Do You Believe?

By: Gina Brandolino

In H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Pickman’s Model,” the narrator Thurber reveals the moment of his realization that the artwork of his friend Pickman—dark, disturbing paintings depicting monstrous beings performing unsettling acts—is based on, not imagination, but reality. (I won’t reveal more of the details for folks who haven’t read the story.) This is a text I like to talk about early on in the semester because it gives a new class the chance to discuss the question of to what extent they believe in the supernatural elements of horror stories—to what extent they consider such elements not just the work of artistic imagination, but examples in fiction of phenomena that can and does happen “in real life.” This post and the poll below will, I hope, extend the most recent discussion we had in class and give followers of the blog who are not enrolled in the class this term a chance to join in, too.

It’s obvious that one need not believe in the supernatural to enjoy, like, or even love horror—in fact, not believing might make it easier to inhabit the world of horror because stakes of the stories change, are not so personal.

Without belief in the supernatural, horror stories give us a great opportunity to think more about the people, communities, and cultures that tell them: Why does terror take the shape that it does for them? What inspires it? What makes it go away? What happens if they succumb to it? Believing in the supernatural ups the ante on all these questions—and even moreso, on the answers to them.

So weigh in below, and feel free to say more by leaving a comment.

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9 thoughts on “Do You Believe?

  1. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but for me the more terrifying stories are ones with human monsters, because those can (and do) exist in real life, making them hit even closer to home. As a result, serial killers, predators, and cults take a lot less imagination for me to envision than ghouls or zombies, and that realization is terrifying.

    • Interestingly enough, I had just recently rediscovered the TvTropes article describing a similar kind of fear: Adult Fear. It interests me that someone bothered to make the distinction. It isn’t talking about fear of the unnatural, or even evolutionary fears, like heights.

      It talks a lot about fears like losing your job or getting a divorce or losing a kid. I think what makes the supernatural so frightening is how it interacts with these fears. In scary movies, it’s never just the protagonist, but also their close friends and family. That is Adult Fear that they are all in danger and you can’t help them. Especially now, as the scariest movie trailers I’ve seen recently are for Gravity- being lost in space- and a kidnapping.

      Yet despite this, I believe in the supernatural because of all the fears that can’t quite be explained away quite like this. It’s difficult to explain why I get a shiver up my spine when discussing the possibility of ghosts to my friends.

  2. Personally, I believe that there are too many things in this world that can’t be explained, so it makes it impossible for me to say that I don’t believe in something… else. While it’s true that people could have simply created horror stories based on superstitions, traditions, or taboos within their cultures, I find it hard to swallow the idea that every horror story is completely created from someone’s imagination. No one story is completely original – they are all based off of first hand or indirect experience with the world, or off of stories read or heard elsewhere. If so, then I think the world is full of unknowns that every once in awhile someone is lucky (or unlucky) enough to see.

  3. I believe in everything from faeries to daemons to angels to Aliens to the Loch Ness monster. It’s my belief that there is no way we could know everything that resides in our world (let alone the possibility of other dimensions) and there is a lot of things that remained unexplained for a reason.

  4. Kyle took the words right out of my mouth! I don’t believe in anything supernatural and, as a result, supernatural things tend not to scare/haunt me as much. I’m especially scared of serial killers because I know for a fact that they’re real and irrational. While most supernatural monsters kill people due to their animal instincts, serial killers kill people for absurd reasons. The fact that I don’t know how they think scares me to death!

  5. I definitely believe in the supernatural. I’ve witnessed things that I cannot explain, so who am I to not believe that others have as well. I definitely agree with Kyle that things that scare me are more tangible. The supernatural doesn’t really scare me all that much, because I don’t enter nature all that often so running into a monster or an alien in unlikely, my apartment is definitely not haunted, and the only ghosts I’ve ever experienced first hand with pretty benign. I’m much more afraid of space (why would you ever go into space? there is nothing about the human body that screams it is destined for space travel) like Allison mentioned, or running into a creep at a rest area when I’m alone in my car (never stop at a rest area when you’re alone in your car).

  6. I absolutely do not believe in the supernatural. I think that ghosts/spirits etc. are our minds attempting to make excuses for inexplicable things or irrational fears. However, I am not opposed to the belief in a superstition. Before every game I went through the same rituals, wore certain things, etc.

  7. I believe in the supernatural to some extent. I like to tell myself that I believe in spirits and ghosts instead of demons. I don’t know how much I believe that you can encounter the devil because I don’t think that the devil exists on earth. Believing in the supernatural definitely makes horror stories and movies scarier because when I am done watching or reading, I always think to myself, what if that happens to me? Where as if I didn’t believe in the supernatural, I would simply just forget about it because I would think that the chances of anything like that happening are impossible.

  8. I agree with Olivia, I believe in the supernatural to some extent, more so in demons instead of ghosts (I am Christian so that somewhat contributes to my belief in demons). I do believe in ghost but ghosts as in the spirits of people/animals. I was given something from my church that actually said on Halloween night spirits of people/animals roam the street (not sure how true it is or if I believe that its completely true but it always comes from the back of my mind when it gets close to Halloween). I’m not sure about encounters with the devil. I’m not saying that they can’t happen, but then again the movies that I have seen to support these encounters are subject to be false. But I have had a dream before about a possessed person. (Could have been because I ate spicy food really late at night and that can lead to crazy dreams). I do, however, believe in encounters with God. I know people (on several occasions) that have been in terrible terrible accidents in which they should have died due to the severity of the accident/tragic event, but have walked away with small scratches or small cuts. I myself recall having a dream when I was younger in which in the dream I opened my eyes and there was a boy who had on all white clothing with glowing skin standing next to my bed while I was laying in it asleep. He disappeared shortly after I saw him, and after this for some reason I felt really safe and calm. I’m not saying anything is impossible, but I definitely think that the “supernatural” exists to some extent.

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