Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween special: The essence of fear - Supernatural Horror VS Naturalistic horror

"We made up horrors to help us cope with the real ones"
                                                   - Stephen King

Human beings have the tendency to tell horror stories, every culture has it. We are a people fascinated by horror stories, our books and movies are full of them. What attracts us to horror? Is it because through horror stories, we get to take the backseat, and experience our deepest fears as an audience?

If so, what then, is the essence of fear which motivates the telling of these horror stories?

I have some interests in the genre of horror, and it is difficult to find a kindred spirit with similar interest in the Christian community. The truth is, you will probably see a few raised eyebrows and suspicious looks from people in the Christian community, if you openly admit you like horror and research this genre... they will probably tell you to read Chronicles of Narnia or the Bible instead of reading horror stories written by secular authors.

I have a different opinion about horror stories compared to the general church culture. In my opinion, horror stories express mankind's deepest longings, hopes and fears. This means we should not develop prejudice against them.

 Let me explain:

In my experience with the horror genre, I've noticed 2 major types of horror; the supernatural horror, and the naturalistic horror.

Supernatural horror stories, often contain elements such as ghosts, demons, evil spirits, or some sort of mystical creatures not from the natural world. The plots of these supernatural horror stories, often revovles around the supernatural entity wanting revenge against the living. The concept of "vengeful spirits" is historically common in all cultures. Even today, horror stories of this nature appears frequently in horror movies, comic books, and novels. For example, movies such as "The Crow", "Mama", The Grudge". or the comic book "Spawn" all revolve around the concept of vengeful spirits. I wonder, if people tell horror stories about vengeful spirits because it is an extension of mankind's thirst for justice and righteousness?

On the other hand, supernatural horror stories about ghosts and demons often take us into a world not our own, with ideas about after life, good and evil, and a sense of divine order. Perhaps this means people tell ghost stories to help them deal with the fear of one's mortality? Perhaps telling ghost stories, is an exhilirating way to assure us "this is not it", there is more than just this life, and there are meanings to everything.

I call the second type of horror, naturalistic horror. This is a fascinating genre invented by author H.P. Lovecraft. Before Lovecraft came along, supernatural horror stories dominated the genre, and they often tell stories about ghosts and demons. Such as the book "Ghost stories of antiquity" published in 1904. However, when H.P. Lovecaft entered the stage, he turned the genre upside down.

H.P. Lovecraft is most famous for his horror stories about forgotten, otherworldly elderitch horror and cosmic entities, lying dormant in ancient, cyclopean megalithic structures while gazing upon the mankind with indifference. In other words, the real horror of Lovecraft's stories is when he asks us to consider the possibility, that life on earth has no meaning, no purpose, while this ancient universe gazes upon us with indifference... because the universe does not care. It is the fear of the unknown, that should we ultimately discover the utter meaninglessness of life, we should either go mad, or flee back into the blessings of ignorance (see the opening lines of "The call of Cthulhu")

By now, you can probably see very clearly, that supernatural horror is more akin to theistic view of life, while naturalistic horror is resembles atheist view of life.

So you might ask, which version is more reasonable?

Personally, I think both views can be intellectually reasonable, depending on your personal convictions.

However, if we tell horror stories to help us understand our deepest fears, then perhaps we can explore this question from a different angle, by asking a different question: why do we have fears?

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” 

                             - Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

When you name a person, or a thing, have you ever pondered at the significance of it? Not only does a name serve the purpose of identification, but it also speaks for the character of a person, or indicating a position in an establish order. Furthermore, this means the name we give to someone can either build and encourage, or destroy and hurt; names have great powers. So what does it mean, to search for the name of the wind?

Then Name of the Wind, is a fantasy novel. It is written by Patrick Rothfuss, who spend 7 years writing this novel during his pursuit in the degree of BA in English. This is a very well written novel, and have won numerous awards after the book was published in 2007. It is also the first book in a trilogy.


The story follows a mysterious individual called Kvothe, and is told in 2 interwoven parts. The first part is told in the present, describing scenes of Kvothe sitting in an inn telling a chronicler the story about himself, Kvothe revealed his entire story will take 3 days to tell, and The Name of the Wind is day one of his story. The second part of the story is Kvothe's narrative of his story.

Kote is the Innkeeper of Waystone Inn. Together with his assistant, Bast, the duo manage the sparsely used inn. One night, Kote saved a chronicler from an attack from magical creatures known as "fae".Afterward, Kote brought the chronicler to his inn. Subsequently, the chronicler identified Kote's hidden identity is actually Kvothe. A famed magician, musician, and an unparalleled swordsman with a legendary past.

Kvothe agreed to tell the chronicler the true story about himself. Insisting the telling will take 3 days. The story told in day one constituted this book. 

In his narrative, Kvothe revealed in his childhood, he grew up in a troupe and showed considerable talents at learning things quickly. His parents were travelling performers. One day, a mysterious band appeared and murdered the entire troupe, including Kvothe's parents. Left alone in the world, Kvothe told the story of how he survived on the streets of a big city as an urchin, and his eventual acceptance into the University at very young age, to study and became an arcanist (or wizard). But Kvothe's study at the University is just the beginning, a stepping stone that will one day make him one of the most famous legends in the world..

What I think about this book:

The Name of the Wind is very well written. Most of the book is about Kvothe's time spent at the University as a student learning magic. In some ways, The Name of the Wind feels a little bit like Harry Potter, both have scenes of the protagonist studying magic at a school. However, Kvothe is a character with a much stronger personality than Harry Potter.

The pace of the story can become a bit slow at certain places, but I was never bored while reading this book. Most importantly, Kvothe is a fascinating character, full of mysteries. While reading this book, I always wanted to find out find out more about Kvothe and his past. Overall, The Name of the Wind is a great read. If you like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, then you will definitely like this book.