The Role of Myth in Horror
By Sara-Jayne Townsend
Mythical monsters have been used in horror fiction as far back as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – and the continuing popularity of vampires and werewolves in contemporary fiction proves just how enduring this trend is.
Human beings have been telling each other scary stories since the beginning of time. Every mythology in every culture involves supernatural immortal beings, both on the side of the gods and their foes, creatures to be feared and respected. The mere mortal cannot win a fight against a god or a demon or a creature with supernatural power, and perhaps it is this that ensures their continued popularity, because it is the thrill of fear that keeps those of us who are fans of horror reading the genre.
When I wrote SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my supernatural foe was inspired by two myths. The first was the story of Lilith. She appears to pop up in various mythologies, but according to Jewish folklore, she was created by God to be Adam’s first wife. But she refused to lie beneath Adam and be subservient to him; she wanted to be an equal. It appears that this went against God’s plan, so she was cast out of the Garden of Eden, and Eve was created to be Adam’s wife instead. Lilith was cursed and became a demon, and the children she had subsequently were the first succubi and incubi. I confess I have a fondness for the succubus – a demon who kills men with sex (the incubus is the male version). Perhaps this is why the story had an impact. Further research on Lilith revealed that her demonic status grew, to the point that a few centuries ago, mothers used to hang talismans on the cradles of their infants to ward of Lilith, who was alleged to come to Earth and steal children from their cradles in the dead of night.
In Greek mythology, the story of Lamia bears some resemblance to that of Lilith. Lamia had an affair with Zeus and bore him children, but Hera became jealous and cursed Lamia so that all of her children would die. This drove Lamia mad with grief, and in some versions of the myth she again becomes a demonic creature, visiting villages at night to kill mortal children.
The monster in SUFFER THE CHILDREN is a variation of both of these myths. Part succubus, part lamia, my creature sucks the life force out of teenagers to retain a youthful human appearance. She also uses sex for a similar, if less powerful, effect.
I’m dipping into Greek myths again for my current WIP (a supernatural crime novel), and Nordic myths are also featuring. The gods and demons of myth and legend have very human flaws in spite of being immortal, and that’s what makes their stories so interesting. I find them a source of inspiration for characters in my writing, and that’s why I keep going back to them.
Sara-Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her husband Chris.
She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person. Her first novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN was published as an e-book by Lyrical Press, Inc. earlier this year, and is available at: (http://www.lyricalpress.com/suffer_the_children)
Her website can be found at http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com, and her blog at http://sayssara.wordpress.com