Wolf In Book’s Clothing

Though Halloween is over, a lesser-known horror-related occasion is fast approaching. November 8th is the birthday of the man who wrote vampires before it was cool, Bram Stoker. Today would be the Dracula author’s 165th birthday, so I thought I would take the opportunity to discuss censorship’s particular obsession with the horror genre. Though Stoker died a hundred years ago, his work is no less relevant and no less inflammatory.

Horror novels and books containing monsters, ghosts, the occult, and really anything beyond the safety of the hearth or campfire has long been feared, mistrusted, damned, and censored. We have seen this in such harmless children’s classics as the Scary Stories and Goosebumps series and the irrational fear they spark in parents and school boards across the country.

Other banned horror classics include Dracula, Frankenstein, and many a book by Stephen King and Anne Rice. The sudden surge of teen paranormal romance has not escaped censorship’s witch-hunt either, with such series as Vampire Academy; House of Night; and, yes, even The Twilight Saga getting caught in the crossfire.

Horror in comics came under even more direct attack. The Comics Code Authority, which came about in 1954 when a juvenile delinquent specialist mistakenly blamed comics for young people turning to crime, effectively ended horror as a genre within the comic book medium. It banned horror, gore, lycanthropy, the undead, the occult, and violence in general, in favor of more wholesome fare.

This crackdown on so-called corrupting material nearly caused the collapse of the comic book industry. For more information on the Comics Code Authority and the industry’s history of controversy, I recommend the documentary, Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked. There are also numerous books on the subject and it will no doubt come up again in this blog.

So what is it about horror that really scares us? Is it the fear of veiled (or not-so-veiled in the case of some) sexual content seen in everything from Dracula to Twilight? The fact that horror plays on society’s fears, such as Dracula‘s exploitation of the fear that foreign men will seduce ‘our women’ or Frankenstein capitalizing on the anxiety over science’s increasingly godlike advances?

Or is it something far more basic? That we fear those who transgress the boundaries, who dare to explore beyond the edge of the forest or seek to find what lurks in the dark.

There is a long standing correlation between monsters and all manner of outsiders. Vampires are frequently the foreigner or the seductive stranger. In older Eastern European myths, vampires could not harm you unless you invited them into your home or were invited into theirs and accepted, driving home the Little-Red-Riding-Hood-esque sexual predator vibe. Werewolves have long had correlations with criminals, mental illness, addiction, sexual deviants, and religious dissidents in everything from Anglo-Saxon law to Ancient Roman poetry to pornographic web comic, Peter Is The Wolf.

My senior thesis actually involved this, so I could rant for hours, but, against vampire literature themes, I will resist temptation. It all boils down to this: we fear yet are perpetually fascinated, even aroused, by the ‘Other.’ The forbidden, potentially dangerous stranger haunts us and attracts us and, thus, will continue to make us uncomfortable. Horror forces us to see the weakness, the desire, the metaphorical darkness, and the ‘otherness’ in ourselves, and that is what truly scares us.

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About boundandgaggedbooks

Shannon is a freelance writer and folklore buff. She has a degree from Hampshire College in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion, with an emphasis on epic/oral traditions, their anthropological implications, and their modern counterparts. Her work can be found in Fabulously Feminist, Wolf Wariors: The National Wolfwatcher Coalition Anthology, The Concord Monitor, Redhead Magazine, and The Climax.

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  1. Queen of the Banned | Bound and Gagged - October 31, 2013

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