I just finished watching an episode of the X-Files entitled “Chinga” [note to Spanish-speakers out there: I don’t know who chose the title, so please forgive my language] from Season Five and I noticed that it was written by Stephen King and Chris Carter (the creator of the X-Files). The story’s antagonist is a talking doll that can force people to injure or kill themselves in gruesome ways. Like many, if not most, of King’s stories, there is no explanation of how the came to exist. All the viewer finds out about it is that a lobsterman pulled it up one night in a lobster trap and his daughter comes to possess it after he meets his own gruesome fate.
I find in my own writing that I like to provide an explanation or background as to how things originate. This is just my nature. I like to know the origins of things. However, I have come to believe of late that, in terms of horror, that is a very nineteenth century concept.
Lovecraft said in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”:
“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and protentiousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only daily safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
For me, what Lovecraft is saying is that if the laws of nature are negated, then anything is possible and monsters like Cthulhu really could exist and are capable of doing us harm at any moment. Combine this with his statement that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” and it becomes apparent that stories like “Chinga” derive much of their horror effect from the fact that the origin of the threat to a story’s protagonist(s) is unknown or that there is no explanation for the threat.
This would mean that one of things that provides to “Chinga” the element of horror that it has, is the fact that origin of the doll is unknown. Therefore, any of us when we are fishing or scuba diving or swimming in any body of water, could discover a doll that would turn his/her life into a nightmare. That is a scary thought.
Of course, this means that Stephen King would be one of the greatest practitioners of this technique, which I believe he is.
I think I shall try to experiment with this in the near future.