By Kerry Alan Denney
Ghosts, Monsters, Aliens, and Other Dreadful and Dangerous Creatures
…and lions and tigers and bears, oh my! We may as well toss vampires, dragons, werewolves, demons, chimera, zombies, and shape-shifters in the mix too. Why do we love to tell scary stories? Better yet, why do we love to be scared by them? What’s with the rampant worldwide fascination with being creeped out, thrilled, frightened out of our wits, given nightmares, and being filled with dread of the unknown? It’s much more than just a pop culture phenomenon; it’s a timeless fascination with all things morbid and freakish that has been passed down from generation to generation ever since we lived in caves and gathered berries and hunted game for all our food.
Humans have been entranced by the unknown since ancient times when storytellers sat around campfires and mesmerized their captive audience with stories meant to frighten them. It’s in our basic nature, as irrefutable and irresistible as the urge to procreate. Here are a few of my own answers to the age-old question “Why do we love to be scared?”
• Humans are naturally curious. As evidenced by mind-boggling advances in technology, we constantly strive to learn more about how our universe works. Only a few short years ago, the Hubble telescope took pictures of billions of galaxies never before seen and barely even imagined, proving the universe is far more vast than we can even comprehend. Dark matter and dark energy were only recently discovered, and quantum physicists are working overtime to unlock the nature of their previously hoarded secrets. Even the vacuum of space between the stars has a life of its own! We want to know more about the unknown, and learn the secrets of that which cannot be readily perceived with just our five senses. As Shakespeare so famously said, there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. We want to open that locked door and get a peek inside to see what exists beyond.
• We’re adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. Anything that gets our blood pumping faster and our spines tingling with chills also gets our minds thinking harder. We constantly test the perceived limits of our abilities and awareness. Jules Verne wrote a wildly fictional story about a manned submersible craft, and someone decided to invent one. Wilbur and Orville Wright decided that man should be able to fly, and made it happen in 1903. U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager flew in the X-1 aircraft that broke the sound barrier in 1947. And despite the supposed mathematical impossibility, scientists, engineers, and physicists are constantly seeking to achieve faster-than-light travel. New species are being discovered every day, from the darkest, deepest fathoms of our oceans to the frozen wastelands of the Arctic. Maybe somewhere in our world there be dragons and monsters. Sometimes it seems we need only to imagine possibilities, and some intrepid explorers discover them or some amazing geniuses make them come true. Who knows what astounding discoveries or fantastic inventions may come next?
• No other subject is more fascinating to the human mind than the possibility of some form of life after death. It’s the greatest, biggest secret we can imagine, and because of our natural curiosity, we seek to breach that barrier. From classic ancient literature to modern day fables, stories of an afterlife abound, with ghost stories at the top of the list. I even wrote a novel about the afterlife world, and am seeking to get it published. Some people spend their careers and even lifetimes trying to prove the existence of ghosts, because doing so would prove the irrefutable existence of an afterlife. It would not only change the world, it would also change the entire basic nature of humankind. Even life itself would forever after be perceived differently. Maybe, if we knew for a certainty that an afterlife existed and if we were lucky and smart as a species, we would even stop killing each other and embrace and cherish this too-brief existence we call “life.” If we did that, we might even wake up from the primitive, barbaric infancy of our evolution as a species and learn how to explore the universe together. Maybe not, but that is the nature of dreamers such as myself: In order to make the big dreams come true, we must dream big. And I freely and happily admit I’m one of the biggest dreamers of all.
• Scaring each other is fun! That cannot be denied: the proof is all around us. Creating a story that fascinates and enthralls the masses for multiple generations is a hallmark lifetime achievement, a watershed accomplishment that leaves a legacy that survives well past the short lifetimes of their creators and endures beyond into that afterlife that so many of us spend our lives trying to prove exists. This is historically proven by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Dante Alighieri, Robert Louis Stevenson, and even by the fear-inducing classic paintings of the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, among countless others. And it’s a perfect example of how words have the power to outlive their creators and survive even the test of time, the legibility of the paper, or the decay of the computer files on which they’re originally written. What writer wouldn’t want to be remembered as the man or woman who nearly scared the world to death?
• Finally, I’m going to use one of my own personal examples to answer the question. In a sci-fi/ horror novel I wrote—whose title is too cool to share until it’s published—one of my young protagonists named Cyndi, who writes monster stories, asks her friend Mick, another protagonist who takes her under his wing, “Who needs creepy stories when they’re happening all around you?” Here is Mick’s answer: “The world will always need stories. And people will always need to be scared, so they’re reminded of what’s precious. And be better prepared to fight to preserve it, when the time comes to stand or fall.”
And that, my friends, is why we’re so in love with scary stories, and having the dickens frightened out of us: They remind us of what’s precious, of everything in our lives that’s worth fighting for and preserving.
I’m happy to hear you share YOUR ideas and answers! Please feel free to post your replies in the comments section below this article. And keep your eyes peeled, your mind open, and your senses alert: you never know when the monsters may be coming for YOU!
Pre-order Kerry’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi/ horror thriller JAGANNATH coming from Permuted Press February 3, 2015.