Horror: say the word, and your mind might conjure images of gore, or axe-murderers, or supernatural hauntings. But the genre is much more than just a niche story. Horror literature covers a much wider range of narrative than hauntings and killings. In fact, if you’ve read a dozen books in your life, you’ve probably read a horror novel.
And that’s a good thing.
Horror literature, like all genres, has its drawbacks. It isn’t for everyone. But there’s plenty of reasons why you should read horror books:
1. Horror can help people work through fear or trauma
Throughout life, everyone encounters fears, endures hardships, and deals with monsters in his or her closet. The odds seem to stack up against you, and you wonder if you’ll ever make it, if the clouds will ever break. If your real world looks bleak, maybe you’ll want to turn to a horror book.
Horror stories always contain triumph. Dive into any horror book and you’ll encounter chaos, trouble, and fear. But as your fingers turn the pages, the characters will reach into themselves, mustering up courage and perseverance to fight–and oftentimes overcome–the evil in the novel. If horror novels can teach readers anything, it’s that anything can be overcome.
No matter how many monsters jump out of the abyss, no matter how many supernatural creatures haunt an unsuspecting town, the protagonist (and company) will find a way–even unconventionally–to beat the odds. By reading horror novels, you can, too.
2. Lessons about good and evil
Horror might actually be the most wholesome genre of literature. Before you heartily disagree, take a second and think about it. Every horror book needs a villain: some are people, some monsters, some supernatural beings. In the book, the villain represents evil, and the heroes or protagonists must overcome that evil to attain victory and peace. Horror teaches us about evil, in that the genre shows that evil can take many forms, and is not always by-the-book. However, if horror teaches about evil, it also shows that, no matter the form of evil, it can be overcome. Good wins over evil nearly every time.
Many times, horror novels tackle popular fears or superstitions. The popularity of the genre speaks for itself, here: people have an innate desire to ponder the unknown, or the gruesome, or the taboo. But real life is more brutal than horror books: good doesn’t always win. The best way to ponder the repercussions of a murder, or of haunting, or anything that scares you, is to read a horror book. Because in horror novels, good always wins.
3. Helps children control their fears
Everyone is familiar with the monster in the closet, or under the bed, or down the hall. Adults are able to use advanced logic to control these types of fears, to banish the monster. But children aren’t as capable: on average their imaginations are more active than that of an adult. The pile of laundry in the closet becomes a monster, the sound of the air conditioning a ghost.
But reading horror books–even in small doses–can help children confront their fears and build the logic bridge between the monster and the air conditioning. Reading about the monsters allows children’s minds to be imaginative, while also shutting the monster in the closet of their imagination instead of their bedroom. Horror allows children to use that overactive imagination without letting it control their nightmares.
4. Adrenaline without danger
Roller Coasters were invented for the thrills. Adrenaline junkies around the world seek thrills at the cost of their own safety. Horror literature can provide a similar adrenaline-inducing experience, but without the threat of life or limb.
While reading any book, you become–to some extent–the protagonist. For about 300 pages, you walk in their shoes, feel their emotions, think their thoughts. If a book is written well, you feel everything the characters experience, including adrenaline. Not many genres can make your heart beat faster.
And if the action is too intense, or if your heart’s beating too fast, you can put the book down. You can come back later, after you’ve watched a Hallmark movie or done some coloring. After all, you’re not strapped into the harness.
5. More immersive experience
Books have a strange way of captivating readers. On the outside, readers don’t seem to be doing much: sitting in a chair, eyes running down the lines, fingers turning the pages. But inside, readers are fully immersed in the story. The characters come to life, the story twisting and turning.
But one thing about a horror book’s immersive experience is its unpredictability. Many genres follow the classic literary structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. In most books, you can guess where the characters will end up, and sometimes even predict how the book is going to end.
Horror tries to stay away from this. After all, if a scary story is predictable, it isn’t scary. So many books in the genre are fully equipped with unexpected plot twists, blindsiding choices, or endings that don’t quite satisfy. When you read a horror book, you never know just what you might get. Will there be a happy ending? You’ll only know if you keep reading.
6. Endlessly entertaining
The horror genre revolves around the unknown. Because of this, horror books contain unexpected twists and turns, well-rounded characters, and a satisfying, hair-raising story arc. If a horror book is well-written, it’ll be one you’ll want to read in full, in one sitting. If you put it down, you’ll likely be thinking about it until you pick it up again, asking yourself “what happens next?”.
That’s the beauty of horror novels. You never know what happens next. But you know the characters, and you’re rooting for them the whole time. You get so connected to them that you feel like you almost are the characters. And that makes for great reading, no matter the genre.
7. The protagonist(s)
Raise your hand if you’ve always secretly wanted to be a monster slayer, or a clairvoyant, or epic adventurer. In horror novels, you can be. You can jump into a story and tag along with characters as they fight evil and slay monsters. Each protagonist is different, but most characters in horror novels are well fleshed out: they have to be in order for a reader to empathize with them. By picking up the book, you find friends–and enemies–within the words.
Sometimes, we see bits of ourselves in characters. The “classics” in literature do this well: they capture something of human nature in their characters. Protagonists in the horror genre almost need to do this: readers need to recognize part of themselves in the characters they’re reading.
8. More than one narrative
Let’s face it: most books fall into more than one genre. A fantasy book, for example, can be characterized in different ways by different people: one might think it’s a thriller, another simply an adventure tale. The beauty of horror lies in the complicated network of sub-genres within the “horror” label.
If you want to read a horror book, but don’t want graphic depictions of gore, you’ll find plenty of books in the genre that fit the bill. From psychological thrillers to fantastical tales, the horror genre has much more to offer than monsters and murder. Each sub-genre is vastly different from the other: unlike some genres (looking at you, romance) one book is not exactly like another. They do not follow the same sequence, contain the same tropes, or even cause the same hair-raising response from readers.
Pick up two horror books from the same shelf, and you’ll notice that they’re different. One might be a true horror novel, with monsters, blood and gore. The other might be a murder mystery, or a fantastical thriller. Both are categorized in the horror genre, but are vastly different, even down to their basic premise.
Many horror novels are actually collections of shorter stories carrying the same theme. This does a number of things, both for the author and the reader. Many times, authors have a host of story ideas in their head, and the novel they publish is the most fleshed-out narrative. Many novels work like this, and are incredibly complex.
But horror, as previously stated, is not easily put in a box. Plenty of horror novels contain three or more different stories that fit the same theme. This method of writing, though somewhat unorthodox, provides a refreshing reading experience and shows the multiplicity of the genre. Any story of fear or superstition can be told in many different ways, and experienced again and again in small, less terrifying doses.
Horror isn’t for everyone. But maybe it should be. It’s not just about serial killers, or the supernatural. The genre encapsulates many subjects and sub-genres, offering a wide range of stories fit for any reader. Even if it scares you, reading horor can teach you about the fundamental framework of the harsh, cold world. It provides thrills without any risk, and can maybe even help you confront the monsters in your own closet.