Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mount Bloodmore: The tops in American horror

My wife and I having a running joke about Mount Rushmore. We used to live close to the monument, so every time it gets blown up in a movie, we laugh. We laugh every time we some parody of Rushmore, some silliness that can't be helped. The joke is that one could fill an entire tourist trap store with Mount Rushmore parodies.

I shall now give you my own version of Mount Rushmore: the four most important American horror writers. Remember, this is American writers. So no Bram Stoker, no Clive Barker. And it's horror, so while a writer such as Chuck Palahniuk has delved into horrors pages, he's not a horror writer. Primarily sci-fi guys like Isaac Asimov or fantastique authors such as Harlan Ellison aren't on the mountain, either. Ellison might classify for his own monument (like the Crazy Horse monument down the road from Rushmore), but he's not on this one.

Enough chatter, let's getting blasting the face of this screen into the faces of American horror.

Edgar Allan Poe (in the George Washington position).  Was there any question? For American writers, Poe really got this ball rolling. The only writing he never succeeded at was the novel, but in the first half of the 19th century, novels were not yet the dominant form. Short stories and poetry were still at the head of the class and that was Poe's playground. He's the father, the general (hey, he DID go to West Point, you know), he's the legend.

H.P. Lovecraft (in the Thomas Jefferson position). Again, too obvious? Too bad. Lovecraft is one of the best examples of knowing your influences (Poe) and setting them aside to do your own thing. If there is anyone in American horror who even came close to Poe's influence, it's Lovecraft. Lovecraft even has his own adjective. If a work contains hints of dark, unearthly forces seeking to regain power on Earth, it's "Lovecraftian." If Poe is the grandfather, Lovecraft is the rebellious son who couldn't help but follow in his father's footsteps.

Ray Bradbury (in the Theodore Roosevelt position).  Like Roosevelt, Bradbury is our curveball on the mountain. Yes, he's great and everyone knows it. But is he really in the company of the other four men on the monument? Um, YES. For a time, he was the genre and yet transcended it. "Ray Bradbury Theatre" was (almost) as good as "The Twilight Zone." (And if you ask me now why Rod Serling isn't on the mountain, it's because he worked primarily in television and this is a monument for folks whose notable works were in print media.) Bradbury also reclaimed horror as literature. You are just as likely to read "Dandelion Wine" in school as you are "1984."

Stephen King (in the Abraham Lincoln position). King is the emancipator of horror fiction. Millions of people who would have never touched the genre read King's work. The last stat I saw said he has 350 million books in print. They don't print books (especially now) that they don't think they can sell. The other three men on this list can all be found in King's work and that's how things should be. You learn from the masters and then make your own way. King not only set readers free from the bonds of genre limitations, he set a world of writers free to believe they, too, could make money in the horror genre. There are a lot of wanna-be Kings in the world and most of them aren't any good. But you can't fault anyone for trying. Maybe King's promises of a better world where genre fiction and literary fiction are indistinguishable will never happen. But we can dream. Hell, King even gave us horror's Gettysburg Address when he was presented with the National Book Awards Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

So there you go. The Mount Rushmore of American horror. Somebody draw this up for me. It could make a great (or horrible) tattoo.

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