Category Archives: Echoes from Hades

by Richard Gavin

Womb of the Black Goddess: Horror as Dark Transcendence

The goddess Kali, by Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The goddess Kali, by Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During the recent NecronomiCon 2013 — a conference of all-things Lovecraftian held in HPL’s beloved Providence — I participated in a panel on weird fiction. During the lively and interesting discussion, the opinion was expressed that much weird or horrific fiction seems to be written from a “bleak existentialist perspective.” While that may well be true, I was nonetheless struck by how this perspective is anathema to my own.

A survey of the genre may well support the notion that those who create or consume Horror art are a minority of grim realists who have come to accept, and even revel in, the myriad miseries of life on Earth. Their art could be seen as a cry against a society dominated by sun-blinded optimists who waltz blithely through life, convinced of its innate order and pleasantness.

But I suggest that the situation is far more layered than this.

I do not personally write from a bleak perspective, for this implies a state of powerless frustration over a set of natural and societal laws that hold the human species in their thrall. My fiction is a celebration of transgression of all laws, of transformation, and ultimately of transcendence. It is not a nihilistic lament. Read the rest of this entry

Coins for the Ferryman: Horror as the Key to Our Dark Inner Depths

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The analysis of Horror is, like almost everything else related to the genre, paradoxical. Because the genre is so rife with archetypal imagery and taboo subjects, it seems that any attempt to rationalize or understand it in purely intellectual terms is ineffectual, or at the very least inadequate. Whereas most other forms of artistic expression benefit from the acumen of critics who educate the audience on what may otherwise be cryptic allusions, subtext, etc., Horror evidently functions somewhat differently. It is a wholly experiential genre and is therefore judged in large part by its effect, and more specifically by its affect, rather than by its structure.

Enduring works of non-genre (or “literary”) fiction have undergone countless autopsies by critics and would-be-critics, all of whom seem confident that they have pinpointed exactly what makes this or that story tick. Horror, by contrast, almost always manages to slither out from underneath our microscope. Oh, it may bear the explanations we impress upon it for a little while, but rest assured, Horror will always find a way to shed its old skin, which in this case consists of any number of after-the-fact explanations as to what we read and why. And like the serpent, Horror emerges from this molting as a creature even more vibrant and healthy than before.

Perhaps this trickster-like evasion of standard literary or cinematic criticism is to be expected, for any work of Horror worth its saltes draws its power from the deepest spring. Even works that demonstrate ineptitude in some technical areas that critics often highlight as the essence of “good art” can nevertheless frighten or unnerve an audience, and are therefore effective models of the field. Horror’s aim is to speak the unspeakable, to draw its audience up to (and often beyond) the thresholds they use to define themselves. Read the rest of this entry

Art, Mystery, and Magic: A Fireside Chat with Don Webb

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“True mysteries give more energy, more questions every time you find an answer. I truly think that searching after mysteries is the source of the immortalization of the human soul. If I ever write anything that makes someone consider that maybe they don’t know everything about everything, then I have succeeded.”

— Don Webb

Don Webb is many things: magician, philosopher, teacher, literary critic, writer in a dozen different genres, proud Texan. He is the author of the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated tale “The Great White Bed” (2007), the mind-bending mystery novels The Double: An Investigation and Essential Saltes: An Experiment, and the double title The War with the Belatrin: Science Fiction Stories / A Velvet of Vampyres: Tales of Horror. His non-fiction books include Uncle Setnakt’s Guide to the Left Hand Path and The Seven Faces of Darkness.

Don has also been a friend and collaborator for many years. For Echoes from Hades, he graciously agreed to settle in with me for a fireside chat in which he waxed eloquent on art, magic, love, and all things in-between. Read the rest of this entry

In Praise of Horror that Horrifies

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The Horror genre can evoke a panorama of emotions in its audience. Dread, lust, anxiety, giddiness, and even joy often arise, sometimes in paradoxical combinations. Peculiarly enough, it seems that the one emotion the genre evokes most rarely is the one from which its name is derived. In plain speaking, the genre is rarely frightening. In fact, the bulk of contemporary Horror seems to have cast its nets toward other effects. Many contemporary artists in the field are apparently more interested in disturbing rather than frightening.

Now, I’m all for disturbing art, for works that make one ill-at-ease. This is certainly preferable to the current trend of hip, postmodern detachment, a creative mode which suggests the motifs of terror are best employed as mere playthings that can be slyly re-jigged in order to illustrate how fear is so last millennium. Here, cleverness is deemed more virtuous than any attempts to freeze the audience’s blood.

One could argue that these self-referential and detached works are symptoms of humanity’s ongoing process of sophistication. After all, armored with our iPhones, satellite-controlled home security systems, and voice-activated SUVs, the chances of us trembling from the idea of a bogey scratching at the window are somewhat slim, yes?

Yes, slim.

Slim…but not impossible. Read the rest of this entry

To Suffer This World or Illuminate Another? On the Meanings and Uses of Horror

In his interesting book-length meditation, Danse Macabre (1981), Stephen King posited the following theory regarding the intrinsic and perennial appeal of Horror:

Why do you want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the world?

The answer seems to be that we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.

Quite appropriately for somebody with a such royal name, in that passage King effectively gave us the One Theory to Rule Them All, the one idea that would become the ready response to questions about the intrinsic and perennial appeal of Horror. Countless creators and consumers of such entertainment have regurgitated King’s logic over the past three decades, to the point where it has become a convenient catchall that any Horror fan can brandish whenever his or her morbid predilections are called into question. Why Horror art? Because our souls need boot-camp training to toughen us up for when real life comes a-calling, of course!

Simple? Yes. Memorable? Certainly. Useful? Absolutely. But is it accurate?

Although I am an admirer of many of Stephen King’s works, I confess to finding his logic here deeply suspect. The underlying implication of this theory is that Horror is a healthy, even a socially responsible, pastime: no need to worry if your great-aunt Tilly furrows her brow at your movie night selection. Just inform her that the cannibal frenzy she’ll be enduring in lurid, extreme close-ups for the next ninety minutes is for her own good, because it’s steeling her nerves for tomorrow’s lineup at the DMV.

The mind reels at such an absurd imagining. So violently, in fact, that the experience of it raises a fundamental question about the theory at hand, to wit: Does Horror art in any medium truly help us cope with life? And more importantly, must it? Does it require a purpose beyond serving us a delicious tide of frisson and grue? Surely even the genre’s most sophisticated examples cannot honestly be considered life lessons. Or then again, can they? Read the rest of this entry

Deep Shadows and Numinous Horror: Introducing “Echoes from Hades”

The question of whether I found Horror or Horror found me is a longstanding one, and despite much contemplation, I’m no closer to a definitive answer.  Perhaps there isn’t one to be had.  Either way, Horror unquestionably crept into my world early, and with indelible power.

My name is Richard Gavin. I am a Canadian author of supernatural Horror fiction, and although this has been my vocation for the better part of two decades, my relationship with Horror stretches further still, reaching back to my formative years. Given my novice status here at The Teeming Brain, I thought it best to use this initial installment of Echoes from Hades as a form of introduction to this background and my outlook on such things.

One of my initial memories of movies was seeing Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula on afternoon television.  The film’s impact on me was immediate and dramatic.  Monsters and the macabre swiftly became a constant in my life.  And unlike so many passions that erupt in one’s childhood, Horror never lost its lustre for me.

I do not believe I’m being dishonest when I say that my young mind intuited, albeit vaguely, that there was something grand about Horror, something important.  The whole field felt akin to an iceberg: its true significance was submerged, seething somewhere beneath its latex make-ups and Gothic prose. Read the rest of this entry