So, my horror-reading jag continues, sort of - I don't exactly get a lot of time to read these days.
But it's got me thinking about other reading jags of mine. I spent almost two months last year reading nothing but fairy tales, retellings of fairy tales, and critical essays on fairy tales. And it occurred to me that perhaps these two reading jags are not unrelated. It's fairly common knowledge, at this point, that Disney pretty much eviscerated the raw power of the original tales collected by people like the Brothers Grimm and Straparola -- if you spend time with the original tales, there's plenty of horror to go around, and yet it doesn't quite qualify as horror fiction. There are important differences that I'm exploring imaginatively at the moment.
The following is typed pretty much verbatim from a free-write I did, and in it I'm working out the delicate balance between dark and light in my own aesthetic. I imagine that balance is different for everybody, but at the moment I feel like a tuning fork, striking some clear, precise note between horror and happy endings:
Horror is always lurking in the darker corners of fairy tale -- cutting out a young princess' heart, cooking children for dinner, killing wives and keeping them in a bloody chamber...ugh. But what I like about fairy tales is that those dark corners are offset by brighter shades, by the glittering gold of happiness and beauty.
Horror, true horror, is in actual fact a bit too dark for my aesthetic. Though I read Swamp Thing to the end of Alan Moore's run and feel that I got a lot out of it, it was too grim for me. I like a hint of the macabre, but too often in horror it takes over and the darkness is unrelieved.
I like the way fairy tales gesture at horror, at chaos, at darkness, without dwelling there for too long. It does seem rather as though, if you chase the horror too much, if you deliberately linger in the bloody chamber, you can just keep going into ever-deepening dark corners that just grow narrower and narrower but never actually end, as though the actual corner were some kind of asymptote or event horizon which you never reach. From the horror of the threat of incest in "Donkeyskin," you find yourself with the actual presence of a dead uncle reanimating the dead body of your husband in Swamp Thing...and the images are horrible, crawling bugs and rotting zombies...it can always, always get darker. You never actually reach the heart of darkness, but really, do you want to? Aren't you more interested, really, in the light that escapes from it?
Being focused on bottoms, on the roots and limits of evil, leaves you like Gollum, like Matt Cable with his disgusting fantasies. It turns you into Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness; master of your own horrible empire of death. A little bit of the macabre is great, is a good reminder of the speckled, spare, and strange that is truth, but it's too easy to be like some Gothic heroine, edging towards darkness with perverse fascination.
Better by far to explore the mysteries of the light, as though we were all versions of Stephanie Meyer's vampires, who glitter with a thousand colors in sunlight, with so much to see.