That was my initial thought as I started typing this blog on my laptop. The content of this piece, and maybe a few pieces in a row if things go according to plan, is the impact of having children and adolescents as characters in novels – especially horror novels. I know I’ve addressed this in some capacity before (hence the question), but I keep coming around to it because of one influence or another.
There are two ways, at least, where youth as character influence horror fiction. The first is child or teen as hero - or what quickly becomes child or teen in peril as the action progresses. I think this is a throwback to our youthful days when we read children’s books or YA books in which we had this kind of character. They’re still around in significant numbers in today’s youth fiction (e.g., the Harry Potter series capitalizes on this approach very successfully). Stephen King also makes fair use of kids in his novels. They stand bravely head to head with monsters, aliens, demons, or ghosts with aplomb that adults can’t begin to muster. King even ups the ante of terror for his regular readers because he has managed to kill off an underage character on multiple occasions. With king, you never really know if a kid is going to survive – or escape unscathed. All by way of saying, youth-as-hero or youth-in-peril strikes a chord – adventures we’ve come to enjoy and expect based at least in part on our reminiscences from youthful reading pastimes. Let’s face it, though, the youth in peril motif is a cheap terror. Most adults will feel a slightly heightened sense of anxiety if a well-drawn young character is in jeopardy as compared to that of an adult character.
The second “youthful” influence in horror is when the kid is the source of the horror - the “creepy kid” sub-genre of horror. They are the serial killers, the demonically possessed, the sources of the haunting, the dead, the vampires (as in Salem’s Lot, not those tiring paranormal romance stories), and so on. These characters “work” in horror fiction precisely because this behavior is so counter to our expectations of how young people should act.
There are numerous fictional accounts of these kids, and some are as old as the hills. My favorite “early” example is Turn of the Screw. The main focus, of course, of this work is whether the young governess is mentally ill and hallucinating when she encounters the evil presence of Quint and Miss Jessel. The alternative is that the ghosts are indeed real. I’ve always been intrigued by the behavior of Miles and Flora – the two kids. Are they complicit in the activity of the ghosts or unwittingly (or maybe purposely) gaslighting the governess? I may be reading way too much into this, but I always had my suspicions about those two kids. Miles, after all, had just been expelled from school because of something unspeakable.
Okay, I’m rambling way too much here. I’ll continue with the creepy kid sub-genre in my next blog.