The Fascination With Dark Spirits In Literature & Film
by Jaq D Hawkins
Halloween is a time for dark and evil spirits to come out and play. So what better way to kick off a full month-long celebration than by inviting Jaq D. Hawkins to drop in? She shares her thoughts about why we’re fascinated by dark spirits in film and literature.
I remember as a child, sitting in front of the television, watching the movie From Hell it Came, terrified when the ‘tree monster,’ as my brother and I called it, appeared on screen. Sometimes we covered our eyes, yet the next time the movie came on, we had to watch it again, and again the next time after that.
In Victorian England, ghost stories were popular to tell among family and friends around the hearth at Christmas, or to read from a book. Hence the popularity of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Stories like Frankenstein and Dracula have become Classics and who hasn’t seen the original black and white film of The Wolfman? Or The Mummy?
Dark Spirits In Literature
Scary stories have always fascinated and titillated us. Teenagers telling urban legend stories at sleepovers or at campouts has become an essential part of growing up. The bizarre stories of H.P. Lovecraft have even spawned a cult, as well as a widespread fan base of Horror enthusiasts who also follow authors like Michael McDowell, Stephen King, Austin Crawley, Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, Richard Laymon, Graeme Reynolds and many others.
At Halloween, even people who don’t enjoy Horror stories will dress up as aliens, ghosts, vampires or other monsters. Book groups have Halloween challenges every year where enthusiastic readers revel in the macabre, reading one Horror story after another to get into the Halloween spirit.
Elements of Horror
As both a writer of Dark Fantasy and a reader of supernatural Horror, I look forward to Halloween every year. The tat in the shops, dressing up, buying sweets and hoping the trick-or-treaters will leave me plenty to enjoy myself while watching a good vampire movie is all part of the experience. Most of all, I look forward to the new release books every October.
This year I’ve actually contributed to a series of Horror anthologies called Elements of Horror, but part of the fun in that is reading the other stories contained within those volumes. I’ve received the first one at the time of writing and wasn’t disappointed! The others will fall into my hands between now and Halloween, providing plenty of fodder for chilling reading.
Dark Spirits Of Film
Psychologists have tried to analyse our fascination for Horror stories. Like dreams and nightmares, they help us process the very real fears that we encounter in daily life, putting a monster’s face onto the stressful demands of modern society. They give us an escape into a world more frightening that we will find when we put down the book and remember that zombies aren’t really filling the streets and cutting us off from vital supplies (though some might argue that politicians fill that function all too efficiently).
Every culture has some version of dark and frightening spirits. Movies tend to lean towards the Christian duology with Angels and demons, such as in films like Dogma, Constantine or The Omen trilogy. There are exceptions of course and angry spirits from Indian burial grounds became popular after the first Poltergeist movie.
Exploring Cultural Stories
Books have shown far more scope for exploring evil spirits from a vast array of cultures. One of the interesting things about writing for the Elements series was researching some of these, like the Italian Wind Folletti and some of the British water spirits like Water Dobbies who entice humans to drowning.
The Jinn, also known as Djinn or genie, have been seeing a lot of popularity in recent YA literature, though only a few selections transcend the cartoon versions we all know from childhood and acknowledge that they are originally fire spirits and extremely dangerous.
Reading To Scare Ourselves
As Halloween approaches, I, like many readers, have already started reading haunted house stories and other Horror or Dark Fantasy books. There’s something about the changing of the season that makes many of us want to curl up with an imaginative ghost story and revel in the comforts of a warm drink while we shut out the cold, reading about imaginary monsters instead of going out into the world to deal with real life dangers, like Christmas shoppers.
We know that the evil spirits in the books aren’t real. Even those who believe in some form of evil in a spiritual sense realise we’re only reading a story. Yet our fascination for what might be real keeps us intrigued, keeps us watching those Angel and demon movies even if we don’t believe in these entities in a literal sense.
The dark represents the unknown. Reading a story is a good way to explore the strange and unfamiliar without putting ourselves into actual physical danger. The emotions we experience while reading are very real and can give us much to think about long after we finish reading a well-written story. We can learn much, even from fiction. Who knows, having your zombie plan in place could protect you from a real danger someday!
Share Your Halloween Reads
What stories do you like to read in October? What kind of books give you that Halloween feeling? Let’s share favourite authors in the comments.
Who Else Is Dropping In?
“31 Days of Halloween” is a collaborative effort, and I really couldn’t put out 31 posts in 31 days without help.
While I’ve personally filled many of the slots for the event, I also have some amazing guest posts, from some wonderful folks.
Want to see what else is happening?
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About Jaq D. Hawkins
Jaq D Hawkins is the author of several Dark Fantasy novels, which include Dance of the Goblins, Demoniac Dance and Power of the Dance. There is a combined volume of the full Goblin Trilogy available. Her most recent release (August 2019) is a comedic science fiction novel, an adventurous farce through time and space called The Chase for Choronzon.
She has also written the Airship Mechanoids Steampunk series which begins with The Wake of the Dragon and will continue with The Winds of Winter Storms in 2019 and a third volume that takes the series into the realm of Khempunk due out in 2020.