Review: Danse Macabre, by Stephen King

Fictional horrors to deal with the real ones (4 stars)

Originally released in 1981, Danse Macabre is a non-fiction book in which Stephen King tells the history of horror literature through the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as present the main influences on his work. The book also brings a very interesting theory about the importance of horror stories and the role they have in “exercising” our primal and destructive urges so that we can live in society.

“Why do you want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the world? The answer seems to be that we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

“[Horror] offers us a chance to exercise (that’s right; not exorcise but exercise) emotions which society demands we keep closely in hand. The horror film is an invitation to indulge in deviant, antisocial behavior by proxy—to commit gratuitous acts of violence, indulge our puerile dreams of power, to give in to our most craven fears. Perhaps more than anything else, the horror story or horror movie says it’s okay to join the mob, to become the total tribal being, to destroy the outsider.”

“Monstrosity fascinates us because it appeals to the conservative Republican in a three-piece suit who resides within all of us. We love and need the concept of monstrosity because it is a reaffirmation of the order we all crave as human beings . . . and let me further suggest that it is not the physical or mental aberration in itself which horrifies us, but rather the lack of order which these aberrations seem to imply.”

Fictional violence is often used as an escape goat for true violence, but violence on books, film, games; it exists because society is violent. Trying to hide this fantasy violence to avoid true violence is like trying to cure fever by banning thermometers. As a writer, I also like a lot the no-bullshit attitude Stephen King has towards writing and literature.

To a younger reader many of the references of series from the 1950s and 1970s may be lost, but even in these cases I felt King brought an intriguing personal insight that made the reading worth my time. Danse Macabre seems less like a TED Talk about the history of horror and more like a conversation in a bar. Only a conversation with a genius three times more intelligent than you and that knows the theme thirty times better than you, and is completely in love with it.

“We’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better.”

Guilherme Solari is a Brazilian writer and journalist from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has written about movies, literature and videogames for some of Brazil’s biggest news sites. He is the author of THE CASCAVEL CHRONICLES, a love letter to 80's action movies, as well as the cyberpunk CYBERSAMPA series.