This Christmas, my daughter gave me a copy of the standalone edition of Stephen King’s novella, The Mist. This was a fine and frightening tale of a group of people who are stranded in a supermarket when a mysterious mist populated by horrific monsters rolls over a small Maine town.
The Mist is a good example of what makes the best horror. Although there are monsters and some graphic violence, what makes this novella work are the different characters and how they react to a frightening and hopeless situation. Some characters do their best to be rational and think the situation through. Some characters completely lose their minds. Some try to make themselves useful. Some just raid the beer section and get drunk, trying to escape from reality. The most interesting confrontations are not those between the humans and the frightening creatures outside, they’re between the humans who have different approaches to how to deal with the situation. I was especially captivated by King’s depiction of the romantic liaison between the protagonist and a woman in the store. In a slasher flick, this might be an excuse for the monster to make an appearance. King simply uses the scene to explore how humans deal with stress and a need for companionship in a time of crisis.
It strikes me that there are some similarities between The Mist and my novel-in-progress The Astronomer’s Crypt. Both involve being trapped inside a building by a frightening and mysterious storm. Some people try to help each other, while others look out for themselves. King has given me some good things to think about as I consider how my characters react to each other as the story unfolds.
As The Mist draws to a close, Stephen King makes an interesting observation about endings. He mentions the “it was all a dream” ending and suggests it might be more satisfying than the ending he presents. In fact, I’ve always found the ending where the characters discover that the events were all a dream or their imagination to be a cop-out. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for happy endings, but I feel they need to be earned. The characters have to work for them, not simply wake up. I prefer a dark ending or an ambiguous ending if it feels like the right one for the story.
Do you have a favorite horror novel or story? If so, I’d love to hear what made it especially effective for you.