By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist
It will soon be Halloween, the unofficial kickoff of the holiday marathon season.
This is the time when I encourage my freshman English classes to have fun, writing either a story or memoir of a seasonal nature. Those who have no affiliation with All Hallows’ Eve/All Saints’ Day still have to complete the assignment, focusing on some other creative possibility.
Each year, some students become so enmeshed in the assignment that it grows into a novella. Thus the topic of the past few days, by way of generating creativity, has been “contemporary horror situations.”
Put in other words, I asked them to explore, and gave out some examples of, things which frighten us that, 100 years ago, would not have been possible save in the mind of a sci-fi writer.
As an example, we took a look at the song, “2525”,the 1969 hit by Denny Zaeger and Rick Evans. It is there, anticipated easily only 40 years ago: some of the things which ought to terrify us, if they don’t.
A brainwashing pill.
Genetically engineered births.
Humans melded to machines.
And in the next to closing stanza, ecological disaster.
What are the terrors of today? How has our concept of what frightens us changed in the past century?
The old terrors of the night have been replaced by new ones, terrors more in line with what we actually ought to fear.
I do not know if it is possible for a child who is trick-or-treating to design a costume as a genetically engineered person. The theme, of course, has spawned some classic horror films, dating back to when we realized that such a thing was possible-post WWII awareness of atomic or nuclear radiation, etc.
The sci-fi craze of the fifties was certainly a response, often tongue in cheek, to this new awareness — awareness that, by now, many of the readers have grown up with.
What of a brain washing pill?
Mood levelers are certainly an important and reliable source of balance for some, and in some cases, even a lifesaver.
What if, in some diabolical bait and switch, these pills were to be made capable of mind control?
Interestingly enough, in the class discussion which gave me the idea for this column, one student posited the idea that this is already happening; we just don’t know it.
Simulations show us how easily a person might conceive of living his or her life through the medium of a machine. I have never heard of a machine which actually makes the user believe that he is immersed in the experience, though I guess some that come close are almost in existence.
All of the above are present in Zaeger and Evans’ apocalyptic song.
In the course of this week, we also looked at some writing by the early twentieth century pulp fiction horror master, H.P. Lovecraft. Necromancy, Satanic covenants, bewitched objects, and beings that cross time and space leave him squarely in the middle of 1920s style horror and science fiction.
The things that frighten us most, Lovecraft would have had no context for, though he would doubtless have used them, if he had.
To end with a beginning, paraphrasing the beginning of a wonderful Peter Straub novel — What frightens you the most?