I have always held a significant fondness for the horror genre. Despite the fact I scare easily, believe there is always a ghost lurking nearby and I cringe at the sight, or thought, of gore, horror is still one of my favourite literary genres. I think it can be a truly difficult genre to write – you have to grasp the readers attention and fear from the first page or scene. Modern audiences aren’t that easy to scare, either. Well, most modern audiences – I am part of that audience and I sleep with the lights on whenever I watch that Supernatural episode with Bloody Mary.
It could be argued it’s a desensitisation issue – we are exposed to a lot more violence and gore than audiences before us. Or it could be argued that people simply don’t know what’s scary any more. Jump scares may frighten some (I.e, me) but they don’t frighten many. When discussing horror, however, it is difficult to do so without mentioning its reigning King.
With a career that has spanned over four decades, it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific novel within those years that truly defines the work of Stephen King. If someone hasn’t read any of his books (which is often a rarity), and asks for a recommendation, I often find it difficult to mention simply one. Do you want a horror story or not? How much time can you dedicate to it? Are you more scared of clowns or children? What are your thoughts on badly written sex scenes? Though many may disagree, I always find it is best to go back to the start.
Carrie (1974) is King’s début novel that portrays a heart-wrenching story of a young girl who just wants to be accepted by her peers and her mother. She is taunted for her religious beliefs and punished for becoming a woman. Alongside womanhood arriving, she begins to re-experience telekinetic powers that has laid dormant for years. Isn’t puberty just a kick in the teeth?
Though we are only given a brief glimpse into her life, it is quite easy to distinguish that it hasn’t been a pleasant one. When one of Carrie’s classmates, Sue Snell, quietly offers a chance of happiness, Carrie jumps at it and accepts an invite to prom. You know what they say though, happiness is fleeting.
In what is perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in horror literature, Carrie is drenched in pig’s blood shortly after being crowned Prom Queen, ruining her only moment of glory and bliss. Her fleeting experience of joy is shattered and replaced by embarrassment and rage. It is then that the audience, whether they’re reading or watching, understands the true power of Carrie. She begins to wreak chaos on the town, specifically attacking those who had all but destroyed her before she had even reached adulthood.
Carrie returns home, after having killed many of her classmates, to her over-zealous religious mother, Margaret, who is probably worse to her than any bully at her school. She locks Carrie in a tiny cupboard that holds only a frightening religious shrine when she finds out Carrie has had her first period, in order for her to repent for her ‘sinly’ ways. She reveals to her young daughter that she’s a child conceived from marital rape. But, Margaret is still terrified of her own daughter and the powers she knows Carrie possesses. Even so, she is her mother and Carrie’s only source of sanctuary. When Carrie returns she is broken and bloody, seeking solace and kindness from her mother – it is then that Margaret stabs her, believing it was the only way to rid “Satan” from her daughter’s body.
Carrie, who loves her mother dearly despite how she treats her, kills Margaret. She collapses and, after forgiving Sue Snell who had been following her path of destruction, Carrie dies whilst crying out for the woman who justified attempting to kill her by claiming she was possessed. It is utterly heartbreaking.
Carrie is terrifying, for me anyway, because it’s relatable to an extent. This young girl is fragile and naïve, seeking only guidance from her mother and acceptance from her peers. She is met, however, with only cruelty, anger and spite. She is wrong for practising religion. She is wrong for becoming a woman. She is drenched in pigs blood because she’s a victim. She is punished for existing.
The world is unkind to her, so Carrie becomes just as ruthless. Her anger manifests itself into her powers and she feels no mercy as she slaughters everyone around her, until her mother becomes one of her victims.
It is difficult to distinguish if this is even a horror story. Without the added telekinetic ability that quietly builds during the novel, it would be hard to identify what genre this would be. As I was reading it, however, it did become frightening to me how I ended up routing for this young girl during her murderous rampage. It felt cathartic and justified. Would I actually feel this way, should this telekinetic travesty occur in real life? Probably not. But having multiple insights into the character, from media coverage to Sue Snell’s account of the incident, not just one third person perspective, gives us a more well rounded view of why she did it.
In the end, young people like Carrie White still exist. People who can’t seem to find a place of a refuge no matter where they turn. Hell, there was a point in my life where I was Carrie White. It’s how society looks after and treats them, that determines if their life ends like Carrie or Matilda.
Pet Sematary (1983): Zombie warns man in ‘dream’ to not bury loved ones in zombie cemetery. Man does not listen. Chaos ensues.
The Shining (1977): “No TV and no beer make Homer something something…” “Go crazy?” “DON’T MIND IF I DO!”
IT (1986): You’ve seen the film, you’ve read the Tumblr posts sexualising a clown demon, now read the 1,000 page novel to see where the thirst began!