For as long as narration in any form existed, horror stories of this or that kind have been extremely popular. They are not limited to literature: people told each other scary stories beside campfires long before there was such thing as literature and, for that matter, writing. And the situation didn’t change much in the millennia since then – the media may have changed, today we are being frightened by much more sophisticated methods, including text, audio, video, interactive experiences and so on, but the core remains the same – people simply like being scared. At least until something really threatens them.
Why Do We Like to Be Afraid?
Howard Philip Lovecraft, one of the best-known masters of horror fiction, in his essay on the history of the genre says that fear is one of the oldest and the strongest human emotions, and the strongest and the oldest fear is the fear of the unknown. This is, to put it briefly, what it’s all about. Horror fiction makes use of fears we all keep somewhere in our subconscious: fear of the dark, fear of inexplicable, fear of what we cannot understand or perceive.
We may say that we possess completely scientific approach to life and believe only in things that can be proved; but deep down there is something in each of us that doesn’t think in categories of reason, proof and logic. Some people manage this primal part of their personality better, some worse, but all of us to this or that degree are influenced by it, no matter if we acknowledge it or not.
That is why horror stories – if they are well told – can fascinate even those who don’t like them. They resonate with something hidden deeper than rationality. The world around us is too mundane, too logical, there are too few things left completely unexplained. We know logically that no monsters lurk in the shadows, but somewhere deep inside we still expect them to – or even want those monsters to be real.
An Easy Way to Get Your Adrenaline
Another reason why horror stories are so popular is that they give us an opportunity to tickle our nerves without actually subjecting ourselves to any real danger. Humankind evolved in conditions in which its representatives were constantly surrounded by innumerable threats: wild beasts, enemy peoples, natural disasters and so on. As the civilization developed, humans understood the world around them better and better and were able to weaken the impact of some of these dangers or to neutralize them altogether. Today we are still afraid of horrible things happening to us, but the nature of these things is generally quite explainable and logical.
But the fear of the unknown remains, and to satiate the hunger for it people read horror stories, thus in some way restoring the conditions of the past, at least in their imaginations. So every time you read a horror story you pay homage to this subconscious desire to feel primeval fear once again.