Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

Rhiannon Irons, a.k.a Ahlephia, here with what I hope will stimulate conversation and cause great debate.  Maybe it’ll even open your eyes to a whole new perspective when it comes to fear.  After all, we have nothing really to fear except fear itself.

I’ve always been a firm believer of “The More You Know, The Less You Fear.”  From literature to movies, one thing remains true when it comes to fear and the horror genre: If you don’t face it head on, you’re letting it win and you’re as good as dead.

Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down some dark and seemingly forgotten street.  As buildings tower over your head and the lights and sounds of other people lie far behind you.  The only sounds you can hear are your slow heartbeats and the smooth, even tone of your breaths.  You are alone.  Or are you?  Out of the corner of your eye, you think you see a shadow move, take shape, but as you stop and turn your head there is nothing there.  You feel your heart instinctively speed up.  You shake off the vision as your mind playing tricks. But just as you are about to continue, you hear movement to your other side, and you get the chilling feeling that someone is watching you.  Your heart beats faster again and your once even breaths are now short and ragged.  You feel your legs and arms shake as your body releases adrenalin, making you ready to flee or fight.  Your senses seem heightened and you are sure that whatever is out there is toying with you.  You spin and see inky blackness behind you.  You can almost feel the thing’s foul rotten breath tingling down your neck.  Looking around you see the end of the street is illuminated by streetlights and shop fronts, but impossibly far away.  You know that if you run, it will be on you in a second, but if you stay it will be worse.  You take a deep breath and, tilting your body forward, you sprint towards the light, towards safety.  You feel like you will never get to that light, like the thing in the dark will cut you down in just another step, but you run anyway.  After what feels like an eternity but is only really a few frantic heartbeats you burst out of the street and onto the busy main road that runs right through the city.  All around you people are laughing and enjoying a late night walk completely oblivious of the terror that sent you fleeing from the darkness.  You hear voices calling your name and you turn to see your friends waving and running towards you.  You give the dark street a last look and, shaking your head you walk towards your friends.

What you felt was the most ancient emotion that humanity has – fear.  Fear is the dividing line between conscious thought and primal instinct.  It has been at the heart of all human progress to date. Fear the darkness?  Learn to control fire.  Fear of predators?  Invent weapons to hunt.  Fear of each other?  Invent better weapons.  But, while fear has helped to keep humanity, and in fact all species on the planet, alive until this point, it can also be destructive.  In the scenario above, if you had been frozen by your fear who knows what would have happened.  But you did not.  You overcame that fear and used it to your advantage.  It was this ideology for the need to overcome fears, not to be controlled them, that has dominated almost all forms of texts to date, and that must be recognised and embraced if we are to continue to develop as a people.

People crave fear like a drug, and many genres of movies cater to this desire, but none more so than horror.  From Jason Voorhees to Michael Myers to Freddy Krueger, Jigsaw and Leatherface, the horror genre is teaming with stand out villains that all impact fear in a big way.  But it is not just Hollywood killers that keep on returning, and the idea of fleeing from fear causing death is not a resent one.

While movies allow you to see the monster, poems can be just as, if not more, powerful.  The 1782 German poem Der Erlkönig by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe perfectly shows how running away from your fears can have dire consequences.  The poem recounts an old Germanic myth about a father and son riding through a forest in the middle of a storm.  The son tells his father that Erlkönig, or Elf King in translation, calls to him and promises him many different things if he will just follow.  The son, terrified of this mythical being that was told to foretell death to whomever saw it, calls to his father who denies that anything is happening and continues to ride through the cold, whipping rain and wind.  The child’s cries more frantic, but the father refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong due to his own fears of loosing his son. Sadly, due to his refusal to face his fears, the father manages to get home but finds that the boy has died during the ride.  This poem clearly shows the ideology that if we do not face our fears, they will come for us and find no resistance.  The father’s fear of losing his son caused him to lose his son.  But in this poem, unlike in Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th, the Erlkönig is not the thing to be feared, he only represents what they fear, which is death.

While Der Erlkönig shows the consequences if you do not face your fears and the movies mentioned above show the benefits of confronting these fears, there is one text that beautifully shows both sides of the equation.  It, by the legendary horror novelist Stephen King, recounts the struggle of seven kids that attempt to defeat the true manifestation of fear, Pennywise the Clown.  Now, we all know that clowns are scary, so please bare with me for a few moments.  I promise the point I’ll make will be worth it.

In the town of Derry, something is not quite right.  For one thing, the rate of missing children every year is phenomenally higher than other areas in Maine.  However, every 27 years or so, this rate jumps from about 40 to 60 kids a year to over 150 missing people under the age of 18.  Seven kids, Bill, Ben, Ritchie, Beverly, Eddie, Stan and Mike, are drawn together, each unknowingly a survivor of the thing that stalks Derry.  Each with a horrifying tale that becomes easier to bear when shared with the other six.  Seven kids that, although they thought they had killed it, made a promise to come back if it ever appeared again.  And it did.  27 years after they thought they had killed it, it appeared and started to kill, to feed.  And so they came back, at least most of them did.  One of them gave into the fear, could not face it and so it destroyed them.  Another faced it but fell in the process, and another lost a loved one because of it.  But, although their stories do not always end well, as they seldom do in King’s novels, It still holds this ideology for the need to face your fear close to its heart.  For you see, although some fell and some felt loss, they still won.  They killed it.  By facing their fears and the fears of the entire town for its entire history, they saved it.  They conquered fear so that no others would have to feel it. Not because of that thing.  Not in Derry.  By facing their fears, they helped the town to heal its broken, bloody history, helped to wipe the slat clean and helped to raise the curse that was living in Derry.  If that’s not a good enough reason to face off against a demonic, shape shifting clown, they I don’t know if there is any reason that is good enough.

While fear is a necessary part of life, we cannot let it control us.  If we do, then nothing will ever change.  If we fear something and refuse to face that fear, or worse still deny our fear, then it will win.  If we do not conquer our fears, then they will conquer us.

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