How Horror Stories Can Be Good For You

How Horror Stories Can Be Good For You

Scary Stories Which Help Fight the Darkness

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

Popular Right Now

Playboy: America's Favorite Magazine, China's Favorite... Clothing Brand?!?!

What are they doing wearing THAT?!??!!!

We just kept seeing it.

Not necessarily in abundance or anything like that, but still…

We did see it often enough for it to pique our curiosity. It was definitely around – there was no denying that. From shirts to socks to other random items of clothing, its presence did not go unnoticed by us.

When I noticed it on the sock of the guy sitting next to me during lunch, I secretly took a picture of it using my iPhone and showed it to my roommate. Is that what I think it is? Hell, we even noticed it on the front of our tour guide’s collared shirt as she was showing us around a hydrology laboratory. Geez, it’s present in lab settings, too? What was going on here?

By now, I'm sure you're wondering what "it" is, right? Well, you don’t have to wonder any further; I'll tell you. The "it" that I am specifically referring to is none other than the simple, easily recognizable, and famous Playboy bunny logo. Yep, you read that right.

Staying true to its image of a cute, little bunny rabbit, the Playboy logo seemingly followed us around, quietly hopping from one random piece of clothing to another. It would appear, then disappear, then reappear out of nowhere, just like a rabbit going in and out of its hole in the ground. However, as fitting as this all may sound from a metaphorical standpoint, the semi-frequent sightings of the bunny logo were weird and out of place to us Americans.

“Is this really a thing over here or what,” we were asking ourselves. “Hmm…”

By “we,” I am referring to the small group of American college students from Western Michigan University I was part of that was studying abroad in China at the time. This was during the first summer semester of 2017. We were over there for two weeks, spending time in both Beijing, the country’s capital, and Lanzhou, a city not as globally known as the capital. For all of us students, it was our first time visiting China.

It was a memorable, stimulating overseas trip filled with new experiences. From the learning to the tourism to the food to meeting new people, the trip was very well-balanced. Still, none of us expected something such as the Playboy logo to pop up from time to time. I guess you just never know what you’ll see when you travel abroad.

In the United States of America, the famous Playboy bunny is synonymous with adult entertainment and eroticism. Fancy mansions, pool parties, girlie magazines, and promiscuity are what we think of when we see it. Take the picture below, for example; it features scantily clad models in bunny outfits who fit Western culture’s standard of beauty. The image is a spot-on representation of what can typically enter the mind of an American consumer when thinking about Playboy.

Such is not the case in China, however. As we would find out toward the end of our trip, Playboy is merely another everyday clothing brand, albeit a popular one. There is nothing raunchy or sexually suggestive about it at all. Who knew? Talk about getting some much-needed closure.

The picture below is a spot-on representation of what Playboy means to the Chinese consumer. Quite different from that first depiction, don’t you think?

So, there you have it. That’s the explanation. Knowledge is power. Cool beans.

Oh, wait. There’s just one more thing I have to add: Shout out to Hugh Hefner!

Cover Image Credit: Andrew Mager | Flickr

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Comedian Aziz Ansari's Sexual Misconduct Showed Me That 'Time's Up' For Ignorance

My reaction to Aziz Ansari's sexual misconduct allegation

OK, so I think by now we’re all aware of the trend in today’s Hollywood. More and more sexual misconduct allegations are coming to light, and more and more of my beloved Hollywood idols are slowly revealing themselves to be the opposite of who I’d envisioned them to be. Take the latest wrongdoer. You may know him as the creator of Netflix staple, "Master of None" (easily one of my favorite shows on the streaming service) — the funny, incredibly likable Aziz Ansari. Who would’ve thought that he’d be the next star to be shamelessly exposed? When I first heard the news, I glared at my cracked phone screen in confusion, then leaped to my laptop for further sleuthing. It appeared the situation had a narrative like so...

Girl named Grace meets Ansari at an LA party.

Grace is starstruck by Ansari, and luckily for her, he likes her, too.

Grace gets his number, and the two chat it up in New York,

Grace agrees to go on a date with him and gets ready for what she thinks will be a beautiful night.

Now THIS is when it all starts going downhill.

Ansari rushes through a date at an upscale restaurant and quickly gets ready for desert.

Grace returns to his house and reluctantly accepts Ansari’s sexual advances.

Ansari asks for more, and Grace is clearly not willing.

But Grace does some of it anyways and leaves Ansari’s residence in tears

Grace is then too afraid to tell her story, until she sees Ansari again.

But this time, he's on TV at the Emmy Awards, proudly boasting a “Time’s up” pin as he braves the stage.

And there you have it, but of course, that's not the end of the story. As many of the convicted do, Ansari released a statement in which he said he was "surprised and concerned" that Grace was not comfortable, referencing the text he received saying so the morning after their encounter. After “taking the time to process” her words, Ansari responded that he really "took her words to heart" and responded "privately."

This situation just goes to show that even those who wear the ‘Time’s Up’ pin and vocally support female victims of sexual harassment and assault still do not understand what sexual misconduct is. They may see themselves as completely different from the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but it is equally just as bad to support a cause that one simultaneously perpetuates. I’m sure there are hundreds of Ansaris in Hollywood, nice guys who make a wrong move without knowing, but it’s 2018; people have to learn the difference between yes and no. The time’s up on excusing this type of ignorance.

Cover Image Credit: WikiMedia

Related Content

Facebook Comments