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Danse Macabre (1981) - Stephen King

Related: 1981 - danse macabre - Stephen King - American horror - American culture - the horror genre

Stephen King's history of horror, focusing on American horror and its relationship to American culture of the 1950-1980 periods, it also digresses to gothic fiction of the mid and late 19th century. [Aug 2006]

Before leaving these three novels [Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll] behind, and any kind of in-depth analysis of nineteenth-century supernatural fiction with them (and if you'd like to pursue the subject further, may I recommend H. P. Lovecraft's long essay Supernatural Horror in Literature? --King, page 78

Danse Macabre (1981) - Stephen King [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

"It's easy enough-perhaps too easy-to memorialize
the dead. This book is for six great writers
of the macabre who are still alive.



Enter, Stranger, at your Riske: Here there be Tygers."


Danse Macabre is a nonfiction book by Stephen King on horror fiction and United States pop culture and published in 1981. Danse Macabre examines the various influences on his own writing, and important genre texts of the 20th century. Focusing on horror and suspense films, television and fiction from a fan's perspective peppered with informal academic insight, King discusses archetypes, important authors, narrative devices, "the psychology of terror", and his key theory of "Dionysian horror." [a concept King borrowed from Nietzsche and Camille Paglia used in her Sexual Personae]

In a footnote to the first edition, King credits Bill Thompson, the editor of his first five published novels, and later editor at Doubleday, as being the inspiration for its creation.

"But on this November night not long after Halloween, Bill called me and said, 'Why don't you do a book about the entire horror phenomenon as you see it?' Books, movies, radio, TV, the whole thing. We'll do it together, if you want.'

"The concept intrigued and frightened me at the same time."

Thompson ultimately convinced King that if he wrote such a genre survey, he would no longer have to answer tedious, repetitive interview questions on the topic. King agreed to write his non-fiction appraisal of the horror genre, limiting the scope of Danse Macabre to the past three decades, and using his college teaching notes as the backbone of the text. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danse_Macabre_%28book%29 [Jul 2006]

Sympathy for people who do not appreciate speculative fiction

Whenever I run into someone who expresses a feeling along the lines of, "I don't read fantasy or go to any of those movies; none of it's real," I feel a kind of sympathy. They simply can't lift the weight of fantasy. The muscles of the imagination have grown too weak. --page 105

Terror, horror and revulsion

In his excellent book Danse Macabre, which charts the evolution of horror from archetypal folk myths to the TV shows and films of the twentieth century, Stephen King defines the descending levels of delightful distress which horror inspires: 'The genre exists on three more or less separate levels, [with] terror on top, horror below it, and lowest of all, the gag-reflex of revulsion ... I recognise terror as the finest emotion ... and so I will try to terrorise the reader. But if I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I cannot horrify I will go for gross out. I'm not proud.' --http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,4120,1066084,00.html [Aug 2006]

See also: terror - horror - disgust (gag reflex, gross out)

Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll

Titles: Frankenstein (1818) - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) - Dracula (1897)

Probably the best chapter in Stephen King's book is his analysis of these three gothic novels. A summary:

In Danse Macabre (1981), his non-fiction study of the horror genre, Stephen King distinguishes three Gothic archetypes that embody the central issues with which the Gothic era was concerned. To be more precise, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) deals with "the refusal to take personal responsibility for one's actions because of pride" (62); Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) portrays perverse or, in medical terms, abnormal and repressed sexuality as well as double standards of sexuality [hypocrisy]; and, finally, Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) exploits the possibilities provided by the discovery of the human psyche during the Gothic period, that is, the question of the double. -- "The Monster Never Dies": An Analysis of the Gothic Double in Stephen King's Oeuvre in Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900 - present), Spring 2003, Volume 2, Issue 1, sourced http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2003/strengell.htm [Jul 2006]

Heidi Strengell

Amazon review by Fiona Webster

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 via amazon.com

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