Quotes and Thoughts on Horror

H.P. Lovecraft, 1915

In this page, I collect quotations and thoughts on the horror, its effects, and implications.  These are posted at random, though I shall try to group similar topics together to some extent. I have given the source for the quote, because some of these sources may be of dubious reliability to different readers. If possible, I like to get a quote directly from the primary source. I hope to refine this list with time.

“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”  Edgar Allan Poe  from Brainyquote.com.

“Where there is no imagination there is no horror.”  Arthur Conan Doyle.  Brainyquote.com

“Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.” H.P. Lovecraft. Brainyquote.com

“Horror is beyond the reach of psychology.”  Theodor Adorno.  Brainyquote.com

Edgar Allan Poe, circa 1849

Edgar Allan Poe, circa 1849

“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” ― H.P. Lovecraft, Tales of H. P. Lovecraft.  Goodreads.com

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”  Stephen King.  Examiner.com

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  H.P. Lovecraft.  hplovecraft.com [quoted from Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature]

“There are, without doubt, great possibilities in the serious exploitation of the astronomical tale; as a few semi-classics like “The War of the Worlds”, “The Last and First Men”, “Station X”, “The Red Brain”, and Clark Ashton Smith’s best work prove. But the pioneers must be prepared to labour without financial return, professional recognition, or the encouragement of a reading majority whose taste has been seriously warped by the rubbish it has devoured. Fortunately sincere artistic creation is its own incentive and reward, so that despite all obstacles we need not despair of the future of a fresh literary form whose present lack of development leaves all the more room for brilliant and fruitful experimentation.”  H.P. Lovecraft from “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction”, Californian 3, No. 3 (Winter 1935): 39-42. Published in Collected Essays, Volume 2: Literary Criticism edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 178 as quoted in Wikiquotes.

“One can’t write a weird story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene, and a magic prism of imagination which suffuses them and style alike with that grotesquerie and disquieting distortion characteristic of morbid vision. Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.”  H.P. Lovecraft.  Letter to Weird Tales editor Edwin Baird printed in Weird Tales 3, no. 3 (March 1924), pp. 89-92. Quoted in Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 122. As quoted from Wikiquotes.

“good art means the ability of any one man to pin down in some permanent and intelligible medium a sort of idea of what he sees in Nature that nobody else sees. In other words, to make the other fellow grasp, through skilled selective care in interpretative reproduction or symbolism, some inkling of what only the artist himself could possibly see in the actual objective scene itself.”  H.P. Lovecraft. Letter to Woodburn Harris (25 February-1 March 1929), quoted in “H.P. Lovecraft, a Life” by S.T. Joshi, p. 487.  As quoted from Wikiquotes.

“When I say that I can write nothing but weird fiction, I am not trying to exalt that medium but am merely confessing my own weakness. The reason I can’t write other kinds is not that I don’t value & respect them, but merely that my slender set of endowments does not enable me to extract a compellingly acute personal sense of interest & drama from the natural phenomena of life. I know that these natural phenomena are more important & significant than the special & tenuous moods which so absorb me, & that an art based on them is greater than any which fantasy could evoke—but I’m simply not big enough to react to them in the sensitive way necessary for artistic response & literary use. God in heaven! I’d certainly be glad enough to be a Shakespeare or Balzac or Turgeniev if I could! . . . I respect realism more than any other form of art—but must reluctantly concede that, through my own limitations, it does not form a medium which I can adequately use.”  H.P. Lovecraft.  Letter to E. Hoffman Price (29 September 1933), quoted in “H.P. Lovecraft, a Life” by S.T. Joshi, p. 579.  As quoted in Wikiquotes.

“So where do the ideas—the salable ideas—come from? They come from my nightmares. Not the night-time variety, as a rule, but the ones that hide

Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich

Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich

just beyond the doorway that separates the conscious from the unconscious.”  Stephen King.  As quoted from Writersdigest.com

“[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” Clive Barker as quoted in http://www.ingridsnotes.wordpress.com.

“Horror was rooted in sympathy . . . in understanding what it would be like to suffer the worst. ”  Joe Hill as quoted in http://www.ingridsnotes. wordpress.com.

‘Horror is the removal of masks’ – Robert Bloch as quoted in http://www.floatingrobes.blogspot.com.

‘Horror is not a genre, it is an emotion’ – Douglas E. Winter as quoted in http://www.floatingrobes.blogspot.com.

‘One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses and oppresses.’ – Robin Wood as quoted in http://www.floatingrobes.blogspot.com.

‘That truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.’ – Stephen King as quoted in http://www.floatingrobes.blogspot.com.

‘…A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.’ – Joseph Conrad as quoted in http://www.floatingrobes.blogspot.com.

Stephen King at Comicon, 2007 Photo by Penguino

Stephen King
at Comicon, 2007
Photo by Penguino

“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.”  -H.P. Lovecraft in “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”   -Stephen King

What exactly is Horror?

Because the feeling of horror is subjective,  defining horror is problematic.  Though most people will agree on the feeling in a broad sense, each person may recognize nuances not perceived by others.  Thus there may be as many flavors of horror as there are people.  Therefore, instead of trying to arrive at a precise definition of a nebulous topic, here I shall collate quotations on and definitions of horror from various sources to allow readers to form their own subject definition.  Please consider this page a living document that will grow as I add more to it with time.  Its organization is mostly random with the most recent additions being at the bottom of the page.  Brief material I shall quote here.  I will provide links to longer material.

Etymology of the word “Horror” from www.etymonline.com

horror (n.) Look up horror at Dictionary.comearly 14c., from Old French horror (12c., Modern French horreur) and directly from Latin horror “dread, veneration, religious awe,” a figurative use, literally “a shaking, trembling, shudder, chill,” from horrere “to bristle with fear, shudder,” from PIE root *ghers- “to bristle” (cf. Sanskrit harsate “bristles,” Avestan zarshayamna- “ruffling one’s feathers,” Latin eris (genitive) “hedgehog,” Welsh garw “rough”). As a genre in film, 1934. Chamber of horrors originally (1849) was a gallery of notorious criminals in Madame Tussaud’s wax exhibition.

Here is an interesting discussion of the etymology of Horror that is too long to post here:  www.ligotti.net

Here is another extensive but fascinating article on the etymology of “horror”:  writinghorrorfiction.blogspot.com.

For modern definitions of horror visit the entries for “horror” at Merriam-Webster or  Oxford Dictionaries.

Synonyms can be found at Collins Dictionary.

Here is a good article on the distinction between “horror” and “terror” at Wikipedia.

If you would like a truly intellectual definition of horror, check out this article by Daniel Shaw at http://www.film-philosophy.com:  “A Humean Definition of Horror“.

Talkingphilosophy.com has the article “Tragically Defining Horror” posted by Mike LaBossiere .

Another scholarly article on the definition of horror is to be found at The American International Journal of Contemporary Research:  The Genre of Horror” by Mgr. Viktória Prohászková.

EricHoefler.com has the article Noel Carroll and the Definition of Horror.

Here is the Horror Writers Association definition of horror fiction


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