Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: LIVING IN FEAR: A HISTORY OF HORROR IN THE MASS MEDIA by Les Daniels (Scribner's, 1975)


from a 1995 interview with Daniels for Tabula Rasa:

Kyla Ward for TR: Just touching on the other non-fiction book, Fear --

Les Daniels: AKA Living in Fear --

TR: "A History of Horror in the Mass Media."

LD: This followed the first book on comics [Comix, 1971], and once again was based on the fact this was something I was interested in. In a way it's dated and superceded now, there were fairly few books even on horror films back then; but what makes it more unique now is that in addition to discussing most of the significant English-language horror films made up till that time, it also tried to deal with the literature, going back to the Gothic novel and so on. I tried to cover so much ground that there's usually only a couple of sentences about anything that I mentioned, and so much written since that in a way it's superficial.

TR: And it also includes certain stories --

LD: It's partially an anthology.

TR: -- you printed Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder." Thank you.

LD: Well, it's important to me. At that period, I think the concept of the tradition and what had gone before was almost the basis of horror and was of interest to horror writers and people who made horror films; there has been a tremendous leap, it was almost as though I wrote that book at the appropriate time, because since then there has been a big jump in horror in terms of its wide promulgation and acceptance, and at the same time there has been a tremendous difference in the content.

Living in Fear was the first book about (as well as in small part collecting) horror that I encountered, and as a survey it was an excellent indicator that there was a wide world of material awaiting me of which I had only picked up on a small segment so far...albeit with the anthologies and comics I was reading and the Thriller television series playing in repeats locally in Connecticut (even as repeats of the first The Outer Limits series had brightened noirishly my Saturday afternoons in the Boston suburbs a few years before), and the infrequent good films I could see in theaters (tv averaged better, even with all the damned commercials and the cuts in some of the films, at least as often for more commercials...the rare horror film on the PBS stations were a particular treat), I was already aware of quite a range of work.

Daniels, an independent scholar with a continuing love for horror (and a novelist, beginning in the next decade), didn't produce an impeccably researched book, and even I as a ten year old could spot an error or two (he referred to Gene Roddenberry's nonextistant work on The Outer Limits, for example), but the stories recounted and described (of the developement of horror as a field of literature and in related media) and the actual fiction collected in the coffee-table book were often excellent, as well as excellent nudges. As an anthology, others were more important to me, but as a key to the highway...

Certainly Stephen King's Danse Macabre and others which followed Living in Fear never would have such an impact for me, even when written by such well-informed and reflective artists as Ransey Campbell...even now, very few have attempted to match the scope of this one. (Though, for example, E. F. Bleiler's works, among them the first edition of Supernatural Fiction Writers, are always worth the look...even if a look in son Richard Bleiler's 2002 second edition of that compendium would provide one with, among better and worse contributions, an example of my own bit of survey, on Joyce Carol Oates and, in passing, Kate Wilhelm.)

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for further Friday books citations.

8 comments:

K. A. Laity said...

Somehow I always picture Les in his bathrobe as he "fights" in That Damned Game Show trivia-off at Necon regardless of the situation. Interesting interview. I have this book as well. It did come out at an interesting moment in horror film making. Haven't looked at it in years!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, my gosh, the Outer Limits. I did love that show.

Evan Lewis said...

Wish I'd latched onto this back in '75.

Todd Mason said...

Kate--yep...one of the best ever, THE LAST WAVE, was just starting production as I was reading the book, and I just caught most of it again this morning as I meant to be getting ready for work. But the book's value is that it ranges from Walpole to Alice Cooper, EC Comics to THRILLER (the television anthology series with Boris Karloff, not the later Jackson album and its title song and video, nor even the '70s British series), and I believe it was the first book, certainly the first trade book, to range quite like that.

Patti--given your antipathy for tv horror, I'm surprised you dug the borderline horror/sf of most of THE OUTER LIMITS...or did the fateful incident with that TWILIGHT ZONE episode happen later than the first run of TOL?

Evan--I was certainly glad to see it.

George said...

Some consider THE DEMON WITH THE GLASS HAND written by Harlan Ellison to be the best episode of the original OUTER LIMITS.

Todd Mason said...

Some do; I think Ellison might be as proud of it as any of his other scripting. I think "Nightmare" is better (it was rather badly botched by the new OUTER LIMITS series). Considering what an ass I consider the writer of that episode (and coproducer of the sereis) Joseph Stefano (who attempted to claim all the credit for PSYCHO the script and minimize what he drew from Robert Bloch's novel, an effort that Gus Van Sant attempted to aid him in though Hitchcock slapped him down over it), that's saying something.

Todd Mason said...

And, yes, I do know how to spell series, oddly enough...and Bloch slapped him down even harder, when Stefano attempted to claim complete credit in a professional venue, leading to Stefano funding an ad in which Robert Bloch, "the only author of the novel PSYCHO," congratulating Stefano for his adaptation.

Todd Mason said...

Or, even, congratulated.