There is something inherently beautiful about the horror genre. Considered by many as the black sheep of the literary world, readers have often shunned it as a lower form of the written art.
Something about it just doesn’t click. Maybe it’s the way the genre tackles taboo subjects no other genre touches, or maybe it’s the sublime terror readers feel when in the presence of a wonderfully crafted scare. It’s out of control, and fans of horror like it that way.
Needless to say, the genre has definitely undergone a lot of changes over the year. Horror evolution has come in many forms, sometimes good, sometimes ridiculous –Vampires that glitter? Really?
Still, through all these changes, readers cannot and should not forget some of the most prolific authors that built the foundations upon which the genre now stands.
Here, we raise our hats to three authors that really set the stage for all that followed.
1. Mary Shelly
On a rainy night in 1817, an eighteen-year-old girl was having an intense dream, after she had heard ghost stories from her company to pass the time.
In a moment fueled by excitement and inspiration, the mother of horror, Mary Shelly, swiftly wrote down the premise of her masterpiece, Frankenstein, on paper. The gothic novel was published two years later, and to this day remains an inspiration for many.
In a world where people were in the dark about life, death, diseases, science, and God, the 19th century was bursting with false beliefs and superstitions fueled by fear. Fear of the unknown was one of the main elements that made Frankenstein a masterpiece, other than the fact that it was the first of its kind and an early example of science fiction.
Another way to approach Frankenstein is to acknowledge that it was written in a period where people were heading towards realism after romanticism. People started feeling utter neglect from nature, and no matter the miseries they endured and underwent, nature still remained to defy them and make life harder.
The same concept was applied in Frankenstein, in the way the monster was ignored by his creator, and his supernatural nature was making existence an unbearable experience.
Most often than not, artworks usually reflect a side of its creator, and it’s as if a piece of the artist breathes and lives in that artwork. Mary Shelly wasn’t a stranger to this truth; the mother of horror went through different catastrophes that were deeply rooted in Frankenstein, which inevitably led to its success.
Ten days after Shelly’s birth, her mother died and her father looked upon his daughter’s birth as a dreadful fate. An infant who was dismissed by its parent; sounds familiar? After Frankenstein created his monster, he completely dismissed it, which reflects how Mary Shelly felt.
Sixteen-year-old Mary was pregnant with a child after she married Percy Shelly. Unfortunately she had to suffer loss for the death of her infant after a few weeks of its birth. During her immense grief, Mary Shelly wrote down in her journal how much she wished that her baby would come back to life. Her baby’s death is yet another example of how her misery impacted her masterpiece.
Ever since its release, Frankenstein still manages to inspire many films, novels, and theatrical producers. There are plenty of spin-offs to Frankenstein, with some that are not necessarily about Frankenstein’s monster, but about a monster similar to it. Books like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Golem, Hideous Love, Man Made Boy, and many others wouldn’t have existed without Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
The use of the gothic element in science fiction for the very first time in the 19th century certainly isn’t that freaky to us, but it has definitely given birth to a monster that continues to give us a scare!
2. Bram Stoker
A pale ghost wanders around in the colossal remains of White Abbey, lurking in the shadows of the gothic monastery, and bursting out of the bricked wall that once held her body captive until she died.
She floats across the ruins, as the bats spread out and greet unwelcome visitors, stares out of the smashed windows, and inspires Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Bram Stoker was bed-ridden up until he turned seven, and his mother used to tell him horror stories to keep him company in his sickness. Naturally, he grew up with a taste for the supernatural, and a palate filled with legends, lores, and horror stories.
Even though Stoker’s imagination was enriched with supernatural stories as a child, he still had a relentless hunger for it and sought inspiration everywhere.
By the time Stoker was 43, he had learned about Vlad Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler. Stoker spent seven years learning about European folklore, superstitions, and about the real Dracula’s malicious ways. Maybe Vlad Dracula didn’t suck blood from his victims’ necks, but he still dipped his beard into buckets of them – as one would occasionally do right after a feast.
Yes, Vlad the third might have been a groundbreaking inspiration for Stoker’s anti-hero Dracula; however, his friend Henry Irving was the physical inspiration for Dracula’s looks and figure.
Imagination, folklore, and historical facts weren’t Stoker’s only inspirations. People’s misunderstanding and fear of obscure diseases played a role as well. At the time, people didn’t have a modern-day understanding of certain illnesses. One example is rabies, a disease that causes biting and sensitivity to light and garlic, which could be one of the reasons why Dracula inspired fear in the readers’ hearts.
Another element that inspired Dracula was Emily Gerard’s Transylvania Superstitions, which included rich material about vampire myth.
Stoker’s original 541-page manuscript was discovered in some barn in Pennsylvania, only the title was The Undead. Ever since this discovery, many have suggested that perhaps Stoker was the first to coin the term “undead”.
Bram Stoker wrote twelve novels, and published several collections of short stories, yet Dracula alone managed to inspire over 1000 novels, and 200 films. Two years after his death, his widow published a collection of his short stories, Dracula’s Guest, and later his great grandnephew published Dracula: The Un-Dead, a sequel based on Stoker’s own notes. This sequel changed the narrative a little, and included Bram Stoker as one of the characters.
It’s fascinating how one novel managed to pave the way for many works of art, such as Dracula’s Daughter, Horror of Dracula, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, DC comics’ Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, The Count from sesame street, Sherlock Holmes’s tale: The Adventure is the Sussex Vampire, and an abundance of other TV-shows and movies.
3. Robert Louis Stevenson
A long time sufferer of tuberculosis, R.L. Stevenson was tossing and turning in his bed while having a nightmarish dream. He was so enraptured by his dream that when his wife, Fanny, tried waking him up, his response was: “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.”
Stevenson was inspired by many people who had surrounded him at the time, like Louis Vivet, who was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. Vivet had two personalities, the first a humble man, smart, kind, with a paralyzed lower body. The other personality was of a man who was argumentative, arrogant, devious, and was able to walk perfectly.
Vivet reported that when he was in one of the two personalities, he wouldn’t have any recollections of the other one, let alone its existence.
Another person who had inspired Stevenson was William Brodie, the devious city councilor who turned out to be a burglar of Stevenson’s hometown. Much like Dr. Jekyll in the story, Brodie too was a well established member in the community and had a prosperous life before he met his downfall.
Stevenson tried to connect the dots between everything that was happening around him to come up with the premise of his story, but because he was suffering from tuberculosis, the effects of cocaine on his body made it really hard to pin point the drafts which later became his story.
Stevenson’s tuberculosis was getting so bad, he was often bed-ridden, and could hardly speak. Yet he managed to hand in 30,000 words – hand written!
Similar to Mary Shelly, once again we are met by a great example of a gothic novel that is intertwined with science ever-so perfectly. Which doesn’t come as much of a surprise because Stevenson himself was inspired by Shelly’s masterpiece.
Given the enormous amount of success that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has seen, it is safe to say that it definitely has inspired plays, films, television, radio, books, and even movies. There are plenty of adaptations in all forms of art, and you will find it difficult to come across anyone who doesn’t know this wonderful tale.
In the final years of Stevenson’s life he wrote works like In the South Seas, Island Nights Entertainments, The Wrecker, and so many more. These rich works weren’t necessarily as famous as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but they most certainly enhanced Stevenson’s’ status in the literary world.
The End of the Road
Without these authors’ influences on the literary world, we wouldn’t have classic horror icons like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde. We wouldn’t have had creatures like zombies, the Hulk, vampires, Nosferatu, mad scientists, and so much more.
Billions of works of art have been based on these authors’ creations, and the inspiration they’ve educed into the world doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So, while other monsters may come out to play, the originals will always be the basis of anything our horrific imaginations are yet to create.