Ruthanna Emrys is an author based in Washington, DC. Ms. Emrys recently had an opinion piece circulate through National Public Radio about how reading horror stories can actually help us to survive and make sense of our own horrifying world. We are all about the power and value of a good horror story right now at the Commonweal as Scott Dixon’s new adaptation of Dracula: Prince of Blood makes its way to the stage later this month. The timing of this article could not be better because, honestly, who doesn’t appreciate a good tale of things that go bump in the night?!
Reading Horror Can Arm Us
Against A Horrifying World
by Ruthanna Emrys
Tom Lehrer famously said that satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet here we are, still struggling to exaggerate the follies of power until power can’t get around us. Horror has much the same resilience. As terrifying as the world becomes, we still turn to imagined terrors to try and make sense of it. To quote another favorite entertainer, Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Horror, descended from those tales, tells us about more monsters — and more strategies for beating them.
The banal evils of the world — children shot, neighbors exiled, selves reframed in an instant as inhuman threats — these are horrible, but they aren’t horror. Horror promises that the plot arc will fall after it rises. Horror spins everyday evil to show its fantastical face, literalizing its corroded heart into something more dramatic, something easier to imagine facing down. Horror helps us name the original sins out of which horrible things are born.