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Danse Macabre Paperback – February 23, 2010
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In the fall of 1978 (between The Stand and The Dead Zone), Stephen King taught a course at the University of Maine on "Themes in Supernatural Literature." As he writes in the foreword to this book, he was nervous at the prospect of "spending a lot of time in front of a lot of people talking about a subject in which I had previously only felt my way instinctively, like a blind man." The course apparently went well, and as with most teaching experiences, it was as instructive, if not more so, to the teacher as it was to the students. Thanks to a suggestion from his former editor at Doubleday, King decided to write Danse Macabre as a personal record of the thoughts about horror that he developed and refined as a result of that course.
The outcome is an utterly charming book that reads as if King were sitting right there with you, shooting the breeze. He starts on October 4, 1957, when he was 10 years old, watching a Saturday matinee of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Just as the saucers were mounting their attack on "Our Nation's Capital," the movie was suddenly turned off. The manager of the theater walked out onto the stage and announced, "The Russians have put a space satellite into orbit around the earth. They call it ... Spootnik."
That's how the whole book goes: one simple, yet surprisingly pertinent, anecdote or observation after another. King covers the gamut of horror as he'd experienced it at that point in 1978 (a period of about 30 years): folk tales, literature, radio, good movies, junk movies, and the "glass teat". It's colorful, funny, and nostalgic--and also strikingly intelligent. --Fiona Webster --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
King's 1987 disquisition on the nature, quality, and substance of the horror genre from 1950 to 1980 gains new life as an audiobook, and listeners will enjoy (and enjoy disagreeing with) King's conclusions and seeing which ones have held up. A new introduction features King revisiting his book and recent horror narratives. William Dufris narrates with a clear, easygoing tone that works well with King's playful and enthusiastic prose. Dufris keeps up with King's shifting tone and even attempts the occasional goofy impersonation when King's writing suggests it, such as the devious laugh of the Crypt Keeper. Though its breadth can be overwhelming, the book becomes a delight to listen to in the hands of Dufris's skillful performance—and listeners will leave with an extensive list of must-see and must-read material. A Berkley paperback. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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“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.”
If there's one thing I love from reading Stephen King, it's his introductions. Each one is a story within itself. Who can forget his story notes on Everything's Eventual, Skeleton Crew and Nightmares and Dreamscapes? Who can simply pass by The Importance of being Bachman (an intro into his life as a pseudonym and that eventual end.)?
I know I can't.
I know that the introduction isn't the biggest selling point of a story but it certainly is the tidiest way to move you along, find out the author's motivations for writing the story, a peek behind the curtain, if you will.
Well, I'm here to tell you that his non-fiction book, Danse Macbre, is like one big introduction to the horror genre from 1920 -1980. Of course, it's King, so you can expect some divergent thinking and many tangents, even footnotes that sort of bog down the point. The first half is about the movies and myths he experiences from his youth. He covers vampires, ghosts, werewolves, mad scientists and even that Hook story all the teeny boppers knew in the 1950's. Like the Red Sea that it is, it is a lot to wade through. But, if you hang steady and let the tide take you, you eventually get to the meat.
Once he goes through the ins and outs of proper horror, classy horror, the black and white horror that we've forgotten with all this Psycho-in-your-face-torture-porn, he gets to movies that did it right and, more importantly, books that did it right. Back in those days you dealt with cold, hard, true terror. Now everything is done for shock value. That doesn't seem right to me. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man did it the right way. He also pays tribute to the writers, sharing some insight on interviews behind the stories they wrote.
The last chapter is, I think, by far the best, where he rotates real news stories on crimes inspired or inadvertently comitted by horror films and books. There's this crazy article about Baltimore in 1980 where a women gets attacked by someone while she's reading a book while waiting for the bus. I won't spoil what happens next. You'll have to read it to believe it.
By the end of it all, you've gathered that half was criticism and half was the really delicious meat we were hunting for. The last two sections give an Appendix A and Appendix B. Appendix A is a list of all the classic, well-done, well-directed horror movies with a few stinkers just to get you started. The other index a list of every horror book referenced and they are classics. I suggest you read them. I've already added them to my reading list.
If you can take one thing away from reading this book, you could say that, although lengthy at times, King was able to go through every nook and cranny to show us the classier horror of the day. No rock went un-turned.
Truly, a good read from King.