“Boris Karloff was famously reluctant to accept the term ‘horror’ in connection with his work. “The object of the roles I played is not to turn your stomach – but to merely make your hair stand on end,” he is quoted as saying.
When I started writing the Gwenna Luna books, they were a conscious decision to write something I wanted to read: a thoroughly modern version of the classic ghost tales and supernatural stories I’ve always loved. With Gwenna now frequently classified and reviewed within the horror genre, I have sometimes wondered why that categorization doesn’t quite feel right to me when thinking about that particular young witch on the run. Why don’t these books of supernatural events, hauntings and grisly deaths don’t entirely make me feel like a “horror writer”?
So here we are, Boris and I, looking for a new term…
Wikipedia offers a list of 25 “elements prevelant in horror,” from such tasty words as “ghosts” and “werewolves” to “psychopaths,” “serial killers” and “torture.” Even counting in the most generous mood, I don’t arrive at more than seven from the list I could see building a story on.
You see, there’s just too much reality in most of them. And reality, to me, is not a friend when it comes to the supernatural.
Horror is a man with a chainsaw in your living room. Very real.
What I like is an ordinary man in your living room, without the chainsaw. Who can’t possibly be there.
Say you’re in your favorite chair, reading, alone at home. And suddenly, an ordinary man passes left to right through your field of vision, passing a door open to the next room.
Only it’s everything.
Because in the chainsaw scenario, we were concerned with physical survival. In the passing-figure scenario, something else has happened: we have suddenly and irrevocably discovered a spiritual dimension. A fundamental shift has occurred in our sense of reality. What we saw is unknown, and it may not be benign. And nothing, after that, is ever the same.
Chainsaws are noisy.
It seems my reluctance to embrace the “horror” mantle does have something to do with its emphasis on the physical. Most horror stories or films – even those with a supernatural theme – end with a moment of physical action, usually destructive: the surprise kill of the last survivor; the destruction of the evil entity.
“Say you’re in your favorite chair, reading, alone at home. And suddenly, an ordinary man passes left to right through your field of vision, passing a door open to the next room.
Only it’s everything...”
– Guenther Primig
Looking at the stories in Gwenna Luna – as most direct evidence of what I seem to like as a writer and reader- a great many of them end with a moment of emotion rather than action. In fact, only three have endings I’d call “action” endings: The Coachman, Wood King and The Thing in the Box. These are pretty grisly, fine. But most go out on a quiet note, like a child whispering the name of the bloodthirsty giant: “Grollbein…”
So perhaps I’ll draw up my own list of 25 elements for that elusive type of story neither Boris Karloff nor I would quite willingly put on the horror shelf. It might make a fun thing to do as the dark season settles in.
Thinking about these things, sitting at my desk and leafing through old notebooks, I came across an idea for a story I jotted down maybe two years ago. It’s funny to see one of these little story skeletons, so similar to the first ideas of the Gwenna stories, only without the trappings in place, all heavy lifting undone. I think I’ll finish with it, a little ghost story haiku from the notebooks, an impossible ordinary man passing across a room. I kind of like the way it reads in its minimal creepiness:
Buys a clock. Rare. Must be destroyed – story of clock maker
Ticking seems to accelerate.
Pattern appears in the wood.
Stops the clock. It starts going again.
At the point of madness, the clock stops.
It was a countdown
A presence in the room.
Something stands up in the corner.
That’s kind of the gist of it, my kind of “horror.”
“Something stands up in the corner.”
I love this season.
Guenther Primig is one of the world’s best horror writers and screenwriters, whose illustrated Gwenna Luna series of books have garnered critical acclaim and popularity. They are described as the “missing link between classic and modern horror fiction”, and are “coming-of-age sagas wrapped in a chilling supernatural setting”.
His first book, The Dark Book of Gwenna Luna, pictured left, was a bestseller and a finalist in the 2019 Foreword Reviews INDIES Awards.
Aside from his writing success, he is a seasoned music professional who provides content for film, TV, and advertising. He has worked on projects with Hans Zimmer, Massive Attack, and Snoop Dogg, and spent eight years working for The Walt Disney Company.