Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Quotations: Swallow You Whole

To get the full experience of this one, or at least, to experience it like I did, scroll through the lyrics while the video's playing. I won't post them here, but, well, you know how to use the Internet. Go to, brave wanderer.

So this is Jonathan Coulton's "Creepy Doll." I've been on a Coulton kick lately--I can't get his (not Glee's) arrangement of "Baby Got Back" out of my head, as politically incorrect as the song is--and I've been going through his discography. And then I stumbled on this. Like I said, I was scrolling through the lyrics while I was listening, and it freaked me out.  Italics necessary. I had to actually stop the song right there, and I still haven't listened to it all the way through.  And this got me thinking: exactly what is it about this song that bothers me so much?  It walks a fine line between horror and almost comedy; not many ghost stories contain the lines "you want to go antiquing," nor do they have a horror from beyond that tells you you should lay off the sugar.  And yet... freaked out I was.  I considered, then, the stories throughout my life that have bothered me the most, my own private nightmare fuel, to borrow TVTropes' phrase The list, in case you were wondering, includes that video with the giant babies I stumbled on a year or two back, Christopher Pike's "Whisper of Death," and "The Drum," from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. (And check out the illustrations from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. I asked my parents for multiple books in this bunch; I must have been insane.) So what do all of these things have in common? I've narrowed it down to two criteria:

 1) A sense of inevitability. In all four of these artifacts, there's almost immediately a feeling that things are going to go wrong.  "The Drum" uses the rule of three to escalate the little girls' acts, and you just know that something terrible is going to happen the third time.  In "Whisper of Death," a short story describes the death of each character in allegorical fashion, just before it happens. Drakengard's ending works through foreboding music, and a sense of apocalypse. And Creepy Doll--there, it was the lyrics, and the chorus.  Each one of these works to establish dread for what's going to happen; it's less about surprise, and more about the the feeling that you can't stop what's happening.

2) A swerve from reality.  Each of these also contains something entirely inexplicable. It's something that not only couldn't happen in the real world, but, from the protagonists' point of view, it shouldn't be possible within their world either.   It's a dismantling of reality as we know it, the revelation at the end that it was not only inevitable, but entirely beyond your understanding; somebody was playing with a different rule set, and you didn't know until the game was over, and you'd lost.

(As a corollary, you'd think, by these qualifications, that I'd rank Lovecraft's stories pretty highly, but to be honest, they've never really bothered me.  Yes, there's a sense of inevitability, but the swerve isn't the same, especially after your first Lovecraft story; you know the punchline's going to be "and it couldn't be comprehended by mortal minds" and as long as that's the assumed premise, it's not a swerve anymore. )

So now that I've identified what I fear, I take away its power, right?  I should be able to face that song no problem, now.  *tries to watch*  Nope, still terrifying.  And worse now, because I know why. 

Later Days.

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