Arthur Paul Patterson
is another way of reading or viewing horror which keeps us blind to the
value of being horrified. Earlier I mentioned Nightmare on Elm Street.
While it may have some value in clarifying adolescent transition, I consider
it sub-horror or part of the "slasher" genre. Slasher enables
us to see without recognizing ourselves at all. If we allow exaggerated
savagery and blood lust to distract us from genuine fear, horror becomes
vulgarity or stupidity. If we expose ourselves to monsters so hideous
they become hilarious then horror becomes comedy. The film history of
Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus is replete with degrading
parodies on the original book. Film director James Whale and Boris Karloff
may have started the trend in Whale's reinterpretation of Frankenstein
in 1931. He made the monster into a grunting buffoon, so sub-human it
couldn't talk, never mind quote Milton. Whale's version of the monster
was used to demonize anyone who was of another race or ideology. The Creature
was so unlike ourselves that when we looked at him we saw no correspondence,
nothing of our nature.
MARY SHELLEY'S NOVEL Frankenstein has more to do with everyday
relationships than with the misuse of science or how to enjoy a good
"gore fest". It is Horror but its ghoulishness involves the
way that we treat each other and how self-centered we can be when chasing
our ambitions. I prefer to watch Nightmare on Elm Street than
view my own monstrous ways of relating to others. Mary's novel won't
allow me that kind of distraction.
I imagine that I live
in a shadowy theatre where an unbelievably frightening scene is about
to overwhelm me. I have the choice of putting my hands in front of my
eyes or looking directly into the gruesome screen. "If it scares
you so much, why look?" you might ask. I look because there are
eye-opening benefits in being horrified. To confront horror enables
me not only to test my courage but to check my discernment, that is,
my ability to see through things. What is it that I am really afraid
of? Is it the scarred monster conjured up on the screen that frightens
me or my dread of not being in control of what happens moment by moment?
Is my fear that I am ugly, miserable and sometimes violent? Is there
anything in my life that is actually worth being horrified or scared
of? How do I relate profitably to my nature without either denying or
being engulfed by its dark side? Mary's novel keeps me posing questions.
Mary nudges me out of my normal way of seeing things by keeping me scared.
I look because I search for a revelation of the "darklight"
which will transform me, perhaps cause me to take life more seriously
or value what I have. Without contrast, the ability to tell the differences
between things, how can I detect good or evil? "Everything is beautiful,"
only when there are some genuinely ugly things to compare things with.
There are some benefits in watching Frankenstein as comedy. By
looking at a horrific scene-turned-hilarious, we give ourselves permission
to laugh and not take our foibles quite so seriously. We project ourselves
onto the screen and belly laugh at what would normally be enough to crush
us. Better to titter at it, joke about it, and allow horror to creep part
way up our throats even if only in the form of a joke. Better that than
to not see horror at all, to live in the giddy bliss of sunshine with
a heart full of malevolence. Young Frankenstein or Vampire in
Brooklyn are perhaps our best bets when in need of this sort of horror
you are worried about "grossing the kids out," I have latey
discovered that the PBS series Wishbone will introduce children
to Frankenstein without terrifying them beyond their developmental
stages. Wishbone is a little dog who enters the classics of literature
in a way that children can understand. Surprisingly, Wishbone has entered
Frankenstein in the episode called "Frankenpaw". Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) and The Purloined
Letter (Edgar Allen Poe), are also featured by Wishbone.
As you read the essays imagine yourself on holidays, perhaps around the
campfire. In this way, you will be following the example of Mary Shelley
and her romantic friends telling tales of horror and macabre. In the summer
of 1816 they sought to open each other's eyes wide in horror and in transformation.
Mary invites us to follow her:
"I busied myself to think of a story - a story to rival those which
had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears
of our nature and awaken thrilling horror- one to make the reader dread
to look around, to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.
If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy
of its name."
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© Copyright 1996 by Arthur Paul Patterson, Winnipeg, Canada