Monstrously Enlightening

The thing that lurks under your bed...and what you're doing in your bed

Monsters From the Id: The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film


By E. Michael Jones


Spence, 336 pp.

The phone rings and a young woman picks up. The killer is calling."Who's there?" she asks. This scene, from countless horror movies, is sowell known that in the 1996 movie "Scream," the killer, instead of simplytelling her she's about to die, upbraids her for her ignorance: "Never say,'Who's there,'" the killer says. "Don't you watch scary movies? It's a deathwish. You might as well come out to investigate a strange noise orsomething."

Even deadlier than asking "Who's there?" in horror films is havingsex outside of marriage. The rule "have sex and die" is so well-establishedthat "Scream" got its biggest laugh when the innocent teen Randy tells hisfriends, "I never thought I'd be so happy to be a virgin."

What lies behind the connection between sexual transgression and death? As E. Michael Jones writes in his new book, "Monsters From the Id:The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film," the monsters we encounter inhorror are produced by our rejection of Christian morality, and ourembrace of the Enlightenment's ethos of personal liberation, especially insexual matters.

The central character in Jones' book is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the creator of the first modern horror story: "Frankenstein." Horror, and the rules that govern the genre, are the product of her relationship with her lover and eventual husband, the poet Percy Shelley. At age 16, Mary ran away with the then-married poet. Over the next few years, Mary learned, through painful personal experience, the human toll exacted by the new ethos of liberation. In addition to the personal humiliation she endured--she was passed among Shelley's friends, and participated in a

ménage a trois

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withher stepsister--Mary watched as Shelley's quest for sexual liberation ledtwo women, including her own half-sister, to take their own lives.

Feeling remorseful and repulsed, Mary appeared to have two choices:She could embrace the new morality and set aside her misgivings and remorse.Or, she could repudiate this new morality and turn back to the Christianmoral tradition that her parents and husband had rejected. Instead, Mary found a third way: the horror story. In "Frankenstein," Mary was able to express her revulsion at both her lover and the moral ethos he embodied. The horror story about the terrible consequences of one man's attempt to play God, and the monster he produced in the process, was a depiction of the parade of horribles that the Enlightenment's aspiration to replace the biblical God--especially His moral law--with one more to its liking, had unleashed upon the world. But instead of acknowledging guilt and error in a straightforward manner, the acknowledgement was expressed symbolically and unconsciously.

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