Last weekend I listened to Charlie Higson talking on the radio about his work and explaining (defending) why he writes horror for children. Discussions revolved around why thinking about a zombie apocalypse is preferable to worrying about the real threat of terrorist attacks and environmental meltdown which hangs over us all. Mr Higson’s new series–The Enemy–is all about zombies. He freely admits that his work appeals more to boys than girls. The explanation for this lies in the fact that of all supernatural creatures, zombies most resemble teenage boys.
But the biggest question is, why do kids love horror so much? And, more importantly, why is it necessary for us to read stories that frighten us? The parallel with dreams is one that springs to mind. These subconscious adventures take place while we are safely tucked up in our beds and are described by some as psychological rehearsals preparing us for the trials and tribulations we face on a daily basis. So it is with horror and kids. We need look no further than fairy stories for the template. It’s no accident that giants and ogres and trolls are always depicted as big. After all the most dangerous thing a child can come across in the real world is undeniably an adult.
Novels are the ideal vehicle for children to confront the big fears which we all have; those of change, death and sickness. What better filter is there than that of a fictitious character on a page?
There are those of course who wish to protect our children. Not expose them to things that might upset them or frighten them. In my mind, there’s very little difference between inoculating your child against measles or smallpox and exposing them to stories in which they confront some of their fears.
The world, when the emerging to it, cab be a scary place. And an understanding of fear is necessary in order to survive. Plus, it’s nice to know that I’m providing a public service. Note to self; remember to put that on the next book blurb.