Charles R. Bernard is a writer who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He resides next to the largest city-operated cemetery in the United States; a sprawling necropolis whose tombs and markers stretch out over a square kilometer of grounds.
Charles is lively enough company, though. You can find him on Twitter at @CRBernard and on Instagram at @SaltCitySinner, and can read more at saltcitysinner.blogspot.com.
The towering influences of writers like Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mary Shelley extend well beyond the boundaries of horror and into the wider realm of literature proper, a point that has been belabored enough that I don’t need to make it again here. Less explored (and perhaps more interesting) are the occasions on which writers who are well-loved and respected outside of the cobwebbed graveyard of macabre literature have slipped through the gates of that cemetery for a midnight jaunt. My favorite example might be the short story “the Comet” by William E.B. DuBois, a brilliant writer not usually known for his ghost stories. “The Comet” can be read as many things – an early science fiction story, a sharp-eyed tale about race, class, and American society, and – with its necropolitan flair — an excellently-crafted horror tale. I think it is best understood as all and none of these, and a great example of how fluid and arbitrary the boundaries that separate so-called “genre fiction” from so-called “literature” can be.
Four friends met on a beautiful morning in the dining room
of an opulent hotel in Washington, D.C. They gathered to give thanks to
themselves for a year of promises kept and dreams realized, of enemies
humiliated and opponents crushed. They crowded around a small table, as chummy
as pups in a litter in the luminous modern environs of the eatery, surrounded
by the susurrous scrape of silverware. Around them, the world was awash in
ivory radiance; white tablecloths, white napkins, white walls, soft white recessed
lighting. Their voices had the low, relaxed tones of powerful men at ease among
confederates but eager not to be overheard by outsiders.
(Note: If women’s reproductive choice and autonomy are
issues you care about, the single best thing you can do right now is donate to
the National Network of Abortion Funds. As their website says, “Not
being able to afford or access an abortion is not an individual problem. It’s a
systemic injustice. Together, we can fight back.”)
week, I talked about a few of Stephen King’s portrayals of pregnancy
in his work. King is one of the all-time greats, but even Orson Welles had his
off moments, and so has King. That said, his heart is in the right
place and his characters are usually three dimensional and well-developed, with
voices and desires that sound and feel authentic. The same cannot be said of
all approaches to pregnancy in horror, however. Some writers and filmmakers are
responsible for portraits of gestation that serve as both potent prophylactics
and startling snapshots of misogyny – and the best place to start is with my old arch-enemy Stephanie Meyer and her novel Breaking Dawn.
I’ve referred before, in
my review of Clive Barker’s Books of
Blood, to what I’ve called Stephen King’s conservatism. I want
to clarify, before digging into a few examples of his treatment of pregnancy,
that I don’t mean he’s politically right-of-center. If anything, King’s long-running
dispute with Maine Governor (and unapologetic white nationalist)
Paul LePage indicate that he’s a lefty when it comes to social and fiscal
issues. The conservatism I talk about when I point it out in King is more of an
attitudinal, dispositional conservativism. It’s a habit of mind, a way of
looking at the world that King (in Danse
Macabre) framed as a
tension between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, between chaos and
Depending on your definition of horror and how broadly you want to define the canon, the first pregnancy-themed horror stories are tales of gods and monsters; stories that explained both the generative and destructive powers of the universe. This is understandable, not only as theology but also as divine biology, infant mortality and rates of illness and death for expectant mothers being what they were in the misty days of myth: as below, so above. It’s difficult to ascertain the degree of personal choice involved in the matter, but the earliest archeological representations of divinity are of a pregnant mother-goddess, her breasts and belly swollen to exaggerated fullness. If not an image of agency, that is at least an image of potency and power. Sometimes, the women or goddesses in these ancient stories demonstrate agency, as when the titan Cronus’ wife, Rhea, and mother, Gaia, conspired to feed him a rock in place of his son Zeus. More often, however, pregnancy in myth and religion – from Zeus and Leda to Yahweh and Mary — tends to be visited upon women, rather than something that they choose.
I live beside the largest municipally-operated cemetery in the United States: Salt Lake City Cemetery, a sprawling necropolis that stretches out over a square kilometer of grounds. It’s one of the most tranquil places in the city. The trees are mature and well-tended, the lawns neat, the markers often interesting and sometimes quite beautiful. It’s a place of peace and reflection, which is exactly what a cemetery should be; I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending for anyone, but the dead appear to care remarkably little about the disposition of their remains or, indeed, their legacy in a larger sense. Cemeteries, like funerals, are for the living, poor fools that we are. Continue reading Rest in Peace, Lilly Gray
This month, Madness Heart Press will release American Cult, an anthology of horror focusing on uniquely American visions of horror. It includes my short story “stuffed,” and is available for pre-order as we speak. In honor of its release, this is the third part of a three-part examination of American horror and the terrors and beauty that are part of life in this cult-drunk time and place in which we live. (You can read parts one and two here and here.)
When Clive Barker’s Books of Blood began their publication in 1984, it would be fair to say that Stephen King had already reinvented horror as a popular genre. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, King had published more than a dozen novels. Still, even Stephen King himself viewed the publication of the Books as a watershed moment for horror: it was the Books of Blood that led King to famously call Clive Barker “the future of horror.” Continue reading Review: Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’