How Horror Stories Can Be Good For You

How Horror Stories Can Be Good For You

Scary Stories Which Help Fight the Darkness
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There’s a million-dollar question which comes up at Halloween: “Why do people like horror stories?”

In other words, why on earth do people like scary stories about terrible things happening?


I began studying horror stories when I was about seventeen. I did this partly because I was curious about the appeal, and partly because I wanted to be able to scare readers if I needed to. I’ve read or listened to four or five horror writers discuss their work, and three of them have made the same defense: horror stories can be a kind of vaccination.


Stephen King suggested this in his book “Danse Macabre,” commenting that when horror stories have happy endings they reaffirm the belief things will work out in the end.


Dean Koontz, a thriller writer who uses horror elements in his work, said something similar in his essay "Keeping the Reader on the Edge of His Seat," collected in “How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction." He claimed stories such as “Psycho” or “The Exorcist” can “purge us of the psychological muck that is a residue of getting through life’s bad moments,” and that if those stories have well-developed and honorable characters they may even teach people how to face terrible situations.

Essentially, these writers were both arguing horror stories can help you face dark things and deal with them. This is a sound theory -- psychologists use this principle in exposure therapy, where patients gradually expose themselves to whatever frightens them until they overcome their fears. The problem is neither Koontz nor King really gave strong examples; they didn’t explain how a particular horror story helped readers face darkness.

Which brings me to the third author.



Neil Gaiman has written various horror stories, most notably the children’s book “Coraline.” Gaiman began writing “Coraline” as a gift to his daughter, who enjoyed scary stories but couldn’t find many for someone her age. The story follows a young girl, Coraline, who discovers a secret door in her new home. The door leads Coraline to a parallel dimension with a woman who has black buttons for eyes, her “Other Mother.” The Other Mother seems nice at first and Coraline considers staying until she discovers the price involved…


Needless to say, “Coraline” is a scary book and when Gaiman first described it to his agent and publisher, neither thought it was publishable. By the time Gaiman was finished writing it though, book publishing had changed -- according to Gaiman, books series like “Harry Potter” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” proved that there was a market for darker children’s stories. Ultimately, “Coraline” was well-received and adapted into a 2009 film.


When people ask Gaiman about how scary “Coraline” is, Gaiman often responds that actually kids rarely tell him the book scared them and that he wrote it with a very positive takeaway.

“When I [started writing] ‘Coraline’,” Gaiman explained in one interview, “I thought, ‘I am going to make my villain as bad a villain as I can… and I’m not going to give Coraline magic powers, and I’m not going to make her some kind of special Chosen One, and she’s not going to be a secret princess or anything like that -- she’s going to be a smart little girl who’s going to be scared and is going to keep doing the right thing anyway, and that’s what brave is. And she is going to triumph by being smarter and braver.’”


Over ten years since “Coraline” was released, that takeaway has had some results. Gaiman mentioned in his talk at the 2014 BIL Conference that in a recent book signing tour, he discovered women in their twenties were regularly showing up with copies of “Coraline” for him to sign. They almost always had cheap, battered copies that were printed when those women were still teenagers. The women were always holding those books tightly, and when they finally reached Gaiman they would tell him how reading “Coraline” got them through difficult times.

These young women all mentioned traumatic pasts, usually ones that involved abuse or bullying. But reading a story about a brave little girl who stood up against worse circumstances either motivated them to persevere or provided a necessary escape.

Horror can be instructional. Horror can be illuminating. Horror can help people if horror writers create stories which show truth and light at the end of dark corridors.


Cover Image Credit: Mathew MacQuarrie

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It's Time To Thank Your First Roommate

Not the horror story kind of roommate, but the one that was truly awesome.
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Nostalgic feelings have recently caused me to reflect back on my freshman year of college. No other year of my life has been filled with more ups and downs, and highs and lows, than freshman year. Throughout all of the madness, one factor remained constant: my roommate. It is time to thank her for everything. These are only a few of the many reasons to do so, and this goes for roommates everywhere.

You have been through all the college "firsts" together.

If you think about it, your roommate was there through all of your first college experiences. The first day of orientation, wishing you luck on the first days of classes, the first night out, etc. That is something that can never be changed. You will always look back and think, "I remember my first day of college with ____."

You were even each other's first real college friend.

You were even each other's first real college friend.

Months before move-in day, you were already planning out what freshman year would be like. Whether you previously knew each other, met on Facebook, or arranged to meet in person before making any decisions, you made your first real college friend during that process.

SEE ALSO: 18 Signs You're A Little Too Comfortable With Your Best Friends

The transition from high school to college is not easy, but somehow you made it out on the other side.

It is no secret that transitioning from high school to college is difficult. No matter how excited you were to get away from home, reality hit at some point. Although some people are better at adjusting than others, at the times when you were not, your roommate was there to listen. You helped each other out, and made it through together.

Late night talks were never more real.

Remember the first week when we stayed up talking until 2:00 a.m. every night? Late night talks will never be more real than they were freshman year. There was so much to plan for, figure out, and hope for. Your roommate talked, listened, laughed, and cried right there with you until one of you stopped responding because sleep took over.

You saw each other at your absolute lowest.

It was difficult being away from home. It hurt watching relationships end and losing touch with your hometown friends. It was stressful trying to get in the swing of college level classes. Despite all of the above, your roommate saw, listened, and strengthened you.

...but you also saw each other during your highest highs.

After seeing each other during the lows, seeing each other during the highs was such a great feeling. Getting involved on campus, making new friends, and succeeding in classes are only a few of the many ways you have watched each other grow.

There was so much time to bond before the stresses of college would later take over.

Freshman year was not "easy," but looking back on it, it was more manageable than you thought at the time. College only gets busier the more the years go on, which means less free time. Freshman year you went to lunch, dinner, the gym, class, events, and everything else possible together. You had the chance to be each other's go-to before it got tough.

No matter what, you always bounced back to being inseparable.

Phases of not talking or seeing each other because of business and stress would come and go. Even though you physically grew apart, you did not grow apart as friends. When one of you was in a funk, as soon as it was over, you bounced right back. You and your freshman roommate were inseparable.

The "remember that one time, freshman year..." stories never end.

Looking back on freshman year together is one of my favorite times. There are so many stories you have made, which at the time seemed so small, that bring the biggest laughs today. You will always have those stories to share together.

SEE ALSO: 15 Things You Say To Your Roommates Before Going Out

The unspoken rule that no matter how far apart you grow, you are always there for each other.

It is sad to look back and realize everything that has changed since your freshman year days. You started college with a clean slate, and all you really had was each other. Even though you went separate ways, there is an unspoken rule that you are still always there for each other.

Your old dorm room is now filled with two freshmen trying to make it through their first year. They will never know all the memories that you made in that room, and how it used to be your home. You can only hope that they will have the relationship you had together to reflect on in the years to come.


Cover Image Credit: Katie Ward

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To Percy Jackson, I Hope You're Well...

Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Heroes of Olympus are both series which helped shape my life. I want to share my love for them here, with you.

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Two days before I moved from New Jersey to California, I had a late night at a friend's house. Just a few miles outside of my small town of Morris Plains, his house was out of the way and a safe haven for myself and my mother during a harrowing and strenuous move. My father had been across the country already for almost two months trying to hold down his new job and prove himself. His absence was trying on me (at the tender young age of nine years old) and my mother, and we often spent time at my friend's home, as our mothers got along well.

That night came the time to say goodbye for the very last time, and as our mothers were tearfully embracing at the door, he ran up to me and shoved a book in my hands. Bewildered and confused, I tried to give him my thanks but he was already gone - running away in a childish fit that expressed his hurt at my leaving more than any words he could've said. I looked down at the book in my hands. It was a battered copy of Rick Riordan's "The Lightning Thief," with its binding bulging slightly out in a strange fashion, the cover slightly torn and bent, and quite a few pages dog-eared. The book wasn't in good condition, but I took the time to read it. I was ensnared and enchanted by the lurid descriptions of mythology, of the lovable characters of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, and the upside-down world they lived in. Over the course of the move and our eventual settling into our new California home, I devoured the series adamantly, reading "The Battle of the Labyrinth" almost five times in the fifth grade and eventually finishing out with "The Last Olympian." The series accompanied me through a difficult move and a whirlwhind of early puberty; by that time, Percy and friends I knew intimately as my own companions. When the series ended, I happily parted with it, and began other literary conquests (namely in the realm of classics).

After an almost year-long break, I re-discovered the series in sixth grade. I hadn't realized that there was a companion series to the first, in fact, a continuation - The Heroes of Olympus. I lapped up "The Lost Hero" and "The Son of Neptune" with greed, and eagerly awaited the arrival of "The Mark of Athena" the following year.

One of my most vivid memories of middle school was sneaking downstairs the morning of the Kindle release of "The Mark of Athena", sneaking past my parents' bedroom as stealthily as I could in the wee hours of the morning to get my kindle and immerse myself in the world. I believe I finished it in about two days. For the next two books in the series, I followed the same pattern: get up early, read it as fast as I could get my hands on it. "The Blood of Olympus", the last book in the series, came out in my freshman year of high school. After finishing the second series, I shelved my much-loved paperbacks for good, and turned myself to other literary pursuits. I eventually relocated to Virginia, and went to college. Percy and friends were almost forgotten until my first year at the University of Virginia.

I was devastatingly alone my first semester at university. I didn't know what to do with myself, entombed by my loneliness. However, at the bottom of my suitcase, I found my old Kindle Paperwhite, with both of Percy's series neatly installed for me. I made a resolution with myself: I would reread both series, reading only at mealtimes where I sat alone. By the time I was finished, I wanted to see where I was compared to when I started.

Re-reading the series was like coming home. It was nostalgia, sadness, and ecstasy wrapped into one. I delighted in revisiting Percy's old haunts, his friends, his challenges. However, it was sad, knowing I had grown up and left them behind while they had stayed the same. It was a riveting memory train which made me look forward to meals, and eased my loneliness at school. Gradually, as the semester progressed, I was reading on Percy's tales less and less, as I found my friends, clubs, and organizations that gradually took up more and more time.

I still haven't finished my re-read, and am about halfway through "The Blood of Olympus". I've come a long way in the almost decade since I first received that tattered copy of "The Lightning Thief", and I still have some ways to go. So thanks, Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Jason, Piper, Reyna, Nico, Frank, Hazel, Leo. Thank you for growing up with me. I'll never forget you.

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