The True Face of Horror

I just finished reading one of the Discworld novels by Terry Prachett, Lords and Ladies. I enjoyed it as I have all the Discworld novels I have read so far. They are comical and insightful and I enjoy things that can both entertain and educate. The funny thing is that while reading it I had a realization about the British folklore concept of horror.

It starts out as anything else terrifying. The concept of walking through the woods alone is considered horror all over the world but for the British the real horror happens on one of the days it isn’t raining. A day when the sun is shinning.

You’re traveling through the woods and it is more beautiful than you remember the woods ever being. Up ahead you hear music that also happens to be the most beautiful music you have ever heard. Then you come upon a man or woman that is the most beautiful that you have ever seen. They give you more gold than you have ever seen and you and them make love, better than any love you’ve ever made, on top of that pile of gold. Then you stay with them for a time that seems like not very long and eternity all at the same time before they send you on your way.

When you get home you barely remember all the love making and music but you’ve got the gold and you use it to improve the lives of your family or to start a family. It really depends on where you are in life. Then one day a beautiful stranger shows up and either takes your first born or if you already had a first born they trick you into eating them. Now that you are sufficiently morose they tell you they did this to you because you dared to spend the gold they gave to you fully knowing what humans do with gold.

The scenario is horrific. No one wants to have their first born stolen from them or to eat their own child, but think of the set up. You go for a walk and meet a beautiful stranger who makes you rich and then makes love to you. The stranger is beautiful, the woods where they live are beautiful, the love making is beautiful, the gold they give you is beautiful, and it all makes your life beautiful until they show up again and rip it all away.

Contrast this with the American version of horror involving a deformed drowned kid or a misshapen child born because a nun was raped or a large adult that gets mad because it is Halloween. American boogeymen are deformed and ugly on the outside and run at you with knives or chainsaws. British boogeymen are beautiful and give you wealth and only leave you alone if you feed them cream or put iron over your doors.

A healthy distrust of beautiful rich people is always a good idea, especially if they want to share, but it is strange thinking about it. I have always found that Terry Prachett is good at that. Making me think about things I know but have never thought about.

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