Deep in conversation over the gothic novel and its place in our current society, the Literature of Horror class gathers to discuss the gothic traits that have been reconstructed into what we now call horror. Professor Tim Melnairk leads the discussion that delves into what scares us before both he and the class divulge their top book picks they find the most haunting. 

Freshman Quinn Hurd said when she was a young girl she read Dean Koontz’s “Door to December” and that this story still scares her to this day.

“It’s about this girl who has supernatural powers that she got from basically torture, that she’s repressed,” Hurd said. “The story is just going through what happened to her and what is she going to do with these powers.”

Koontz’s novel follows the story of a young girl who was kidnapped by her father only to be found years later by her mother. Among the mysteriously dead are the girl’s father and the other individuals who had held her captive for those six years she was missing.

The literature of horror class focuses on reading and discussing themes that recur in stories of horror, as well as the gothic novel, and how they affect us psychologically. 

While studying the gothic novel, the class interprets ghost stories and magic before moving into subjects in horror that distort the mind to incite fear. 

Harkening back to childhood nostalgia, freshman Patty Carretino describes how “Coraline” was creepier to read than it was to watch. The protagonist is also a young girl who has to fight her way out of frightening scenarios. The story follows her as she finds herself in a world that appears exactly as her own yet seemingly much more idyllic. A dark twist leads her scrambling to get back to her life as she knew it.

“What the hell am I reading,” Carretino said. “The shift between kid friendliness appeal to the general audience, compared to the book, the narrative is just night and day. The book is so much darker.”

A Nick Cutter novel is recommended by student Beau Garcia. Garcia describes how “The Troop” is a story of a group of Boy Scouts on an island who encounter an individual infected by a weight loss parasite gone wrong. The parasite was an experiment intended as a fad diet but turns into a nightmare bug leaving its host insatiably hungry. The book cuts between the story and the transcripts from the creator of a deadly body bug.

“There’s this really horrifying scene with a lab monkey and it’s just the doctor kind of being super cold and methodical, while his assistant is kind of like, ‘what in the hell is happening right now?’” Garcia said. “I think Nick Cutter in general is a really effective horror writer because he just creates environments that are absolutely terrible and he makes characters that you really want to win. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Melnarik commented on the student’s focus on the aspect of children being threatened as a component to make a story evoke terror and how that played a role in his book choice. 

“I guess I would go back to the book that gave me my most nightmares,” Melnarik said. “By definition, that’s going to be my scariest and that was Steven King’s ‘It.’”

Student Ashley Valdivia suggested manga horror writer and artist Junji Ito. Valdivia explains that Ito’s short stories rely on the element of body horror, which is a subgenre in horror that focuses on repulsive imagery and violations of the body. 

“So when elements like distortion of the body start coming up it stands out even more,” Valdivia said. “His stories are often about the loss of control of the body.”

Melnairk explains that the loss of body autonomy can be a terrifying thought.

“We are so used to the idea that I’m me and I have physical integrity and when that starts breaking down, as it does in body horror, then I think it can push our buttons,” Melnarik said.

The first story that Valdivia had read from Ito was “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.” A small town experiences an earthquake causing a mountain to break and leaving behind tiny human-shaped holes.

“Everyone goes to see their hole and when they do, they’re compelled to walk through and they never come back,” Valdivia said. 

Melnarik describes the gothic novel as the precursor to horror and the class explores how the two connect.

“One of the things that pops up a lot is the idea of the past penetrating into the present. Like the ghost story,” Melnarik said.

Students can register for the Literature of Horror in the fall of each semester, as the class ties into Halloween time. The next available class will be the fall semester of 2023.

This story has been updated.

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