Contents
  Notes &
Permissions
  Preface & Acknowledg-
ments
1:
Introduction
2: Horror in Literature and the Literature of Horror
3: The Marvelous Horror Thriller
4:  The Fantastic/Uncanny Horror Thriller
5: The Aesthetics of the Horror Thriller: Stoker's Dracula
6: The Pure Fantastic Tale of Terror
7:  Anticlosure: Poe's "Ligeia"
8: The Entrapped Critic:
Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
9: The Master's Trap:
James's The Turn of the Screw 
10: Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy
11: Terror and the Sublime
Sources
Index

 
 
Chapter Three
The Marvelous Horror Thriller
 


 
 
I

     In the marvelous tale, according to Todorov, events take place that violate the reader's conceptions of natural laws, but the characters behave as if the events were normal. Both Todorov and Rabkin point out that this is the fictional world of the fairy tale. Indeed, in "Hansel and Gretel," no one questions the existence of a rich witch in the woods who builds a house out of food to trap children or of a white bird to lead the children to her or of a duck to help ferry them back home. Likewise in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (1950), there are no questions about the possibility of space travel, though it had not yet happened when the book was published. The existence of Martians, the physical conditions on Mars, the possibilities of interactions between humans and Martians -- these are just as marvelous as witches and obedient wild ducks. Bringing science fiction and fantasy into the marvelous along with fairy tales, shows the mode's extensiveness. We might go even further by mentioning the marvelous sympathy among some members of the Bundren family in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying or the marvelous power of poetic justice in Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Like Todorov's uncanny genre, his marvelous genre shades off into all of literature, where the marvelous appears in many guises, depending to some extent on what constitutes natural law for any particular cultural group.

     The problem of defining fantasy is so vexed that a digression may clarify matters somewhat. It is difficult to construct a generalization to distinguish all of the works readers are inclined to call fantasies from the rest of literature. A fuller and more sophisticated illustration of this problem is available in the essays of Gary Wolfe, C. N. Manlove, and W. R. Irwin in Roger Schlobin's collection, The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art. Perhaps the simplest clarification for this study is to note that my purpose is not to define fantasy at all, though inevitably I find myself using the term. Instead, I am concerned with a group of works that seem to share the main purpose of frightening their readers. Some of these works, notably those under discussion in this chapter and in chapter 5, have characteristics, including violations of natural law as conceived by Western civilization in the late twentieth century, that would lead most readers to classify them as fantasies. For the purposes of understanding the pleasures of terror, what seems more important is that by means of such violations, authors can introduce supernatural monsters into their tales of terror. And even more important is the attitude toward these monsters (or possible monsters) that the authors create. Therefore, while it may be true, as Manlove argues, that Todorov's definitions of the fantastic and related genres are of little use to theorists of fantasy (Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature 27-28), these definitions are quite useful for understanding the literature of terror. Indeed, it seems finally that Todorov is not concerned with fantasy as an approach to representation so much as he is interested in the experience of the fantastic that appears almost exclusively in some examples of the tale of terror. Finally, it may prove helpful to observe that though the definers of fantasy tend to include marvelous and fantastic tales of terror in fantasy, these tales do not fit there comfortably. Manlove, for example, excludes from fantasy most of the Gothic tradition because the supernatural appears either to be explained as illusion or to be symbolic of unconscious fears (22).

     Perhaps more to the point, when tales of terror make use of the marvelous or the apparently marvelous, they seem to take pains to insert the marvelous seamlessly into our world. The most effective marvelous tales of terror seem pointedly placed in worlds contemporary with their readers. Of course, in the early Gothic romances and in the more horrifying fairy tales, we see marvelous horrors in worlds quite distant from our own or even from the worlds of the original readers of the texts. Generally speaking, though, such tales, if they ever had much power to horrify adults, have not retained it in any great degree. H. P. Lovecraft approaches the completely otherworldly tale of terror in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," but Randolph Carter's journey begins from a firmly established twentieth-century United States. While it ought to be possible to place a really effective marvelous tale of terror completely outside the known universe, I have not yet run across such a story (see George P. Landow in Schlobin, Aesthetics of Fantasy 138-39). The reasons for this will become clearer as we look closely at more tales of terror. Preliminarily, we might guess that tales of terror do not promise the kind of direct escape from "the real" that we associate with fantasy.

     Like Todorov, Rosemary Jackson is also more interested in explaining tales of terror than in treating all of fantasy in her book, Fantasy; this is because she wants to discuss the subversion of the real. To subvert everyday reality, one may be forced to represent it, but in such a way that its gaps appear. Jackson finds fantasies such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, conservative and repressive because they attempt to create myths that cover over the gaps in our linguistic constructions of reality (153-56). Kathryn Hume's anatomy of fantasy as a mode of representation in Fantasy and Mimesis may be more satisfying because it allows for multiple uses of fantasy: escape, introducing new realities, improving reality, and making reality unknowable, this last incorporating Jackson's function of subversion. We have seen that uncanny tales of terror take place, more or less, in our world and that they tend to become subversive as they become ambiguous. They offer novel sensations and the normal escape of aesthetic experience, which is always disengaged from the practical. Likewise, marvelous tales of terror, even though they present the supernatural, tend to take place in worlds represented as essentially like our own. They also become subversive as they become ambiguous.

     Many tales of terror are like fairy tales. As long as there is no appearance of fantastic hesitation, the marvelous tale of terror appears to take place in a world where supernatural events are likely to be taken as normal. This is the case, for example, in many of the ghost stories of M. R. James. In "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" and in "The Ash-tree," characters encounter supernatural monsters without ever doubting their reality. Indeed, the narrators and the reader easily enter into a world where such events, though rare, are quite possible. In this world evil takes physical forms that persist through generations. People who forget or who become skeptical about the reality of evil accidentally make themselves its victims. James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) may be seen as an antiquarian's fantasy of revenge on those who either fail to respect his profession or who practice it with insufficient respect for the past. Stephen King, whose works provide a catalog of the kinds of popular horror story, comes close to this kind of story in "The Mangler" (Night Shift, 1978), about an ironing and folding machine that accidentally becomes possessed by a demon with a taste for human flesh. Though there is some momentary hesitation in the characters who conclude that the machine is possessed, this hesitation is not foregrounded in the story. Instead, the omniscient narrator concentrates on building the demon into a horrific power. Dramatic irony and ironic humor help to build the demon/machine into a grotesque, annihilating monster. The reader fears for the characters who will become its victims.

     The tale of terror that uses the marvelous has available an opportunity for terrifying readers that the uncanny tale of terror does not; it can present supernatural monsters. In the stories we have just glanced at, except for "Hansel and Gretel," this opportunity is not exploited. M. R. James and King present such monsters primarily as physical threats; the "spiders" of "The Ash-tree" and the mangler simply destroy their victims in particularly gruesome ways. In "Hansel and Gretel" as in many fairy tales, according to Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment, we see the supernatural monster used to suggest or embody psychological evils and terrors. The witch is clearly like the wicked stepmother in her willingness to sacrifice the substance of the children to sustain her own life. By dealing with the witch, the children magically remove the stepmother and provide financial security for their family. The story takes the pattern of a forced journey into the self, represented as a land of magic, away from the world of hunger where pigeons and kittens do not wave good-by from the roof, and into a world where animals may be friendly. At the center of that world is the witch who stands for the stepmother. By exercising their customary perception and intelligence in this world, the children can dominate. What do they dominate? Apparently, the image of the stepmother. Their triumph is essentially mental, deriving from their development and use of imagination. Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is a more horrific adaptation of these themes, for there Eleanor fails to escape the evil mother.

     In the more complex and contemporary fairy tale with a monster, King Kong (1933), we see a similar journey with a similar effect. Andrew Griffin argues that Kong represents the unconscious, specifically, Ann's sexual desire "just as big as she feared it would be if she ever gave in to it" (1). I think Kong is more complex, for he is also placed in the context of consumerist capitalism, where the arousal and satisfaction of primitive sexual energy are exploited for profit. Denham, the filmmaker in the movie, is involved in creating misogynous myths that help to sustain this exploitation. He tries to harnass Kong to these myths, but in the battle between Kong and the technological monsters of modern civilization over who will possess Ann, Denham destroys Kong. In this context, Griffin's conclusion about King Kong and monster films in general seems more provocative. He says the film shows its viewers that they are capable of handling their dangerous desires and reassures them that they need not fear "loss of control and loss of identity" in acknowledging and dealing with those desires (17). This interpretation seems on the mark with regard to the repressed lovers who escape an unhealthy, absolute repression of sexual desire in their journey to Skull Mountain and back. However, it misses the point of the second half of the film, the difficulty the lovers confront in New York, where they must maintain a healthy sexuality in the face of the repressive powers that crucify Kong on the Empire State Building.

     "Hansel and Gretel," King Kong, and Griffin's comments shed light on the particular power that becomes available to the tale of terror when it exploits supernatural monsters. If the supernatural monster is constructed to represent the collective repressions of its viewers or readers, then the images of these monsters may transcend the immediate functions of the monsters in advancing the plot and speak directly to the reader. If the repressions they represent are powerful enough, the real reader may be terrified at what arises within himself as he imagines these monsters. Griffin suggests that modern monster films help us, at least intuitively, to acknowledge and gain control over these desires. These ideas reveal two major problems for the marvelous tale of terror once it begins to make its monsters psychologically suggestive. First, the danger of permanently alienating the reader from the text increases once one tries to address the unconscious fears of all humans and those peculiar to a given culture. Second, the question of why any reader would voluntarily read such texts becomes more insistent. Griffin shows something of what may be gained by reading these texts or viewing the movies, but we need to say more about whether and how the effect he describes contributes to aesthetic pleasure in the concretization of such works.

     The writers of marvelous tales of terror usually make their monsters seem natural. Their discoverers do not question their appearance in the world because they result from a scientific experiment, as do Frankenstein's monster and Mr. Hyde, or are visitors from outer space, as are Lovecraft's Old Ones in At the Mountains of Madness (1939). Such monsters are not greatly different in the way they are made to seem normal from the monsters in Clara Reeve, Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, and Charles Maturin, who might be seen as writing a religious as opposed to a secular Gothic fiction (Jackson 23-26). Though these earlier works may suggest quite different cultural assumptions in their authors and original audiences, their effects on readers are likely to be rather similar. Critics generally agree that marvelous tales of terror share the purpose of providing "safe" terror (see, for example, Birkhead 190-91, 221).

     Rosemary Jackson has brought together the best recent thought on the subject and, therefore, has helped to clarify the idea of "safe terror" (chs. 2, 3). She argues that Gothic fantasy, in general, allows the contemplation of transgressions that we naturally but unconsciously desire. We repress these desires in favor of the continuity of self and culture. This idea accounts for the more sensational themes of the Gothic tradition: sexual violence and perversion, incest, cannibalism, and Faustian power. It also accounts for the tendency of these themes to manifest themselves through supernatural agencies, for these desires, coming from our unconscious, seem to come from external sources of unlimited power. From this point of view, the thrills of the marvelous tale of terror arise from the creation and release of the tension of unconscious identification with the transgressors and their victims. Such tales promise and then give the reader an objectification of the forbidden, which one can experience vicariously through observing the actions of characters and which can be contemplated safely over distancing barriers.

     Safe terror is distanced terror. In most works of the Gothic tradition, terror is the experience of characters. The implied reader's role is that of sympathetic onlooker. The general situation in these stories is familiar. A reasonably interesting character undergoes a series of adventures, many of which are terrifying. These adventures usually involve the supernatural. In the process of these adventures, the character's isolation increases, he or she comes to feel that the world that was once a home has become an alien mystery, finds his or her reason threatened, and either is victorious over opposing forces or is defeated and perhaps destroyed. This general story line shares, in all its many variations in all types of tale of terror, the intent of arousing highly intense suspense. In the marvelous tale of terror, suspense leads to a character's encounter with the terrifying, which provides the reader with the thrill of horror, which is a culmination and usually a partial release of the tension of suspense. This release is a principal element in creating the illusion of closure. Through identification with the character and often through involvement in a well-wrought mystery, the implied reader is brought as near to the terrifying occurrences as is possible, short of being exposed to them directly.

     The marvelous horror thriller is especially concerned to satisfy Bullough's principle of the antinomy of aesthetic distance: "the utmost decrease of distance without its disappearance." This is, indeed, what we would expect, for should the distance between the terrific image and the implied reader collapse, the aesthetic distance between the reader and the work would be threatened and would most likely collapse. The image in the work and, therefore, the work itself would become a real threat to the real reader, and the concretization of the work would never be completed. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness is especially useful as an example of the marvelous horror thriller because Lovecraft is so cautious in his creation of distance and closure.
 
 
 

II

     H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness is a fairly typical example of the marvelous tale of terror. We can see continuity between it and the older Gothic tradition in traces of conventions, such as the isolated castlelike setting, the repetition of the traditional story line, and the central theme of the Faustian quest for forbidden knowledge. The tale takes the form of a scientific report on an expedition to Antarctica, which warns not to continue the exploration of this continent. Lovecraft goes to considerable length to sustain the illusion of reading an actual scientist's report. The tale is circumstantially complete enough to bring the marvelous well into the realm of the plausible. The incredible creatures and places Dyer, the scientist, reports are remote, outside ordinary experience rather than totally unnatural. In this way, Lovecraft is able to insert the "impossible" monster into a natural world like the one we believe ourselves to inhabit. Lovecraft's method of telling the story encourages the implied reader to become a citizen of that world and to take seriously the implications of the world view at which the tale arrives. To take that world seriously within the work is to open oneself to the thrills it offers.

     The story "reveals" that human beings are descended from organic matter left over from that which the original life on Earth created for its food and as a source of labor. The Old Ones came to Earth before there was any life and created the organic cells from which known life has evolved. Over a multimillion year history, marked by wars with other space beings, the Old Ones declined in technical skill and power, coming finally to occupy only a portion of Antarctica. In the last ice age they migrated into an abyss beneath their Antarctic city and were apparently subdued there by organic slaves of their own creation, the Shoggoths. It appears that the Shoggoths now rule beneath the ice-locked city of the Old Ones. In this cosmic tale of decline from power toward final extinction, human beings prove unimportant, merely the spin-off of greater events and higher civilizations. The humans who "rule the earth" are, after all, perhaps less powerful relatives of the Shoggoths. Furthermore, there is, to the west of this city, another higher mountain range that strikes terror in the "hearts" even of the Old Ones. In this tale, the meaning of that terror is only implied, but the clues add up to the idea that the Old Ones relate to that location as humans relate to the Old Ones. In those mountains of madness is an opening onto yet another universe, the inhabitants of which control the fate of the Old Ones. Dyer's discoveries hint that the Shoggoths and other beings that the Old Ones have feared are connected with these western mountains.

     The general picture is of a universe of walls or frontiers. Behind each wall is an unknown world that is vitally involved in the existence and meaning of the known world, yet that may have no particular concern for the known world. To those others, the known world may be utterly inconsequential. The terrors resulting from the breaching of one of these walls are the central terrors of the tale. What might happen should we insignificant humans call attention to our presence?

     Dyer's expedition from Miskatonic University enters into prehuman history when it unearths and haplessly thaws out several Old Ones who had unexplainedly entered a state of hibernation in a tunnel millions of years ago. These scientists breach a wall between universes, which provokes the horrors of the destruction of the exploring camp. Dyer and Danforth's experiences of these horrors and, then, of the various terrors at the abandoned city isolate them, replace their familiar world with an alien and threatening world, and virtually destroy their reason. They take in the forbidden knowledge of a world beyond, which, Dyer repeats, impinges blasphemously upon their own world. Danforth sees more than Dyer, more than reason can bear. While Dyer remains rational enough to write the report, Danforth breaks down.

     It is helpful to look at the thrills these discoveries provide the reader from two points of view: their content and the way in which they are presented. The general tendency of the horrors Dyer and Danforth experience is to push mankind into an even smaller, even less important, even more fragile corner of the cosmic drama. Before the massacre at the western camp, they are members of a scientific expedition unlocking the secrets of a universe that they believe they understand. The power of the human mind is unquestioned. The interest of humanity in their work is electric, for they represent mankind at its most ingenious and in its most noble guise. The massacre raises questions about human nature, since the researchers believe that only human agency could reasonably account for the burial of the specimens, the raiding of the camp, the absence of one member, the careful dissection of another, and what appear to be signs of cannibalism. The discovery and exploration of the frozen city humbles the scientists. It is immediately clear that the city's builders far exceeded current human technical ability. Then they learn from the city's admirable art enough history to see that their specimens belong to the race that built the city, that those monstrous beings created beauty and strength, that they fought on a grand scale to preserve a tremendous civilization, that time and conflict weakened them, that these Old Ones were the creators of earth life as we know it, and finally that these magnificent beings are themselves the victims of powers beyond themselves that they have participated in unleashing. Humans become less important while their universe becomes alien and threatening. These scientists, as well as the Old Ones, have transgressed forbidden barriers.

     The blasphemy of the discoveries is multiple. These men lose a sacred universe, not merely the universe created for humans by God, but even the indifferent universe of science, which is assumed to be open to human intelligence and manipulation. Certain mirrorings reveal other levels of blasphemy. The scientists dissect an Old One clumsily. In the massacre the Old Ones dissect a scientist clumsily, as if unfamiliar with this specimen. As the scientists collect artifacts from the tunnel, so the Old Ones collect artifacts from the camp. Dyer and Danforth's discovery of this chain of events humbles them still more, for they shift from being scientists to being specimens themselves. Furthermore, they have participated in the violation of their creators and are profaning what is in a sense a holy place, the womb of their own creation. Yet when the Old Ones show equal interest in a dog and in a man and equal lack of consideration for the self-consciousness of either, they too reveal a lack of reverence for significant life, even though they consider it their property. There is a poetic justice as well as pathos in the subsequent destruction of the Old Ones by the Shoggoth, a destruction that mirrors the previous dissections. The creature destroys the creator that awakened it to life, as do Hyde and Frankenstein's monster.

     The mirrorings emphasize the blasphemous transgression, the breaching of walls. Each breach is a terror and a violation. The central image of horror in the tale is the Shoggoth itself. After its appearance, Danforth has a vision of the far western mountains, and among the suggestive words connected with that vision are "proto-shoggoths, the nameless cylinder, the primal white jelly, and the eyes in darkness" (1971, 109-10). All of these terms relate to the Shoggoth and suggest that it is connected in some way, which the Old Ones may not have understood or, at least, fully appreciated, with the evil powers associated with the western mountains. If this association is plausible, it implies a monstrous breach between three separate worlds, those of the unknown powers of the West, the Old Ones of the mountains of madness, and mankind. To contemplate the effects, should mankind disturb the possibly quite fragile barriers between these worlds, is to see the necessity of preserving these walls. We, too, may be proto-Shoggoths, protected from the invasion of transforming forces only by our obscurity and lack of importance in the universe. These are the general fears that prompt Dyer to warn humanity not to approach the borderlands between the worlds.

     The appearance of the Shoggoth specifies that terror. Dyer and Danforth encounter the Shoggoth in a smooth round tunnel when they attempt to catch a glimpse of the abyss in which the Old Ones may have built a new underwater city when the polar ice cap formed. When they find several Old Ones killed in the manner portrayed in pictures of a war against rebellious Shoggoths, they realize they are being pursued and flee. The men are isolated, trapped in the bowels of the earth and pursued by something that they only glimpse as they successfully evade it. It is a gigantic intelligent wormlike being of infinite plasticity that oozes through its cave as a subway train speeds through its tunnel. Its face undergoes transformations, gives off lights and sounds of the Old Ones as it bears down on them. Dyer says it moves like a piston in a cylinder and that its odor is unbearable: a "plastic column of fetid black iridescence oozed tightly onward through its fifteen-foot sinus, gathering unholy speed and driving before it a spiral, rethickening cloud of the pallid abyss vapor" (105). This image suggests transgressions of many kinds: pursuit by living excrement or by a plastic self-animated phallus or even some new birth from the womb of the earth. The Shoggoth kills by sucking off the head. Such images imply the breaking down of many kinds of barriers, especially those between the conscious and the unconscious. Monstrous desires bubble out of the unconscious to devour the ego. Identity is threatened by a [a] plastic ability to mimic any image.

     These suggestions of nightmarish terrors could frighten the reader away from the work. But it seems clear that this is not Lovecraft's intention: even here at the climax of the story, the images are not so particularized as to force the reader to see all of the possible implications. Following the recommendation of Poe, his mentor, Lovecraft makes suggestions that the reader may pursue as far as he is inclined (Jacobs 174-5). Furthermore, it is not the real reader, but the implied reader who is invited to explore these images, to interpret them in relation to Dyer's warning. Since the implied reader need go no further to make sense of the tale, the greater danger is that the real reader will discover too disturbing an identity between himself and the self he creates in response to the terrifying images of the text. Then the aesthetic attitude will dissolve, and the work will be transformed from an object of aesthetic contemplation into an enemy for the real reader. Lovecraft is concerned about this possibility and makes special efforts to preserve the aesthetic attitude and to protect the real reader. He supports aesthetic distance in several ways, and he builds into the text some tools to help the implied reader resist the terrors of the final images.

     The creation of suspense is itself a distancing technique. In many Gothic tales suspense is primarily on behalf of a highly sympathetic character whose well-being is threatened. In Lovecraft's tale the reader's suspense is focused more fully on mystery. These characters are in danger, but the reader is more concerned to understand the meaning of Dyer's warning not to explore Antarctica. Both sympathy and mystery, as grounds of suspense, help to keep the reader's attention on the story and to hold the terrifying images at a distance. The reader desires to see the forbidden and to understand the warning, but the vision is held off. Holding off the vision produces suspense, and suspense itself keeps the intelligence focused away from itself. On the one hand, suspense heightens thrills by exciting the reader's fears and desires; on the other hand, it insures distance by directing those fears and desires toward characters and events in the fiction. The implied reader is kept separate from the real reader.

     The ways in which Lovecraft handles suspense reinforce aesthetic distance. From the beginning, the implied reader expects to be shown why Antarctica should remain unexplored, and reminders of this warning recur. The reader is conditioned to see terror and receives ample warning before each particular frightening episode. Each time a specific terror is not the terror, the implied reader gains experience and psychological preparation for the next terror. By the time the Shoggoth appears and Danforth has his vision -- which together constitute a warning not to enter this borderland -- the implied reader is ready for a shock, a thrill. In developing his suspense Lovecraft has followed established practice; however, he adds another element, which seems to suggest a desire to be especially cautious.

     Lovecraft displays at least two quirks likely to irritate readers, a penchant to overuse certain words such as blasphemous and a need to make Dyer and Danforth look slow-witted. While the former may be a genuine defect of style, the latter contributes to the protection of the implied reader and is used by other writers, as Stoker does in the second section of Dracula. The scientists are almost incredibly reluctant to voice the more obvious hypotheses that their discoveries suggest. The implied reader is in a position to note the circumstances of the massacre and to infer that the specimens were alive and intelligent. He knows there is a city in the mountains belonging to these beings, takes the first hint that these beings created the life that led to human life, and . . . . In short, any good reader who successfully enters the role of implied reader is always far ahead of the scientists in his inferences and may find the narrator irritatingly slow. Dyer's motives for his slowness are adequate: scientific caution, a reluctance to cast aside his world view, and personal terror at what may be encountered. Still, the narrative can irritate the implied reader, who easily races ahead and watches the narrator fumble toward what he already knows. Insofar as it looks like incompetence, this technique may spoil the story for some real readers, but nevertheless, its purpose -- to create an implied reader who is superior in comprehension to the narrator -- also serves to protect the implied reader.

     While shielding the reader, his superiority to the narrator also draws the reader into the marvelous world. The reader becomes committed to the scientists' inferences before the narrator states them, increasing their plausibility because they are the reader's discoveries. The impatient waiting for confirmation from the scientists adds to the suspense and, paradoxically, brings the reader closer to the scientists. Each time the implied reader's inferences are confirmed, he has participated in making the case. The interests of implied reader and scientists coincide more and more closely; the implied reader is drawn with the scientists into the world of the marvelous.

     The reader's superiority to the scientists disposes him to look beyond what Dyer is willing to say. This pattern becomes especially important at the end, when the content of the warning must be inferred from the image of the Shoggoth, Danforth's vision, and the other patterns of the story. Lovecraft wants the reader to substantiate the content of the warning, to specify it in his own imagination. He sets up a pattern of response that makes such inferences likely. It is important to notice that this indeterminacy is resolvable, for the reader can easily connect the unconnected and make the story whole.

     The implied reader's superiority to the narrator also builds confidence, which, on one hand, strengthens the implied reader against the terrors, but which, on the other hand, most likely betrays him at the end of the story. As the reader continues discovering the tale's "secrets," he meets the challenge of the warning. Foreseeing the terrors leads to power over them. Dyer, at one point, expresses fear that his tale will attract rather than repel explorers. Ironically, it does attract the reader who eagerly and rather confidently plunges into the story to savor forbidden knowledge at a comfortable distance from the borderland. Lovecraft draws the implied reader into that land and encourages prideful participation in the raid. The reader knows before Dyer that they will meet a Shoggoth but is kept from any clear conception of its appearance and, therefore, of its "meanings" until the monster becomes visible to the narrator. While Lovecraft has prepared the implied reader for shocks, he has not given away the conception of his monster and the inferences that may follow from seeing it. To understand the reason for the warning, and, thereby, to complete the role of implied reader, the reader must go on alone at the end of the text to connect Dyer's experience to his warning. Antarctica is to be left alone not because there is a monster there, but because the powers that may converge in that monster are sinister beyond human comprehension.

     While the scientists are humbled, the reader gains confidence in his ability to deal with the terrors of this world. The implied reader is drawn into this world and given a semidelusive power over it. Then the reader is shocked by powerful images, which reveal the limits of the power of the mind in this fictional world. The point at which distance is most likely to break down -- when the real reader is most likely to feel directly threatened by the story -- is at the appearance of the Shoggoth, not because the real reader does not have numerous barriers and defenses, but because the image itself is so suggestive of feared violations. There are violations of the body that are also clear symbols of violations of the soul: rape, sodomy, being devoured, being engulfed in excrement, or being born with a monster or as a monster, perhaps from the anus. The appearance of the Shoggoth provides the greatest thrill in the story; considering it reveals something of the nature of that thrill.

     From the time that the implied reader is warned, he is also promised. If he perseveres, he will see "the thing that should not be": he will share the forbidden knowledge of the narrator. This direct appeal to the Faustian motive is satisfied by the end of the tale, when the reader takes in the Shoggoth and its meaning in the story. Another element in the thrill is the satisfaction of desires generated within the story. The desire to see the forbidden within the story is analogous to the desire to witness transgressions, which Jackson and other theorists see as central to fantasy as a mode.

     I want to briefly introduce the concept of trangression now. Central to the concept are the ideas developed by Jacques Lacan in his essay "The Mirror Phase as Formative of the Function of the 'I.'" Jackson summarizes Lacan's elaboration of Freud's description of the transition from primary narcissism to a recognition of the existence of others. In the mirror phase the child shifts from a perception of all objects as scattered parts of the self to a recognition of the self as an object of perception, as if seen in a mirror: "This self is the ego, and becomes the means of self-definition and identification. The mirror phase effects a shift from the 'body in fragments' and an 'asubjectivity of total presence' (Lacan) to the ideal of a whole body with a unified (constructed) subjectivity" (88-89). Jackson emphasizes the degree to which this idea of the ego is closer to Freud's concept of the superego, that it is a cultural construct, that is, an ideal of self offered by culture to an individual. The individual then attempts, insofar as it is possible, to become that ideal of a unified psyche in a whole body. My idea of transgression, like Jackson's, refers to a desire to "remember" or to relive vicariously the experience of the premirror stage when nothing was forbidden. From the point of view of a formed self, the experience of being unformed appears as non-linguistic polymorphous perversion. To suggest such an experience in language and symbol requires the naming of that which should not be, which has no name, which we seem inevitably to imagine in "terms" of what our culture most violently forbids. In Jackson's view, then, fantasy, insofar as it allows some form of violation of cultural norms, is subversive of those norms, a Dionysian force that can renew the Apollonian law.

     Transgression is a motif in At the Mountains of Madness. The movement of the plot invites the implied reader to transgress human limits and takes the reader into a "holy of holies" that is explicitly an analogue of the human body and implicitly an analogue of the mind. As the reader nears the vision of the abyss where the creative/destructive powers have withdrawn, he encounters the monster that "means" transgressions as it rushes out to devour all in its path. This image can be tremendously powerful to a susceptible mind. It seems clearly related to the primal anxieties that John E. Mack, a Freudian, sees as central to the regressive nightmare, especially the overall fear of the disintegration of a weak ego in the face of an assault by a powerful other, the submerged id (209-14). Whatever the reader's level of susceptibility, as long as distance is maintained, this image may also satisfy a desire to reclaim or at least look upon images of the lost selves of the unconscious premirror phase. The story satisfies that desire in a general way with an image amorphous and inclusive enough to touch on a variety of fears of transgression and violation. Part of the thrill of the image includes this actual brush with the truly forbidden. The contents of the reader's unconscious are called into play by the suggestive image, and the reader must deal with the resulting anxiety to complete the concretization of the work.

     This thrill is the goal of the most powerful of the marvelous tales of terror. We can see the theme of transgression in relatively ineffective tales such as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764). There the desires of Isabella and all other women to be free of the restraint of the males who control them is embodied in Manfred's and Frederic's over-assertion [overassertion] of their power. The men attempt to defy God's will to gratify their lusts; their defeat teaches the women submission, but the forbidden freedom is envisioned. More effective examples center on the image of the forbidden. In James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, the satanic Gil-Martin objectifies Robert Colwan's secret desires to displace the father and brother who displaced him, to be the favorite of a father figure, and to be his own parents. At the same time Gil-Martin externalizes Robert's guilt and the judgment that awaits him and, also, the barrier of fanaticism that keeps these two ideas separate in Robert's consciousness. This monster eventually displaces Robert, condemning him to hell on earth and hell hereafter. Secret wishes are given their heads for a while and then reined in. So Hyde devours Dr. Jekyll in "hideous" multiple transformations, but brings about his own death as well. The submerged and feared personality masters the body they share. Frankenstein's monster becomes what Frankenstein insists that he be, a mirror of Victor's dark inner self and therefore a persecutor of his ego. So we see the monster, after murdering Victor's wife, as he peers in at the widower's grief with a vengeful leer. Though the ending is somewhat ambiguous, there are indications that with Victor's death, the monster's monstrosity disappears. Some stories, such as Oliver Onions's "The Beckoning Fair One," are quite explicit about their presentation of the forbidden. Here the third-person narrator repeatedly judges the protagonist, Oleron, as surrendering his identity to evil out of his desire to know the ghostly possessor of his apartment. Oleron experiences a kind of regression away from a civilized self into an infantile narcissicism, which is self-destructive and, given Onions's slight toying with the fantastic, possibly murderous as well.

     Powerful tales of terror that use marvelous monsters draw upon the forbidden, allowing readers to view images that point at unspeakable things. The moments at which these views are granted produce the most powerful thrills in these works. If it is true that such tales include an actual fulfillment of the reader's secret desire, then one wonders about the reader's distance from the cause of the thrill. It should be clear that such distance may vary greatly. We have noted more than once that aesthetic distance can break down in the face of such images. Now we can see more clearly why. If the individual reader encounters an image that is an especially powerful evocation of a personal terror, then, in the absence of extraordinary buffers in the work, the reading must end. The anxiety aroused by the image takes precedence over aesthetic experience. Inevitably some works will tear the fabric that veils them from some readers, by producing an image that the reader recognizes directly as belonging to his rejected "selves." If At the Mountains of Madness inadvertently evokes a personal fear in a particular reader, there is nothing that reader can do to recover the aesthetic experience except to deal with his own terror and, when he has done so, return to the work to see if he can now enjoy it. Lovecraft goes to considerable lengths to protect the reader from this degree of terror. His narrative strategies are designed toward this end, and so also, we may note, is his presentation of the Shoggoth as a far away, rather vague and disguised representation of ideas of transgression.

     While a few readers may find the image unbearable, others may find the story hardly terrifying at all. Nothing, after all, compels the reader to perceive all that we have seen in the Shoggoth. The story becomes complete when one sees that the Shoggoths are somehow related to those inscrutable powers beyond the Old Ones and, therefore, should be left as much to themselves as possible. An adequate reading need go no further and, therefore, need only read the Shoggoth as a destroyer. We can account for this whole range of response by considering the nature of the marvelous tale of terror. Because the tale makes the presentation of psychologically suggestive images of marvelous beings its central goal, it is inevitable that there will be a range of response to these images that is determined largely by the sensitivities of individual readers. Lovecraft has clearly built the text in such a way as to minimize the number of readers at each end of the continuum, wanting indeed to provide a thrill of terror but not wanting to frighten readers away. The thrill of terror in the final events of this tale derives, as Bullough would argue, precisely in the realization of the antinomy of aesthetic distance, the maximum approach to real personal terror short of the dissolution of aesthetic distance. This concept accounts for the paradox that Lovecraft provides the reader with multiple barriers between self and terror and yet eventually represents a rather sensational, potentially transfixing image of terror in the Shoggoth. One experiences the thrill in the brush with real personal fear, not in actually experiencing it, nor in being perfectly shielded from it. The thrill is in seeing it approach across a distance without finally breaching that distance.

     The author of such a tale does not desire to destroy the aesthetic distance that is essential to the success of its function. He therefore deploys screening devices to construct virtually uncrossable barriers between the reader and his desire. What one sees across those barriers belongs unequivocally to another. The distancing devices of the marvelous tale of terror are those of most realistic fiction, for example, the creation of an implied reader, the presentation of fictional characters in a fictional world, the use of suspense, the provisions for closure, and closure itself. Each of these devices, but especially closure, receives extra support in Lovecraft's tale. At the Mountains of Madness answers all of the major narrative questions it raises. It takes and completes the form of a warning. It promises and delivers glimpses of the unnameable.

     This marvelous tale of terror completes itself and releases the real reader from his role with the feeling that he has passed a test. The special pleasure of this tale derives from successfully enduring the extreme emotions it stimulates and from the glimpses of the forbidden as belonging to another. In all other respects, Lovecraft's tale is like other works of adventure fiction. An explorer/adventurer encounters obstacles of increasing difficulty and danger while on a mission or quest. The implied reader experiences increasing wonder and suspense. This tale differs from other adventures in that the obstacles encountered are terrors. Because the protagonist encounters terrors, Lovecraft creates special support for the usual devices of aesthetic distance and closure. The presence of such devices also distinguishes this horror thriller from other types of thrillers. The result is a structure in which the real reader is granted a pleasurable experience of power over the terrifying, in addition to the usual delights of fiction.

     Many are the means by which this sense of power can be provided. In Lovecraft's tale the narrator retains his sanity long enough to pen his story. In some tales the protagonist triumphs over terror, as in Ann Radcliffe's The Italian, a fantastic/uncanny tale; in others the protagonist is destroyed, leaving behind only a manuscript to tell the tale, as in Poe's "Ms. Found in a Bottle," a fantastic/marvelous tale. As long as the author provides a structure to preserve the aesthetic distance between real reader and text and as long as the implied and real reader are kept distinct, the work can successfully give the pleasure of controlling the threatening.

     As the examples of The Italian and "Ms. Found in a Bottle" suggest, the special pleasures of the marvelous tale of terror probably are not greatly different from those of tales in two fantastic genres, the fantastic/marvelous and the fantastic/uncanny. All three genres tend to make the marvelous, apparently supernatural image their central experience. The protagonist and the implied reader move through suspense to the contemplation of such images. In each case, the goal of such fictions seems to be to release such images in highly controlled situations, to give them some play, and then to replace them in their proper region.

     We can see this pattern fairly clearly, for example, in Ann Radcliffe. Elizabeth MacAndrew argues that in Radcliffe's two major Gothic novels the presentation of terrors is to educate the protagonists. Of The Mysteries of Udolpho, MacAndrew says:
 

The adventure of the spirit its heroine has undergone leaves us with a picture of the eighteenth-century benevolist's view of human nature. That unspoiled nature that Emily represents grapples with what it at first sees as pure evil, an outside, diabolical force. Then it discovers the evil, Montoni, is of human dimensions after all. A distortion of man's natural bent, his evil is malicious rather than malignant. This lesson learned, the figure of sensibility must then learn how to live in a fallen world by developing prudence: how, through the use of reason as well as sentiment, the good can live on earth. (136)


Emily's experience of the fantastic educates her in the nature of evil when the fantastic is resolved toward the uncanny. According to MacAndrew, this establishment of rational balance is less clear in The Italian, for there evil seems more absolute, less certainly an aberration resulting from distortions of a basically good human nature (139-41). Nevertheless, the Gothic experiences of the protagonists, Ellena and Vivaldi, are framed within a manuscript presented to an Englishman visiting in Italy. In each novel terror is loosed within the frame that sets boundaries to its effects. In Radcliffe's fiction, as in most of the tales we have discussed so far, terror is primarily the experience of characters; the reader experiences the horror of witnessing their sufferings.

     We turn next to a brief look at an example of a fantastic/uncanny novel, Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland, to demonstrate the essential similarity between the effects of the marvelous tale of terror and the fantastic/uncanny tale. Indeed, it is probable that all tales of terror that use the marvelous image, whether or not it is finally resolved toward the uncanny by a natural explanation, will provide the same special component of aesthetic pleasure, for each kind can present marvelous images that are suggestive of psychological transgression.

End of Chapter 3.


 
Contents
  Notes &
Permissions
  Preface & Acknowledg-
ments
1:
Introduction
2: Horror in Literature and the Literature of Horror
3: The Marvelous Horror Thriller
4:  The Fantastic/Uncanny Horror Thriller
5: The Aesthetics of the Horror Thriller: Stoker's Dracula
6: The Pure Fantastic Tale of Terror
7:  Anticlosure: Poe's "Ligeia"
8: The Entrapped Critic:
Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
9: The Master's Trap:
James's The Turn of the Screw 
10: Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy
11: Terror and the Sublime
Sources
Index