Monday, September 1, 2014

4. Back to the Mainland

This series of posts has briefly surveyed the image of “the island” as a setting for horror fiction.  Only a few examples were given, from just a handful of authors.  Hopefully this modest inventory is representative, if not exhaustive, and piques readers’ interest in the topic.  (See additional examples of island horrors below.) 

Most weird fiction and probably all horror entertainment is essentially a psychic residue of society’s collective fear of change or perceived threats—a kind of nightmare dream journal that is both a therapeutic exercise as well as a cultural product.  Horror stories and the nightmares that inspire them are the creations of minds that barely know themselves, that are unaware—until shipwrecked—of what lies deep beneath the surface.  Which creations, if they endure, will allow future consumers of horror a more thorough understanding of the times that preceded them.  In this sense, horror is better than history.  Who cares what a society built, or conquered, or invented?  (Yawn.)  What was it afraid of?
Island horrors are a special case. Figuratively speaking, the island is a guttering flame in a swirling, watery darkness, a dim light of awareness floating over deep, fathomless oceanic unconsciousness.  That tiny space contains and magnifies the horror that has been discovered there, from which there is little chance of escape.  An island horror more often than not has a nightmarish, dream like quality.  Did it even really happen? This is why the survivor’s story is rarely believed back on the mainland.  Perhaps islands are where horror writers go to have especially lucid dreams.    

It appears more difficult these days to find stories about uncharted islands, or to write credibly about them.  With satellites, drones, GPS, video surveillance and other communications technology, it would seem that little is left on earth that is “uncharted”, even far out in the ocean.  We need a “new world” to explore, filled with unfamiliar “dark” continents and exotic desert islands.  Humans need unfamiliar frontiers on which to project their latest anxiety or oldest fears.  Perhaps the uncharted islands of the future will be the earth-like planets we discover and cling to in outer space.


Horror stories with island settings have been discussed in several earlier posts.  Interested readers may want to look at some of these:

Albatross (The Voice in the Night)—William Hope Hodgson; the story is also known as The Derelict.
Another of Hodgson’s Derelicts (The Habitants of Middle Islet)—William Hope Hodgson
A Lovecraftian Vision of the Afterlife (The Green Meadow)—H.P. Lovecraft with Winifrid Jackson
1. Av-o-lo-ha! (The Moon Pool)—A. Merritt
What to Do With Your Ex’s Brain (Gray Ghouls)—Bassett Morgan
Plague as Engine of Justice (The Isle of the Torturers)—Clark Ashton Smith
An Ancient Marineress (Friend Island)—Frances Stevens

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