Two children in a time of economic recession are abandoned deep in a forest by their parents, mainly because of the promptings of their hateful stepmother. However, they don't die as anticipated but come upon a house made of biodegradable foodstuffs. They start to eat, but unbeknown to them, the house belongs to a cannibalistic old woman...
Wait just a moment! This is beginning to sound awfully
Horror is about evoking emotions - fear, apprehension and dread. I imagine that as a child when my mother told me the story of Hansel and Gretel I felt pretty darn scared- good thing I was cuddled up to her, all snug and safe. As a teenager I read Bram Stoker's Dracula tucked up in bed before going off to sleep (with some difficulty, I hasten to add!). In the second chapter after quite a lot of bulging eyeballs and suggestive genuflection from peasants, which the story's hero has dismissed as nothing more than bucolic superstition, he finally arrives at You Know Who’s Castle! When the Count implores Jonathan Harker to cross over his threshold with "Welcome to my house! Enter freely of your own free will" - I was shaking my pimply adolescent head with deep foreboding. Yet, while my common sense was yelling "Don't be a fool! Go back!" - at exactly the same time another part of me was urging him on. Let's face it, it wouldn't have made a very good book if Jonathan Harker had given himself a sound talking to at this point. Imagine if he'd said to himself, "Blimey! Don't care for the cut of this chap's jib. That's the dodgiest cove I ever did see! Think I'd best make myself scarce!"
In real life the last thing anyone in their right mind would do is enter that castle!
However, as the main protagonist in a horror story, it is Jonathan Harker's duty to do just that! He would have been letting countless generations of readers down if he hadn't entered that castle. Imagine how dreadful it would have been to have been spared from hearing the Count utter, once he's entered his lair, that most chilling of lines, "... and leave something of the happiness you bring." Which I have to say even after all these years still makes my hair feel a bit funny!
I'm pretty certain that we human beings have been sitting around telling each other creepy tales since speech was invented. I suspect it may even be important in some way to a child's development to be frightened whilst at the same time feeling safe and nurtured. The need seems to continue as we grow older - particularly through adolescence. Are the Hannibal Lecter books dark psychological thrillers or are they horror stories? Is Alien sci-fi or is it horror? I reckon we used to sit around the campfire outside the communal cave telling tales to scare the pants off each other (or bearskin perhaps?). When a Niedermayer & Hart reader has got in touch with me to say how much they enjoyed the book but that they found they could only read it in the daytime - my chest expands with pride!
So what is the difference between a so called fairy story and a horror story?
I honestly don't know.
Quite possibly just the fact that it would be deemed unusual to be found on your mum's knee whilst reading a horror story? Unless of course, you'd been brought up by a woman who was extremely possessive and never allowed you to grow up. Who knows, perhaps she didn't let you to mix with other children - especially with girls. Possibly the only strangers you ever really saw were the occasional visitors who arrived at your small backwoods motel...
This is beginning to sound awfully familiar again!