I have, in my early reading years, read through many an insomniac nights the works of Poe and Maupassant. These are two great authors who share more than their genres – the art of weaving a tale of morbid fear, gloom and hopelessness around everyday life. Edgar Allan Poe, I would later find was sort of an inspiration for Guy De Maupassant.
There is a kind of an enigma that surrounds tales of a darker nature. For me it is one “genus” that is most close to our hearts, most human. But dark for one is not exactly dark for others. Simply saying, dark is not a genre in itself. It is evident, not by saying, but by reading something that would seem dark to you. I’ve read those fat plot-driven novels, stories taken from the pages of the daily newspapers. I read the Da Vinci Code, I was ecstatic (until I read other books by Dan Brown). I read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, I was clueless. And these are best sellers by best selling authors. Not one of the many books I’ve read had any effect on me. Alternatively, I read a short story by Maupassant. A story which has neither a plot nor a shred of reason. A story about a well-to-do French man who wanders around Paris one night and ends up starved to death. By the end I felt as if I had gone through that deadly ordeal myself. It was so powerful that I kept reading it again and again, till I lost the book, and lost the name of the story in my memory. I still don’t remember the title, yet I consider it as my favorite Maupassant story ever.
The thing about dark tales is they are, in essence, sad and emotional. Because in the end you aren’t afraid, you are just sad. But people don’t want to feel that emotion. I look around book stores; I look at people buying books. Everyone wants a book that makes them feel happy. Ah! They so love their happy endings. Even when people go “over the edge” they buy a sappy book, books loosely written to induce emotions that are not true to the soul of both the writer and reader. People are “afraid” to read books that feel true. So, they indulge in best sellers. I do too. If I ever get to lay my hands on the darkest of tales, I would never read the best sellers. But alas, is all I can say.
Books these days are full of cheesy plots and character-less characters that do not dwell in my after-thoughts. I mean, when was the last time I thought why Robert Langdon did what he did or why were there so many goddamn characters in State of Fear. The characters of these best sellers are just characters. What they lack is the humanness, the soul that exists in every character of a dark tale, be it French men, Princes, Hobbits, Wizards or humanoid mask-wearing villain who makes breathing sounds. And each of these characters, no matter how far from being human, is truly human.
When you read The Masque of Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe you can’t help but feel the movement of the story. The description, which goes from flamboyant to the darkest red, is simple and stark. The story is roughly a narrative description of a Prince’s party while the outside world rages through a plague. By the end of the short story you are as horrified as the Prince himself. Only Poe can make horror out of a series of rooms.
I love it when it ends like this. I am no sadist or pessimist. I am just more human than human. More sensitive to emotions those are rare and sad. And I suffer out of my will, out of my intelligence. I enjoy this suffering, this feeling of despair and eventual sadness. I enjoy them in my books, in movies, music, games, and in writing. I wish every passing day, I wish I could write such tales but I digress or am afraid. Of suffering what these men have suffered to flow words that are an intelligent suffering to the rest of us.
Franz Kafka once wrote, in a letter to his friend, Oskar Pollak
“I believe one should read only the books that bite and sting. If a book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a punch on the head, what are we reading it for? … We need the books which affect us like a disaster, which pain us deeply, like the death of someone dearer to us than ourselves, like being lost in the woods, far from everyone, like a suicide…”