The Corner

Horror Is Conservative, cont.

Another way in which the horror genre is conservative is that many of its practitioners are keenly aware of their own tradition. They track down the writers who have come before them, read the stories of Poe, Lovecraft, etc., and make allusions to them in their own prose. In other words, they recognize, study, and affirm a canon of work.

Consider Stephen King, who is no conservative in the political sense. Years ago, he wrote Danse Macabre, a non-fiction book that is both a history of horror and a personal reader’s guide to the genre. I keep an old copy on my shelf and thumb through it every now and then. An e-mailer points to a passage I had forgotten about, in which King makes the point I raised earlier today. Here’s a taste:

I’ve tried to suggest throughout this book that the horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit; that its main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands. Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile.

Sure, these words are a little tone deaf to conservatism as we NROniks know it. Since when do pinstripes and Puritanism mix? But the general point is spot-on.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.