TIL that Gothic literature makes a distinction between “terror” and “horror.” Terror is the sense of dread and apprehension that...


TIL that Gothic literature makes a distinction between “terror” and “horror.” Terror is the sense of dread and apprehension that precedes an experience, horror is the sense of revulsion after an experience.



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  • Some years ago, I read an essay on fear in literature (by Orson Scott Card, maybe?) that subdivided it into *dread*, *terror*, and *horror*.

    The writer, whoever he was, said something like, “*Dread* is what you feel when you and your friend are waiting for the monster to emerge from around the corner. *Terror* is what you feel when you see the monster emerge from around the corner. And *horror* is what you feel when you see the monster eat your friend.”

    He also said that dread is the strongest of the three — an interesting claim, I think.

    ——–

    EDIT. Yes, it was Card. I found a excerpt from the essay in [this Reddit post](https://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/19lai1/orson_scott_card_on_dread_terror_and_horror/). Here is the excerpt:

    > Which brings us to the most potent tool of storytellers. Fear. And not just fear, but dread. Dread is the first and strongest of the three kinds of fear. It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is. The fear that comes when you first realize that your spouse should have been home an hour ago; when you hear a strange sound in the baby’s bedroom; when you realize that a window you are sure you closed is now open, the curtains billowing, and you’re alone in the house.

    > Terror only comes when you see the thing you’re afraid of. The intruder is coming at you with a knife. The headlights coming toward you are clearly in your lane. The klansmen have emerged from the bushes and one of them is holding a rope. This is when all the muscles in your body, except perhaps the sphincters, tauten and you stand rigid; or you scream; or you run. There is a frenzy to this moment, a climactic power—but is the power of release, not the power of tension. And bad as it is, it is better than dread in this respect: Now, at least, you know the face of the thing you fear. You know its borders, its dimensions. You know what to expect.

    > Horror is the weakest of all. After the fearful thing has happened, you see its remainder, its relics. The grisly, hacked-up corpse. Your emotions range from nausea to pity for the victim. And even your pity is tinged with revulsion and disgust; ultimately you reject the scene and deny its humanity; with repetition, horror loses its ability to move you and, to some degree, dehumanizes the victim and therefore dehumanizes you…

    > So: I don’t write horror stories. True, bad things happen to my characters. Sometimes terrible things. But I don’t show it to you in living color. I don’t have to. I don’t want to. Because, caught up in dread, you’ll imagine far worse things happening than I could ever think up to show you myself.

  • Terror: “Did you cum in me?”

    Horror: “Yep”

  • *Adding a third element which he referred to as “revulsion,” Stephen King describes terror as “the finest element” of the three, and the one he strives hardest to maintain in his own writing. He defines “terror” as the suspenseful moment in horror before the actual monster is revealed. “Horror,” King writes, is that moment at which one sees the creature/aberration that causes the terror or suspense, a “shock value”. King finally compares “revulsion” with the gag-reflex, a bottom-level, cheap gimmick which he admits he often resorts to in his own fiction if necessary, confessing:*

    *”I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”*

    This is the same reason a good horror movie hides the monster until the end.

  • Something I’ve never understood:

    Horror -> Terror
    Horrible -> Terrible
    Horrifying -> Terrifying
    But then there’s
    Horrific -> Terrific
    ???

  • I thought we currently made that distinction too?

  • I imagine this is addressed in the wikipedia article, but it was first posed by an author by the name of Ann Radcliffe in her [“On the Supernatural in Poetry”](http://seas3.elte.hu/coursematerial/RuttkayVeronika/radcliffe_sup.pdf). Around page 6 is where we get the first literary conversation on the difference between Horror and Terror.

    I created an entire video around this concept in video game design almost a year ago to the day.

  • Paranormal Experience is a Terror-movie. CHUD is a horror – movie.

  • Makes sense. “We were terrified of what might happen” sounds better than “we were horrified at what might happen”

    As does “we were horrified at what happened” vs “we were terrified of what happened”

  • I feel horror every time i eat a pint of ben and jerrys in one sitting

  • Oh my god, finally, something that I have expertise in! I did my masters degree on horror movies!

    I think the more interesting distinction is between “fear” and “horror.” The main guy who wrote about this is Noel Carroll, who wrote *The Philosophy of Horror* (which is an amazing book, totally worth a read). Carroll starts out trying to figure out what makes something horrific instead of scary. As he points out in a bunch of his essays, war would be very scary, but not horrific (though in some cases, it can become horrific). Getting mugged is scary, but not horrific. Car accidents are scary, but not horrific. In the end, Carroll defines horror as fear with a monster.

    But, this leads to just a new problem of definition: What’s a monster? For Carroll, monsters are transgressive and unnatural. They blend categories in ways that make us extremely uncomfortable. So a zombie is a monster because it is both alive and dead, whole and pieces, and conscious but mindless. Werewolves are animal and man. Some monsters are monstrous due to scale, so you get the giant bug movies in the fifties, while others are monstrous due to quantity (zombies, for example). Interestingly, Carroll points out that a monster without fear fits very well into science fiction. Chewbacca transcends boundaries, but because he isn’t trying to kill you, he isn’t horrific.

    In the end, horror is not just fear; it is fear, combined with the revulsion triggered by the unnatural and transgressive. In one of his most interesting essays, Carroll uses this theory to show why clowns are scary. Humor, like horror, is also transgressive, but without the threat. Thus, when you watch a horror movie and you are scared, as soon as your brain wraps around the idea that you are not at risk, your immediate response is to laugh. Similarly, when you see a clown, they are transgressive. They have faces that show emotions but the emotions aren’t real. They can be hurt without being hurt. This is all fine and good, until they become threatening. Then it becomes immediately horrific. Horror and comedy are perfect genres to go together because they are virtually the same thing.

    Some of the other interesting questions regarding horror raised by Carroll lie in questions of genre: Slasher movies (the specific area I wrote my thesis on) are arguably horror, since the slashers frequently are monsters (or become monsters), such as Jason. On the other hand, are home invasion movies (*Hush*, for example) horror films? A simple crime movie like *Safe Room* clearly isn’t, so where does the line fall?

  • “He won the primary?”

    “He won the election.”

  • I wonder if this makes 9/11 a Horrorist attack.

  • I’m impressed they got John Cleese to pose for that picture. 😛

  • Damn words and their definitions

  • I was terrified of my mother dying. Now I’m just horrified.

  • So, someone swings an ax at you and you feel terror as it flys through the air. It cuts your arm clean of and your feel horror as you look at the bloody stub.

  • Fear is an absence of understanding. Horror is understanding perfectly.

  • So instead of sayin “he terrorised us” we should say “he horrorised us”?

  • I guess that’s why it feels natural to say that the idea of doing something is terrifying and then afterwards saying that was horrific.

  • This makes me realise, I love terror movies, but hate horrors. People being stalked by an unseen thing that you can hear or know where is, but never actually shows itself? Hell yeah. A jump-scare riddled gorefest? Nah.

  • Yes, HP Lovecraft did this well.

    Terror — hearing mice scurrying in the walls of a house, despite no one being able to figure out the source

    Horror — finding a secret cellar in the basement where you finally see the mice gorging themselves on human corpses

  • Phobos and Deimos

  • I was thinking about this the other day. To be terror is the “in the moment”fear and horror is more akin to the sadness that’s to come following something terrible.

  • TIL highschoolers be stealing my karma

  • So Horror movies are a misnomer then? They should be called Terror movies. Though you might feel horrible after how bad the quality of some of them might be.

  • This sounds similar to the difference between suspense and horror.

  • So what’s during the experience?

  • You cannot say “I am terrified”, as a terrified person cannot express that. You can say “I was terrified” or you can say “I am horrified” or “The horror, the horror”.

  • >Marcus Cole: The Minbari say the only way to understand the battle is to understand the language. War is as much concept as execution. 

    Dr. Stephen Franklin: What else did they teach you? 

    >Marcus Cole: Delight, respect, compassion. That for your actions to be pure they must proceed from direction, determination, patience and strength. I’m afraid I’m still working on patience. They taught me how to live, how to breathe, how to fight and how to die. And they taught me terror. How to use it. And how to face it. 

    Dr. Stephen Franklin: I think I’d like to hear more about that. 

    >Marcus Cole: No. You wouldn’t. 

  • Horror, horrible, horrific.

    Terror, terrible, terrific.

    English is such a terrific language….

  • I think this is what makes good horror films, when they linger in the realm of terror, as there’s nothing more frightening than what the mind imagines whilst being terrorfied, which is why scary films that show too much/go past being horrorfied can end up being underwhelming.

  • I like terror movies it turns out

  • Interesting that “Horror movies” and “Terrorism” treat this in the reverse.

  • A lot of people complain about horror in horror movies because they actually want terror.

  • TIL terrorists are actually horrorists.

  • I thought the dictionary defined terror as similar to dread, and horror was the shit you wished you didn’t see. The tense is part of the definition. It’s not just Gothic literature, it is our everyday understanding of these words.

  • Hmm so I experienced horror on Nov 9, 2016 and have been living in terror ever since. I get it now.

  • This seems intuitive – we don’t not have the word horrorists for no reason.

  • You might like to learn, that in modern English the sense of terror and horror are the same… and it would be terrible if that changed, and it’s horrific that is has begun to change with the term terror expanding to minor things.

  • “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”

    –Stephen King

  • Gothic literature was born just before the Victorian era, I believe, but anyway… Victorian literary critics and writers were incredibly focused on appealing to the emotions, or sentiments, and they had a huge amount of discussion about it, exploring the minutiae of it all…

    There are essays from the era that are pretty enlightening. I’m sure much of it must be floating around online by now. Reading even a little of it is like a window into the Victorians’ ideas about psychology and our subconscious motivations. Fascinating…

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