Monday, July 27, 2015

Fear and the Power of Words

One of the things that Ms. Townsend mentioned when I was in contact with her, is how she brings horror to life.

"To dare to live alone is the rarest courage; since there are many who had rather meet their bitterest enemy in the field, than their own hearts in their closet." - Charles Caleb Colton

She talked about the power of being alone, being isolated. And when I thought about it, that's the biggest fear I've ever had, the cause of some of the most terrifying moments in my life.

For example, as a child I went to camp, as many do, and the guys thought it would be funny to lock me in a closet. Now, I grew up camping with my father, so the dark has never scared me. But that moment when the dark closed around me, and I heard their voices fade away, that was when the fear caught me. Watching horror movies with friends doesn't have nearly as intense of an impact as watching one alone. When the car stalls in the middle of nowhere, it's not the car problems, it's how to return to civilization that grabs the mind.

And Townsend isn't the only one who has grasped the idea of isolation as a fear-inducing factor. Some of the greatest horror movies and books use this technique.

Let's start with a classic: Psycho. There aren't many who don't recognize the sound of the knife descending in Hitchcock's classic work. And what brought it to be so scary? What's the big deal about someone running around with a knife? The fact that it's in the middle of nowhere. A hotel that's been forgotten by most of civilization.

Want something a little more recent? How about the Blair Witch Project? They run around the woods, being picked off when they're alone... Until nothing but the film remains.

If that's still not recent enough for you, I'll remind you of Mama. Mama is now considered one of the 30 scariest horror movies of all time. And why? Why is that so scary? The uncle of the two girls is often alone with them, or Annabel is. When all the scary stuff goes down, the people are alone, experiencing the paranormal events on their own. Ditto for the Insidious series. Why d'you think they send the characters into a dimension where they can't interact with other humans? To up the fear ante, of course!
Still from Mama
In fact, looking down the list of the 30 Scariest Horror Movies, I see that it's a going trend, which doesn't surprise me. Isn't this one of the biggest fears that they talk about? "Dying alone." As if dying itself wasn't bad enough? Being alone is a universal fear, and therein lies the power of Towsend's choices in writing.
Still from The Forlorned

Fast forward to June 21, 2015. Angela J. Townsend released her second horror novel, The Forlorned. In The Forlorned, the main character, Tom Doherty, is  removed to a god-forsaken island to work on the lighthouse. Beyond that, he's miles away from his hometown, so the people he meets and the friends he makes are new to him. As far as he knows, they could be pulling his leg. Doherty is brought to a completely new habitat. He is, put simply, removed from all the world.

River of Bones Poster
On a side note, this is not the first time Townsend has used this tactic.
Townsend is also the author of River of Bones, a horror novel based in Louisiana. In it, the main character, a girl by the name of Dharma, is left home alone but for her little brother. In case you were thinking, "at least she has someone," that same young, innocent boy is attacked, leaving Dharma not only fending for her own life, but also responsible for her little brother.

For anyone who hasn't figured it out yet, I'm a big fan of Ms. Townsend's work. But I'm not the only one. In reviews, River of Bones (19 reviews) has 4.4/5 stars, and 5/5 on The Forlorned (which had 11 reviews after I posted mine, but is apparently having issues, and only has 6 now).
Still from River of Bones book trailer.
I'm willing to go on record saying this will grace my bookshelf for years to come, resting next to the works of such authors as J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Peterson, James Dashner, Yann Martel, and Max Brooks. And I'd recommend it to any other readers out there.

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