It has been said that one of the greatest fears next to death and public speaking is the fear of the unknown. I don’t like public speaking, that’s for sure, but the unknown can certainly be a pretty damn frightening thing to behold. Sit there and really think about being dead. Maybe you believe in something beyond, perhaps religion, maybe reincarnation, maybe you think you’ll come back as a tree or a muskrat or something. I don’t know what the hell lies beyond, but if I seriously consider the implications I get pretty freaked out. Let’s face it, any one of us could go at any second, thrust into that great unknown. Are you ready?
I contend that those of you who are believers feel more comfortable with death than I do. I got to thinking about this and I began to wonder about the possibility that speculative fiction, namely the horror genre, is somewhat of a religion, for lack of better term, for those of us who have nothing to look forward to after death.
Through horror fiction I use my imagination to dream about what lies beyond, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, no matter how much it scares me. Maybe it’s nothing, right? Maybe people in coffins become maggot fodder and those of us who choose cremation become nothing more than ashes. End of story.
We’ll never know. That’s the truth. We’ll never know any more than we know what lurks under the bed at night. Nothing, right? No, of course not. We’ll never know what awaits after death anymore than we know what waits down a garbage stinking alley after midnight, what‘s hiding in that abandoned trunk, or what lurks beneath the placid waters of the lake behind the sewage processing plant.
Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” Most if not all speculative fiction has roots in the unknown. Science fiction pushes the boundaries of the unknown in space, time and technology. Fantasy reaches beyond imagination and into the unknown that lurks in other realms. Horror exploits the very fear of the unknown in both reality and the fantastic.
I’m not even about to suggest that those of us who dwell in the unknown and bring our speculations to life should create a new religion of the speculative, but for me reading and writing horror fiction and pushing my mind to its very limits helps deal with the fear of the unknown.
In my latest novel In Black I explore the unknown via a magical black paint that creates portals so dark and seemingly impenetrable that the only way to find out where they lead is to go in headfirst. Could you do that? Anything could be on the other side. It could be Heaven or Hell or something else your wicked imagination can dream up. Or maybe something my mind could dream up.
I’m not sure I would stick my head in the portal. But then again I don’t have to make that decision. Chances are I’ll never have to. What I can do is write a story and satisfy my fears, keep them at bay for a while anyhow, until I write my next story, for this is the way I cope with my fear of the unknown. Welcome to the Church of Speculative Fiction.
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