/Realist Horror: Departing from fantastical realms, some horror is rooted in phenomena that are plausible or grounded in the depraved realities of the human condition. Non-supernatural or “realist” horror often focuses on shockingly realistic violence, hatred, murder, cruelty, and the deranged depths people may plumb. Books like Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs” allow no comforting distance from the horror.

Examples of Horror in Literature

With its rich literary tradition, the horror genre boasts many iconic and influential works that have shaped and defined the boundaries of fear:

A. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal 1843 short story stands as a masterclass in the art of the psychological horror tale. With unnerving linguistic precision, Poe transforms a narrator’s unsettling inner psychosis into a lived nightmare for the audience:

He told of a wild cry disturbing the silence of the night—of the gathering together of the household—of a search in the direction of the sound; and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave—of a disfigured body enshrouded, yet still breathing—still palpitating—still alive!

B. “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James One of the most celebrated and ambiguous examples of Gothic supernatural horror, Henry James’ 1898 novella hauntingly depicts the disturbing experiences of a governess caring for two peculiar children. As the story unsettlingly progresses, the reader is left to ponder whether the phenomena are ghostly or merely rooted in the governess’ collapsing psyche.

C. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson On its surface, Jackson’s famous 1948 short story portrays a banal, ritualistic tradition in a small village. By the twisted conclusion, however, she has unveiled an unflinching look at humanity’s capacity for unfathomable cruelty lurking behind the facade of convention. The existential horror lies in society’s perceived normalcy.

Examples of Horror in Pop Culture

Horror has become very popular in pop culture recently across different media:

I- Movies and TV – There have been many iconic scary movies and TV shows adapted from authors like Stephen King or original stories like “The Exorcist.” These have become influential in pop culture.

II- Video Games – Horror video games uniquely allow players to experience fear and dread first-hand. Franchises like “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” pioneered the survival-horror genre by trapping players while building suspense. Newer games like “Outlast” continue to innovate.

III- Internet – Digital media has also enabled new horror formats. “Creepypastas” are scary amateur stories and images spread virally online. Alternate reality games like “The Masque” blend real life and fiction for an immersive horror experience.

Related Terms

I- Thriller

Thrillers are stories which make you feel excitement, tension, anxiety and apprehension. So all horror stories are thrillers but not all thrillers are scary like horror.

II- Dark Fantasy

Fantasy stories often include scary supernatural elements. Unlike horror they mainly want to frighten you. The dark fantasy mixes terrifying things into an imaginative world of quests and battles between good and evil.

III- Gothic Fiction

Gothic fiction started in the late 1700s. It gave birth to the horror genre. This fiction combined terror, romance and gothic atmospheres. “Gothic” now describes that brooding, gloomy and romantic mood.

To conclude, the horror is meant to deeply terrify audiences by tapping into primal fears about death, the unknown, and losing one’s mind. These stories provide a contradictory relief – we feel utter fear but from a safely fictional distance.

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