Everyone loves a good horror story. It seems that American media does, too. America is all too familiar with things that go bump in the night, slashers, ghosts, etc. These are the kind of fears you expect in American culture. Fears that are somewhat superficial. American culture has always made a home for different fears, though. Fears that are a little too real. American Supernatural Tales is a collection of short stories by American authors. The stories may be fictional and have monsters and spirits and whatnot, but they easily reflect the fear that takes up a large portion of American culture.
What exactly are our fears in America? Well, there’s plenty of fears to go around. People tend to fear different things depending on their situation in America. Several people fear an overbearing government or fear their rights being taken away. Some people fear being hurt ot getting killed or facing injustice due to factors like their race, sexuality, gender identity, etc. Students have to fear bad grades or someone hurting them in school with a weapon. A lot of Americans fear poverty, war, or pollution. In America, we have plenty of fear to share. So it makes sense that what we read in this country reflects what we fear in this country.
One of the stories in American Supernatural Tales is What Was It? by Fitz-James O’Brien. In this story, a man finds himself attacked in the night by an invisible spirit of sorts. This leads to him capturing the spirit and giving it to science. The spirit suffers and is exploited. This story reflects the fears we face that pertain to how we treat others who are different than us. How innocent people can suffer or be exploited just for being different.
The story The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis by Clark Ashton Smith is relevant to new advancements in space travel and technology today. This story follows a group of scientists who explore Mars. They end up stumbling across dangers that change their lives forever. This story can remind us that, even though we may want to go to places like Mars, we must be careful since we never know who (or what) we may find.
Several stories in this book can reflect so many modern fears. Black Bargain by Robert Bloch reminds us the price we may have to pay if we make it to the top in America. In The Girl With the Hungry Eyes by Fritz Leiber, the author comments on the modeling industry and the models used in photos in an eerie fashion. A Visit by Shirley Jackson reminds us of our own fears of not being safe with those we don’t know well and the unknown. The stories in this collection weren’t written this year, yes, but they still reflect what we fear.
American Supernatural Tales isn’t the only book that reflects what we fear. Books like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell present dystopian societies that our own society can be similar to and someday become the same as. Writers like Stephen King thrive in this culture of fear, churning out novels that either confront America’s fears or avoid them completely. Coraline by Neil Gaiman gives us a look at our own fears pertaining to our parents and the dangers of escapism. Horror books and horror media thrive in our culture for a good reason. They help us process the fears that come with living in America.
America’s fears aren’t just read on the pages of books, however. Several Americans live in fear of being hurt or killed due to inequality across several areas of life. We still have prejudice in this country, no matter how much some deny it. Books are needed now more than ever. Not only can books educate people on our fears, but they can also give us ways to combat these fears. Horror media can be useful when it comes to commentary and problem-solving. We just have to know how to use that media.
Chapman University’s most recent study on the top ten fears in America can help us understand just how often our horror media reflects American fears. In 2018, Americans fear “corrupt government officials” more than situations like pollution and a lack of money. Fearing the corruption of our government isn’t a new American fear. We can see this in the dystopian novels mentioned earlier, as well as in books like It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. The plot of this novel revolves around the election of a president who brings fearful change to America in the name of tradition and patriotism. Sound familiar? Many believe that this book’s events are similar to Trump’s election. It Can’t Happen Here was published 1935. This helps prove that what America reads reflects what we fear. The same fears we have today have been present throughout our history and our literature since the start of this country.
Any reader can learn a lot from these creepy books. American culture needs to be detoxed of the fear that imprisons it. The best way to accomplish this is for people to understand what we all fear and how that is shown in pieces of media. This is why books like American Supernatural Tales are so important. They help us see certain situations in our lives and teach us about them. If we want to rid our culture of fear, one of the best things we can do is read.
University, Chapman. “America’s Top Fears 2018 – Chapman University Survey of American Fears.” Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Chapman University, 16 Oct. 2018, blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2018/10/16/americas-top-fears-2018/.
Wikipedia. “It Can’t Happen Here.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Can%27t_Happen_Here.
Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, 2017.
Joshi, S. T. American Supernatural Tales. Penguin Classics, 2013.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Penguin, 2009.
Orwell, George. 1984. Susan Brawtley, 2014.
Gaiman, Neil, and Dave McKean. Coraline. HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.