October 2009 Archives

Whorror

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I've noticed something.  Perhaps you have, too.  Women aren't treated very nicely in horror.  They're the first ones killed, the last ones saved, the ones most brutalized... and the ones portrayed as the most stupid.

 

Now, yes, I know this always isn't the case, because, well, because sometimes women aren't in a horror story (see The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - although you could say a little girl was brutalized in the story).

 

Jack Ketchum's horror novel, The Girl Next Door, is a prime example of the abuse of woman in horror fiction.  It is a 16 year old girl who is brutally tortured.  It is also a crazy aunt who orchestrates the torture.  What is it that makes the abuse of woman so appealing (or perhaps so horrifying)?

 

I tried to discover the answer to this through Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny."  In it, Freud states that one of the fears of mankind is castration (he relates this through the uncanny trope of losing an eye or dismemberment).  Is this fear portrayed through the mutilation of female genitalia in such pieces as The Girl Next Door?  Possibly, but I'm not sure.  Let's look further.

 

Oftentimes, the women who suffer the most are either promiscuous or sexually innocent.  Is, then, sexuality (blatant or latent) the reason women must suffer?  Meg was the latter in Ketchum's story.  In David Cronenberg's The Brood, when Nola thinks her husband has taken up with another woman (Candace's teacher), Nola bashes that woman's head in.

 

My assertion is that in the horror genre woman are brutalized and poorly represented because of the power of their sexuality, whether it is used or not.  Women are punished for this sexuality.  They are either punished because they use it (and offend others) or don't use it (and offend others).

Misery = Child

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The most frightening image in Stephen King's Misery?  It wasn't Paul Sheldon's hobbling or the murder of the young cop (spearing him first, then running over his face with a lawn mower).  It wasn't Annie's mutilation of her own face.

 

The most frightening image was when Paul watched as his manuscript, the long overdue Fast Cars, was destroyed.  The desecration of this art was more horrifying than anything else that occurred.

 

This year when I taught Guy de Maupassant's "The Head of Hair" to my 11th graders, a few classes wanted to talk about how someone could write something like that.  They wanted to know if Maupassant was deranged.  We then had a discussion about why someone would write a horror story if they themselves weren't horrific.  I explained that telling stories (any story, not just a horror story) was like sitting around with friends telling ghost stories or talking about the crazy thing that happened in class.  I told my kids that writers just write to entertain other people.  Writers can write about something without it having anything to do with them or their own life.

 

Well, I didn't quite tell the truth.  Every writer - and I mean every writer - puts pieces of herself in what she writes.  The writer's hopes, dreams and fears are all played out on the page.  In Misery, King puts his own fears on paper.

 

Some (like my husband), might argue that King writes of one of Freud's uncanny tropes.  They (Matt, particularly) would say that King's writing is about his fear of castration (since as Freud states, the fear of losing limbs is a repressed fear of losing your "member").  However, I argue that this is not true. 

 

King's fear is one that Freud did not discuss in "The Uncanny."  His fear is the fear of the death of his creation.  This fear is similar (and one could argue the same) as the fear a parent has of losing a child.  It is hard to imagine something worse than the loss of something into which you've poured your heart and soul.

 

On page 26, we see Paul tormented over Fast Cars.  He thinks, "...he didn't even make a copy until the second draft was done.  The manuscript copy of Fast Cars which was now in Annie Wilkes's possession was, in fact, the only existing copy in the whole world.  He had even burned his notes.  Two years of hard work, she didn't like it, and she was crazy" (King).

 

King devotes many pages to the horror surrounding the burning of Paul's manuscript.  And, when it's done, when the book is charred curls of paper, he thinks the same thing a parent might think upon the death of a child.  He thinks, "I'm going to kill her" (King 44).

 

The horror in Misery isn't the brutality inflicted upon Paul's body by Annie.  The horror in the novel is the fear of losing what the author loves most.

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