Now we move past post one hundred to that most hideous of numbers. Time to delve into the ruins which are the ultimate horrors for each of us.
Room 101 is the perfect torture chamber. In 1984, Room 101 is inside the sickeningly named Ministry of Love and it’s within those walls where people get confronted by their own personal worst nightmare. In the book, Winston Smith has to deal with rats as his own personal hell, there to so crush his spirit that he’d be willing to push the person he loved the most into the metaphorical fire rather than face it himself.
Each of us has that deep dark fear. That primal terror that bypasses everything we’ve built up and just spears into the lizard brain. The dark, spiders, heights are the would be classics but we all have that special one thing that goes so far beyond all other fears we may have, outstrips all other horrors we hold leaving us naked before it’s power.
As a writer, I enjoy horror as a genre but how easy is it to make a story as scary as possible for as many people as possible, rather than just aim for that single, specific thing which may only grip a very small handful?
I’m currently reading a horror novel, the review of which will be on Goodreads eventually, and something I’ve noticed in what’s been done, is that the author has placed a great many ‘fears’ that the reader could identify with into a close proximity in the narrative. There are comments regarding familial dysfunction that the protagonist experiences as a child, the disappearance of a son, the dark, monsters of the deep, a worldwide plague and travel to the bottom of the ocean and the subsequent claustrophobia. As I was reading, I found myself getting drawn to a level of fear, not because of what was taking place on the page but by the sensations of me being in those ‘classics’. The narrative wasn’t doing the scaring as much as it was making me recognise how I would have felt in all of those situations. Rather than he story itself being bed-wettingly scary, it was the tapestry of images in my head of being in those situations in the real world. An example would be the disappearance of a child.
I’m not a parent. I couldn’t imagine the pain of actually being confronted by such an awful plight but I know that I’d never wish it on anyone. I have what could be described as an almost ‘common empathy’ for anyone who was in such an awful situation, but the author threw this fragment of the backstory into the mix alongside other nasty bits which had a more personal effect and it was that accumulation which did the trick of making the passage more harrowing.
So horror isn’t just about the knife wielding maniac or the monster under the bed. That most horrific sensation can be brought about by the build-up of smaller pieces to create the whole, making the little things do all the damage as each fragment smiles as it chips away at the mental strength of the person reading it until there really isn’t anything left to defend against the reveal of the monster.
That was a part of how Room 101 worked. You were already being so gently destroyed mentally that when your nightmare was finally unleashed, there was no way you’d be able to do anything but crumble.
Horror done well is a thing of beauty. Like the perfect execution of all manner of tasks, it’s always a finely balanced sum of it’s parts.