Janz is an author on the rise. He is someone you should know about. I not only gave Children of the Dark a Star Review in Booklist, but it was also chosen by the magazine as one of the Top 10 Horror titles of the year. [More on that tomorrow]
One of the reasons I liked Janz’s book so much is because of the characters. You can see it in the screen shot above. Two of my three phrases to describe the book have to do with his command of character.
I was so blown away by how masterfully Janz constructed this novel [it is perfect from start to finish, and trust me, I read A LOT of horror novels] that I asked him to participate in my blog-a-thon asking him to write:
"A blog post on why you love horror directed at librarians. You can focus on your own work [ie, why you write horror], your own love as a fan of the genre, or your own favorite author. You decide."Below you will see what he sent me. But quickly, I have had these “Why I Love Horror” posts from many authors over the years. All have been good, but never have I had one that is more useful to you, the library worker, from a practical standpoint. In this piece, Janz breaks down why Stranger Things, Stephen King, and Horror itself are so enjoyable to people.
To learn more about Jonathan Janz go here.
Now it is his turn...
"Finding Happiness in the Upside Down: Stranger Things, Stephen King, and Horror
by Jonathan Janz
The television show Stranger Things is taking the nation by storm. People talk about its retro vibe, its attention to nuance, its recreation of a bygone era. But the reason the show works has nothing to do with vintage movie posters or eighties-era cars.
The reason the show works is because it has heart and brains. And in the end, those elements come from the acting and the writing. Most of all, the writing.
Stranger Things is a horror story, make no mistake about it. This statement might be problematic for some, not because of what they believe horror is but because of what they believe horror isn’t. Many readers and viewers want to dismiss the horror genre as a mindless, blood-splattered cesspool. But they’re ignoring the true reasons why people love horror.
Let me explain.
Many of our favorite books and movies and television shows examine human nature. Specifically, they place human beings in extraordinarily difficult situations and chronicle how they react. Dystopian stories examine relatable characters in nightmarish societies. Westerns feature heroes in lawless, violent lands. Fantasy stories take underdogs and allow them to find their courage in the face of unfathomable evil.
Horror does all these things, and it ups the ante.
The more I live, the more I understand how endlessly diverse human behavior can be. Folks can be appallingly cruel. They can also behave with astonishing tenderness. People destroy each other for the pettiest reasons. People also sacrifice their own wellbeing to ensure the safety of others.
This is the stuff of horror.
In Stranger Things we see children thrust into frighteningly adult situations. Their illusions are shattered, their trust is exploited. I’m sorry to say the same things happen in real life.
In the Duffer Brothers’ show, we also see people who’re branded losers, castoffs, or even nutcases find their courage and behave with breathtaking nobility. I’m delighted to report that the same thing does sometimes happen in our world.
Stranger Things shows us that human behavior can be more deplorable than we would have dreamed; the floor for mankind, in other words, is far lower than we wished were true. The show also demonstrates the tremendous human capacity for love, for forgiveness, for loyalty. Which means the ceiling we’d previously placed on humanity is actually far higher than we ever could have hoped.
So what does a TV show have to do with the world of books?
They’re both about the writing.
Stephen King, my favorite horror author of all time, once said his greatest interest is people, a fact that speaks volumes not only about his stories but about the genre in general.
Let’s really examine this fact: The genre’s greatest practitioner is not fascinated by werewolves, zombies, buckets of blood, or spilled entrails. He’s fascinated by people. Sure, he might spray some blood and scatter some viscera along the way, and yeah, I know he wrote Cycle of the Werewolf, but why was that book so good?
Because of its characters.
Which is why Stranger Things works. Like the kids in Stephen King’s The Body (which ultimately became the film Stand By Me), we genuinely care about the young people in Stranger Things and want them to prevail. We’re sickened by the callousness and dishonesty of some of the adults in both stories, and on a primal level, we suffer with the kids because we understand their pain.
And this, I think, is at the heart of great horror. Our favorite stories speak to us on a personal level. In our favorite tales, the connections between us and the characters are deep.
In horror those connections are soul-deep.
Think about The Body/Stand By Me. Have you ever felt ignored by a loved one? If you have, you know how Gordie LaChance feels when his folks mourn their elder child but forget to love their younger one.
What about Chris Chambers? Have you ever suffered because someone close to you drank or did drugs? How about Teddy Duchamp’s situation? Have you been judged because of someone related to you? Have you ever been physically abused? What of the mental illness alluded to with Teddy’s father? Many of us have grappled with our own issues or watched in anguish while those we love struggle with their own inner demons.
These situations—neglect, abuse, addiction—are nightmarish. But they’re straight out of our world. The best horror uses supernatural (or natural) evil as a lens with which to examine humankind. In other words, the best horror is concerned with people. Not mindless gore or spilled entrails (unless, of course, we care about the people being vivisected…)
So for those of you confounded by the horror genre, just remember this:
Horror refuses to shy away from depicting the depths of human depravity, and it also boldly dramatizes the limitless ceiling of humankind’s nobility.
Yes, horror is the genre of terror, but it’s also the genre of empathy. The genre of love.
I love horror for all these reasons and more.
The final episode of Stranger Things: Season One is called “The Upside Down,” a designation that refers to another dimension, a spooky shadow side of the world we know.
In our world, the horror genre is the Upside Down. Reading great horror takes guts because horror’s greatest writers possess the ability to disturb us, to frighten us, to wound us.
But we’re better for the experience. After surviving a great horror tale, we appreciate our loved ones just a little bit more, and we understand the human condition to a slightly greater degree. We might be troubled by some of the things we’ve read, but we’re just as often encouraged. Inspired, even.
Because horror, as paradoxical as it sounds, might be the most hopeful of all genres. That no doubt comes as a surprise to some who believe it’s relentlessly nihilistic. And sure, some horror is nihilistic.
But not all horror. Not Stranger Things, not the books of Stephen King, not the vast majority of horror novels that leave their mark on the world.
So consider entering the Upside Down with us. It’ll be scary, but you’ll be better for the journey.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Stephen King book to read…