Fantasy and Horror

J. R. R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, while certainly familiar as allegory for our world, is peopled with impossible beings, such as elves and hobbits. Similarly, J. K. Rowling's wildly successful Harry Potter series sets up a parallel world in which budding witches and wizards refine their magic skills. Unlike regular humans, or muggles, Harry and his friends in Rowling's books practice impossible acts and encounter impossible beasts. Characters in horror stories can be ridiculously impossible, like vampires and other beings from the realm of the undead, or horribly possible, like serial killers.

What science fiction, horror, and fantasy characters have in common is that like all fic-tive characters, they are propelled by desire. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series are successful because her characters are not limited to their fantastic shapes. The vampire, Lestat, is compelling for his human compassion and humor as much as for his invented vampire qualities. Similarly, we are compelled by Frodo Baggins and Harry Potter; although they are hobbit and wizard respectively, their struggles are human. Harry's story is really one of an adolescent boy struggling with his own identity, his relationship to his late parents and to the dark lord Voldemort. Okay, so the average boy does not struggle with dark lords, but most of them dream about such things. And that's the beauty of fantasy; it allows human struggle to take on fantastic form. In a way, seeing our monsters writ large is comforting.

Stephen King, in an essay called "Why We Crave Horror Stories," suggests that we are drawn to horror because it gives an objective shape to the dark thoughts and impulses we try to suppress. Fantasy's appeal is similar. In fantastic worlds, we can imagine our fears into slayable beasts. Although Lord Voldemort is a powerful wizard, we know Harry will eventually vanquish him.

Clearly, fantasy stories work well with an identifiable hero who often has a clearly drawn foe or foil. The examples I have been referring to, Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, provide obvious examples in Harry and Frodo.

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