I recently read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a nonfiction book exploring the horror genre roughly from the 1950s to 1980s. It’s not my favorite of King’s work, admittedly. There were a lot of tangents and humorous asides that made the book hard to follow. By King’s own admission at the beginning of the book, there’s also plenty of stuff to disagree with him on (I, in particular, took issue with the disparaging way he spoke about comic books). That said, there is one section of the book that keeps coming back to me.
In the chapter on horror fiction, King discusses the fantasy horror novel Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. It’s an incredible book, one filled with dark, dreamy prose that sucks you right in. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy and soon. It’s almost Halloween and Something Wicked This Way Comes is a great spooky season treat that won’t disappoint.
Anyway, I won’t spoil the book here, but just know it contains themes of leaving childhood and transitioning into adulthood. Relating to Bradbury’s tendency to romanticize childhood, King had the following to say:
“Childhood itself is a myth for almost all of us. We think we remember what happened to us when we were kids, but we don’t. The reason is simple: we were crazy then. Looking back into this well of sanity as adults who are, if not totally insane, then at least neurotic instead of out-and-out psychotic, we attempt to make sense of things which made no sense, read importance into things which had no importance, and remember motivations which simply didn’t exist. This is where the process of myth making begins.”
I love this last line. “This is where the process of myth making begins.”
Because, I suppose in a way, that’s what I’m doing with this Growing Up with Horror series. I’m trying to remember my childhood through a particular lens, imposing certain meanings to things that may not have existed at the time. What happened to me as a kid could have just been kids-being-kids sort of things, but in hindsight, there seems to be something magical about these events – and I believe that magic is worth remembering.
Because, sure, my childhood (or anyone else’s for that matter) might not have been perfect, but there were moments that were perfect. Moments that, when remembered, still manage to instill a sense of childlike wonder in me. And in a world that’s as depressing and distressing as ours, I think we need to hold onto that childlike wonder with all our strength for our own sanity.
Later in Danse Macabre, King says, “The imagination is an eye, a marvelous third eye that floats free. As children, that eye sees with 20/20 clarity. As we grow older, its vision starts to dim… The job of the fantasy writer, or the horror writer, is to bust the walls of that tunnel vision wide for a little while; to provide a single powerful spectacle for the third eye. The job of the fantasy-horror writer is to make you, for a little while, a child again.”
I don’t know how it’s possible to achieve that sort of outcome if you yourself have lost what it was like to be a child.
So, I’ll keep digging through my past, sharing what I can, and fighting to keep that “marvelous third eye” open as long as possible.