Posts tagged with "horror" - Faerye Net 2011-05-30T15:58:13+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Creepy Kid Calibration 2011-05-30T15:58:13+00:00 2011-05-30T15:58:21+00:00 <p>Creepy kids in movies are a thing. I&#8217;d go look it up on TVtropes, except that I would lose hours of time reading TVtropes. So let&#8217;s just take it as read, as denizens of popular culture, that there are a lot of creepy kids in movies (and TV, and books.) They&#8217;re a horror clich&eacute; at this point, especially the female version &#8212; and why are they so often female? There&#8217;s another blog post there, don&#8217;t spoil it for me by being brilliant.</p> <p>Anyhow, the creepy Feral Child in <em>Road Warrior</em> made me think of other movie children I have known, and try to set his creepiness amongst them. I must confess, I initially made this scale run up to a maximum of St. Alia of the Knife, but Ryan disabused me of this notion, arguing persuasively that the scale was recalibrated in 2002 if not earlier. So, feast your eyes on this <span class="caps">SCIENCE</span>!</p> <p><img src="" title="scale of creepy kids" /></p> Horror frames, revisited 2010-10-27T21:02:34+00:00 2010-10-27T21:25:39+00:00 <p>I wrote pretty extensively on the <a href="" target="links">use of framing in classic horror fiction</a> some time ago, and it&#8217;s returned to mind: I just started listening to an audiobook of <em>Dracula</em>.</p> <p>I read <em>Dracula</em> for the first time as a teenager on a trip to Wyoming, carting along the only copy the library had, a large print trade paperback. I read it (when I should have been resting up for the next day&#8217;s exertions) late at night, on the outskirts of a small town where nightly I could hear the howls of coyotes. It was delicious, and the large print, by increasing the rate of page-turning, perhaps added to the suspense.</p> <p>I&#8217;m rereading it, of course, for its own sake and mine, but this form was suggested to me by my dad, who said he&#8217;d listened to a narrated version of it once and found it fabulous. So here I am, sitting down to listen (and sew a button onto my coat), and I notice at once the frame story, a little introduction. I have transcribed this, because the first few online texts I consulted (for instance, <a href="">Project Gutenberg</a>) did not have this paragraph. Perhaps I had better research the publication history a bit!</p> <blockquote>How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.</blockquote> <p>What a different sort of frame story this is! Rather than trying to sucker you into (as described in my previous blog post) a believable outer reality so that you will more readily except the inner story, it simply begs you to believe the inner story as literally true. Facts, not fancy. And how? With an appeal to documentation &#8212; since it&#8217;s an epistolary novel, hardly a surprise &#8212; and to <em>modernity</em>. We are understood to doubt the story because it contradicts our &#8220;later-day belief&#8221; (&#8216;latter&#8217;? Remember, I transcribe.) and the things which should reestablish the veracity of the narrative are &#8220;contemporary&#8221;. In the sentence, of course, it means contemporary with the events depicted, but I find the choice of word suggestive. We are meant to believe these things happened to contemporary people, something underlined by the next lines: &#8220;Jonathan Harker&#8217;s Journal: kept in shorthand&#8221;. Recently I heard this peculiar detail called out by my learned friend <a href="" target="links">Mike</a>: shorthand, at the time, was <em>modern</em>, a new technology of the pen.</p> <p>An interesting little frame, however it ended up inserted into the narrative. It draws our attention right away (as Mike drew mine) to one of Stoker&#8217;s thematic preoccupations: modernity. This little introduction prepares our minds just as we are about to meet Harker, with all his talk of crossing from West to East, his anxiety about the paucity of high-quality maps of the area and the timetables of trains. (&#8220;It seems to me that the further East you go, the less punctual are the trains! What ought they to be in China?&#8221;)</p> <p>Before we even begin, we have this reassurance, a hint of what is to be contrasted with all Harker&#8217;s comfortable, plausible, bustling Western modernity: a very British vision of the East as Other, irrational, ancient, threatening, full of Victorian fears. Such a reassurance, that these things did happen in precisely this way, carefully and rationally set down by modern, trustworthy sources (in shorthand!) is less a reassurance, and more of an invitation to fear&#8230;.</p> <p>I&#8217;m about to leave for <a href="" target="links">this year&#8217;s World Fantasy Convention</a>, so I may not blog any more this week. If so, I must make bold to wish you all in advance a spooky and delightful Hallow-e&#8217;en!</p> What's in a frame? 2008-10-02T14:52:18+00:00 2008-10-04T11:19:06+00:00 <p>I&#8217;m reading Mark Z. Danielewski&#8217;s <a href="" target="powells"><em>House of Leaves</em></a>, which is on one level a horror book. I don&#8217;t read many horror stories: while I do, like most humans, enjoy the occasional self-induced <em>frisson</em>, and I have a fondness for ghost stories, I can imagine all manner of phantasms into the darkness without professional help. In short, they tend to stick with me for too long (estimated time from viewing <em>The Ring</em> before could stare into darkness without eyes resolving nonsense lights into you-know-who: 10 months.). This book came highly recommended by <a href="" target="links">Ryan</a>, and threatened, via said Ryan, to transmute my love for Poe&#8217;s <a href="" target="links"><em>Haunted</em></a> into fear. Of course I wanted to prove him wrong on that point. On top of these inducements, Ryan told me a recent <a href="" target="links">xkcd strip</a> would be hilarious when and only when I had read <em>House of Leaves</em>.</p> <p>I&#8217;m a third of the way through the physical volume, a &#8220;remastered full-color edition&#8221; snagged from Ryan&#8217;s shelves, which means I&#8217;m almost halfway through the body of the novel (there are copious appendices). It is legitimately creepifying, and its typographical oddities do work, for me, to physicalize the wandering in the story and depict an erosion of the rational and solid. These contrivances are part of why the book&#8217;s considered experimental and postmodern. But one device it uses is not in itself postmodern, and has been used to great effect in the horror genre over at least a century.</p> <p>I speak, of course, of framing. The frame story is a very old device indeed (at least some versions of the <em><a href="" target="links">Ramayana</a></em> are framed, and that&#8217;s around 2,500 years old), but I&#8217;m thinking especially of its use in Henry James&#8217;s <a href="" target="powells"><em>The Turn of the Screw</em></a>. In that classic novella, there are two frames. The ostensible narrator that begins the book (Frame 1) has a friend who introduces and reads a manuscript to him (Frame 2) that has been written by a woman once governess to the friend&#8217;s younger sister (the story itself). Much has been made of these nested frames, which put layers of hearsay and distance between the reader and the governess. If <em>The Turn of the Screw</em> were presented without these introductions, the narrator might not be seen as unreliable (though in the 19th century a governess, an unmarried woman in an interstitial social class, was fairly unreliable to begin with) and the reader might take at face value the ghost story she relates. The frames remove some of our intimacy with this primary narrator and help to create the piece&#8217;s legendary ambiguity.</p> <p>Other uses of frames in horror include the very effective stage play of <em>The Woman in Black</em> by Stephen Mallatratt, where the audience is invited to identify the artifice of the performance with the frame and thereby believe the central story to be real, and found-story narratives like <em>The Blair Witch Project</em>, where the story itself (a manuscript or video) is found as a mysterious artifact after the characters in it have disappeared or died. As I said, I&#8217;m not terribly well-versed in horror, so I may be overlooking other striking examples.</p> <p><em>House of Leaves</em> has a number of frames I have not yet counted. Let&#8217;s count them together! (<a href="" target="links">Ah-ha-ha!</a>) The book begins with a Foreword from &#8220;the Editors&#8221; who make &#8220;every effort&#8221; to translate and attribute, et cetera, and make references to previous editions, in what appears to be Bookman Old Style. Given that this is a novel, not a found manuscript as the text maintains, it&#8217;s safe to assume this is a narrow little frame, Frame 1. Then we have the Courier stylings of manuscript-finder, anecdote-teller and annotater Johnny Truant, Frame 2. Then we have the main body of the manuscript, a discursive and highly footnoted piece of eccentric criticism by Zampan&ograve; (Frame 3) on a documentary. This documentary, <em>The Navidson Record</em>, does not seem to exist as far as Truant can discover, nor do the endless articles of criticism on the work Zampan&ograve; references. The documentary is the main story. Although arguments could probably be made that it&#8217;s not, they would, themselves, get pretty damn academic pretty fast, which would probably please the spirit of the book. The documentary film, since this is a book, is unseen. There&#8217;s an empty center at the middle of the frames. It&#8217;s interesting, since Ryan told me that this book actually <em>shows you</em> what drove a character mad (unusual) &#8212; but the central story remains unseen, or half-seen, translated, transcribed, half-captured.</p> <p>These frames within frames do remind me of <em>Turn of the Screw</em> (which is mentioned, and its connection to the <em>Navidson Record</em> rejected along with all the classic ghost stories of Western Literature in footnote 167), but there&#8217;s more at work here. The book is, despite the nebulosity of the term, postmodern. Here&#8217;s the definition of postmodern from the American Heritage Dictionary (as I said, it&#8217;s a nebulous term, and this is only one opinion:)<br /> <blockquote>Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes</blockquote></p> <p>&#8220;Extreme&#8221; is a good word for this book. The use of <em>three</em> frames (James&#8217;s two is already pretty unusual), the way the frames do not just stand aside once the central story is introduced but continue to interfere and interact with it <del>- which may make the term &#8216;frame&#8217; less literally applicable&deg; -</del> the multiple appendices, and the crazy typography are all pretty out there. In addition, the classic horror trope I mentioned, the found-story, recurs. Within <em>The Navidson Record</em>, some footage is found. The <em>Navidson Record</em> itself may not qualify, since it&#8217;s un-found: Truant can&#8217;t find it, even though Zampan&ograve; and all his perhaps fictive academics have access to it. Zampan&ograve;&#8216;s manuscript is, again, found. And while Truant is very much present in the earthy footnotes to it, in footnote 197 if not before <span class="caps">SPOILER</span>: <font color="white">it becomes clear Johnny has disappeared.</font> As I&#8217;ve said, framing is older than Modernism, but he&#8217;s certainly applying it to extremes here.</p> <p>Without a doubt, the frames do allow Danielewski to cast doubt on his narrator(s). But it seems like the interplay of doubt and faith in a narrator is one of the things he&#8217;s playing with: the way Zampan&ograve;&#8216;s academic pretensions seem to be a way of bolstering his authority, a plea to convince the reader (and, I think, perhaps the universe) to believe him; the way you find yourself attentively reading Zampan&ograve;&#8217;s arguments for the authenticity of <em>The Navidson Record</em> even when you &#8216;know&#8217; that in the universe of the book &#8211; assuming the universe of Truant and Zampan&ograve; to be the same &#8211; the film doesn&#8217;t exist, hoax or not! Who is reliable? What&#8217;s truth anyway?</p> <p>Tolkien condemned dream-frames, in his essay <a href="" target="links">&#8220;On Fairy Stories&#8221;</a>, as deprecating the fantastic nature of a framed story. A realistic frame can trick a skeptical reader into accepting a non-realistic story. In horror, there&#8217;s another reason for a realistic frame &#8212; it&#8217;s a reality the reader/watcher accepts, which makes it easier to suspend disbelief and enter upon the fantasy of the inner story. That suspension of disbelief is necessary in order to give the audience the fear they came for. In <em>House of Leaves</em>, the nesting of frames lets the <font color="blue">House</font> exist several removes from the world of the reader, the world the reader accepts natively as real and true. But at the same time, the frames jostle and shift against each other, making the reader militate for the existence of the horror, making the reader want to believe the film exists, the <font color="blue">House</font> exists, because it&#8217;s interesting, and because it&#8217;s scary. A found-story frame allows the audience to see the story-record itself as its own evidence, its own artifact, even though they know the frame is fiction as well. In <em>House of Leaves</em>, the reader is even more complicit in scaring herself. Reading this book is tricky, it&#8217;s work. I am not only scaring myself, I&#8217;m working hard to do so. How much more complicit can I get?</p> <p>&deg; <b>Update, 10/4/08:</b> in footnote 308, Zampan&ograve; calls them &#8216;generations&#8217;:<br /> <blockquote>Here in particular, he mockingly emphasizes the fallen nature of any history by purposefully concocting an absurd number of generations. Consider: 1. [event] &#8212;&gt; 2. Navidson&#8217;s perception of [event] &#8212;&gt; 3. Navidson&#8217;s description of [event] to Reston &#8212;&gt; 4. Reston&#8217;s re-telling of Navidson&#8217;s description based on Navidson&#8217;s recollection and perception of [event].</blockquote><br /> &#8212;&gt; 5. Zampan&ograve;&#8217;s scholarship on the event. Heh.</p> The Jar-Jar Effect 2008-08-01T10:34:31+00:00 2008-08-01T10:34:31+00:00 <p>I thought of a new law of argument. You know, like <a href="" target="links">Godwin&#8217;s Law</a> or <a href="">Skarka&#8217;s Law</a>.</p> <p>&#8220;No aesthetic discussion can continue productively once Jar-Jar Binks is mentioned.&#8221;</p> <p>Only problem is, I don&#8217;t want to affix my name to it. I don&#8217;t want my name associated with Jar-Jar!</p> <p>So I&#8217;ve decided to make it more general. Now I maintain that there is a Jar-Jar effect. It&#8217;s when you&#8217;re having a constructive conversation or debate, and one person brings in a subject from which the other recoils so viscerally that the entire conversation is destroyed. As if that person cannot bear to be engaged with Jar-Jar (or Nazis, or George W. Bush) even in an abstract conversation. Jar-Jar effect. Tell your friends!</p>