Jeepers Creepers: Childhood and Psychological Terrors in Horror Fiction

Honesty Hight-Warburton

Addresses the importance of the horror genre in literature, focusing on the use of childhood in particular, focussing on three novels by William Golding, Ray Bradbury’s and Stephen King. Psychological theories from Julian Hanich and Sigmund Freud aid the study’s approach.



Human nature is instinctively curious: thus, we are driven to try to understand that which we either do not or cannot readily comprehend. As a species perhaps we would not have survived if it were not for this reason; if we were not curious, attracted to alien concepts and ideas, danger itself would have consumed humanity. Yet more elementary than curiosity, humankind has an innate attraction to the bizarre and peculiar, even the disturbed. The celebration of the dark and macabre, for example, is a globally spread fascination, with festivities such as Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead. Human fascination with death and revulsion is a multi-million-pound obsession. As Gina Wisker claims: 

[Horror] is social, cultural, political, psychological, emotional, spiritual, supernatural, natural, and part of the human condition […] horror is thus ambivalently human.

Therefore, though horror is something that remains unnatural and uncomfortable to us, it creeps into every aspect of the human psyche and society. Undeniably it is something so broadly popular that it is deeply embedded in a wide and varied collection of the arts. Specifically, horror in literature has and continues to provide human beings with a rich and beguiling arena in which we explore difficult or strange ideas and concepts. In particular, works that belong to the horror and terror genres seem to fuel society’s fascination with morbidity. The idea that repulsion spurs attraction, is evident within literary markets: horror, crime and mystery novels are among the highest-grossing genres in the literature industry. 

This study will specifically approach representations of psychological aspects of late twentieth-century post-war horror literature, with a specific focus on children. Three books, in particular, will represent different decades: William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) and the most contemporary of the selection, Stephen King’s The Shining (1977). Although evidently linked by horrific content, the primary bond between these texts is childhood. Through this element, aspects of psychological terror provide a sense of a loss of innocence and a social commentary of childhood within the spectrum of decades. Each novel is a microcosm of the decades in which they were written. Thus, they reflect the changes within each period’s essence. Golding challenges post-war austerity through the breaking of societal norms and regulations, as the boundary between childhood and adulthood is distorted within Lord of the Flies. The hedonistic decadence of the 1960s can be seen within the amusing setting of the carnival in Bradbury’s novel. Furthermore, the concept of the teenager is emphasised by Bradbury, as the novel’s coming-of-age theme is central to the plot. Childhood remains a dominant subject in King’s The Shining, as the contextual hardship of the 1970s is seen in Danny’s modest upbringing and Jack’s desperation to work as a caretaker in the isolated hotel. 

Moreover, it can be seen that these authors and novels draw upon the genre of horror to explore a darker stance of childhood and the gradual stages of progression towards maturity. Motifs of madness and cruelty and overtly dark imagery, typical to the horror genre, are present within the three narratives. Furthermore, they draw upon an unsettling sense of supernatural terror, placing children at the heart of the horrific events. At the centre of these works is a morbid sense of loss of the incorruptibility of children, through traumatic events and psychologically distressing incidents. 

A strange fixation with childhood is striking within the works I will explore by Golding, Bradbury and King – yet each also has a distinct and intriguing approach to how they explore this fascination. Golding makes numerous allusions to war that protrude from the child-centred plot of Lord of the Flies, manifesting real-life horrors into an allegorical viewpoint as the development of paranoia and violence progressively occurs. The blurring of fantasy and reality as the boys play soldiers allows a shift towards the horror genre when games turn into ruthlessness, dread and frayed morals. By focusing on the psychological aspect of the narrative’s tropical terrors, the novel observes a dark side of the human psyche, as primal instinct spurs violence and corruption. The final cases of fatality place emphasis on the potent sense of the loss of innocence. Similarly, Something Wicked This Way Comes refers explicitly to psychological distress as two boys on the cusp of puberty are thrust into a threateningly dark world of unknown entities and tormenting figures of adulthood. Through the experimentally disturbing environment, Bradbury adapts the playful and joyous quality of a carnival to displace familiarity and deeply unsettle the reader. This sense of displacement is also a feature of King’s mundane setting, the Overlook hotel, as commonplace surroundings are once more meddled with and adapted to disturb and thrill. The hotel’s consciousness competes with the young character Danny’s supernatural abilities, contributing fantasy to the horrific narrative. Although each novel’s style varies considerably, while remaining overtly horrific, there is a collectively morbid fascination with childhood that transcends the class of characters and their geographical location. The key elements of these novels are the plots’ interactions with children and their accounts of psychologically distressing horrors. It is this aspect that interlinks Golding, Bradbury and King’s novels, as the curious fascination with childhood is potently relevant to the facet of horror within each book. The psychologically horrific focus of this study will therefore seek to illustrate the insidious nature of internal fear as it investigates both imaginary and physical elements of terror within the three novels. Particular emphasis on the idiosyncratically linked narratives, via the theme of childhood, provides an investigation into the innate discomfort associated with children and horror literature, through their loss of innocence. The novels span from the 1950s to the late 1970s, which provides a traversing insight to the horror genre throughout these decades. The horrific, post-war narratives follow from one another through the development of stock horror images such as malevolent supernatural forces, ominous settings and children in jeopardy. 

The authors’ dark focus on childhood is essential to each of the narratives, providing a societal observation of contextual issues within each, such as violence and abuse. This study’s narrow focus on childhood and psychological terror within horror literature allows a broad understanding of the genre and why children are considered actively distressing factors of such narratives. Although variant in style and plot, the novels interlace one another as the authors’ approaches to different types of childhood adapt to the genre. Through this, they uniquely disturb and excite while transcending situation and circumstance.


Chapter One – Lord of the Flies

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) is a supremely dark narrative, uniting bleak imagery of graphic violence and psychologically motivated horrors within a plot occupied by children. This tale of young, privileged boys, stranded on an island separated from humanity leads into a desperate struggle for survival. As the novel progresses, tension and hostility builds between the characters, concluding with their eventual rescue despite the deaths of two children. Through the implicit physical and dialectic characterisation of the schoolboys, the author encapsulates the increasingly primal nature of the children, as is evident in their dishevelled and gradually more savage appearances. Sadistic aspects of the human psyche insidiously creep into, and consume them, feeding horrific traits of madness and intense paranoia into the plot. Likewise, societal values of composure and good moral standards are destroyed when many of the characters submit to violent acts, as their animalistic qualities develop through the progression of the novel. It is through this aspect that the plot communicates the chilling prospect of a loss of innocence in an overtly ominous manner. The island’s setting evokes a potent sense of terror, as its natural brutality and deceiving trickery allow it to become a monstrous entity within itself, threatening the physical and mental health of the characters. Although not classically considered to be within the horror genre, Lord of the Flies indeed contains elements from it, as the book’s general feeling of despair and unsettlement alludes to the genre. The novel’s obscurely described villains and sinister settings are elements derived from horror, as Golding uses the hostility of nature to evoke fear. However, married into the general sense of corrupted childhood and terror, the plot’s focus on horror alludes to a cultural memory of war and conflict. Golding seems to mirror post-war Britain as the topic is intermingled throughout the plot, as notions of shell shock and war vessel imagery are continually referenced. Moreover, language feeds into the horrors of the Second World War, in which Golding served. The author stated that ‘it was “partly out of that sad self-knowledge” that he wrote Lord of the Flies’, evidence that he drew upon distressing first-hand experience as inspiration for the novel. For Golding, the Second World War ‘was not what appalled him, but what he had learnt of the natural - and original sinfulness of mankind did’. The purpose of the novel within this discussion enables the combination of war with children to be seen as a pertinent topic within horror, whereby psychological terrors such as insanity and dread-induced imagination are used to emphasise the vulnerability of the boys. 

The children become more savage and detached from social norms as the island’s solitude draws out their basic human instincts. Through this, the plot takes on a horrific atmosphere, as the destruction of civilisation the children’s refinement conveys dreadful elements such as the imagining of a predatory creature. Golding allegorises the primal aspect of human nature through the imaginations of children within Lord of the Flies. The characters’ first encounter with the prospect of danger on the island is that of the ‘beastie’ (p. 34), an ambiguous creature feared initially by the youngest boys. Piggy, the vocal mouthpiece of the group, reiterates that the ‘snake-thing […] wanted to eat’ (p. 35) one of the small boys. The creature, though encountered by all of the characters eventually, possesses supernatural qualities such as its shape-shifting ability as it ‘[turns] into […] things like ropes in the trees’ (ibid), its obscure physical nature alluding to that of a monster. The narrative role of the beast can be acknowledged as an insight into the primal aspect of people that the modern institutions of society, such as community and public roles, suppress. The island’s ‘tangled’ (p. 4) wilderness allows the children to explore this characteristic, as its indigenous scenery dominates, eventually coercing them to resort to violence. Its ‘almost visible’ (ibid) heat and ‘jagged outline of […] crags’ (p. 22) provide the setting with a sense of discomfort and aggression, contributing to the sense of despair that is carried by the plot. Golding’s characterisation of Simon reveals the true nature of the Beast, as he divulges his chilling realisation that he, and the other boys, unknowingly manifest as the terrifying monster. Simon’s monologue begins: 

“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the beast.”

Simon’s mouth laboured, brought forth audible words.

“Pig’s head on a stick.”

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!” Said the head. For a moment or two the forest […] echoed with the parody of laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason […] [w]hy things are what they are?” 

The laughter shivered again (p. 158).

Simon’s gloomy epiphany that the beast is a dark aspect that is part of him brings to light the horrifying realisation that he is the only boy to understand the Beast’s true ‘identity’, as being something within them. As his speech is ‘laboured’ (p. 158), notions of insanity arise, as his lack of communicative ease alienates him from humanity and the other characters. The pig’s head emphasises primitive savagery, which Simon converses with, further hinting at his psychologically disturbed state. Furthermore, Golding anthropomorphises the island as the natural elements mimic the sound of laughter, perhaps alluding to the idea that the island has coaxed the Beast out of the boys by driving them insane. By using these anthropomorphic elements, Golding has given life to familiar, inanimate things, thus creating a sense of uncanny horror. In this, he uses the children’s psychological wellbeing as a horror device, through the unsettling prospect of primal instinct taking over.

The pervasive influence of imagination on the children in Lord of the Flies enables Golding to generate psychologically thrilling moments of fear with the characters. The underlying focus of war trickles into the narrative in the sixth chapter, as a body floats to the mountain, ‘hung with dangling limbs’ (p. 103) from a parachute, and is dragged through mountainside foliage by the wind. An already haunting image is emphasised by language alluding to execution, a chilling and gruesome cause of death, which accentuates the fact that the novel channels horror as an overwhelming theme. However, it is the misguided imagination of the twins, Sam and Eric, which morphs the dead soldier into a disturbing entity. Hanich writes that ‘the power of suggested images and sounds often initiates such a strong form of imagination that it’s almost impossible to control’. This may be identified within the boy’s manifestation of terror through imagination as the ‘plopping noise of fabric blown open’ (p. 106) is mistaken for organic, anatomical movement. By the time they recite the events, the distorted impression of what they saw becomes a constructed monster, an idea that the sensory illusion is in fact the beast: the most feared possibility. The boys imagine the parachute as ‘something moving behind its head – wings’ (p.108), mistaking it for the limbs of a creature. Terror is manifested in a fabricated being, as their active imaginations turn genuine occurrences into false understandings. 

To further this idea of sinister conceptions, the boys’ fear drives them to exaggeration, perhaps in their excited state, as they describe ‘eyes […] teeth […and…] claws’ (p. 109), predatory features of the fantasy. These emblems of horror contribute to the psychological thrill of the novel. Imagery of childhood phobias of monsters and imagined creatures are conjured, whereby a child’s fear allows their mind to run riot. As figments of the twins’ imagination, the psychological horror becomes more complex, surrounding the novel’s villainous elements with ambiguity, thus perplexing the reader. As a result, Golding achieves a sense of disorientation and unsettlement, of which the reader experiences through the confused flux of childhood terror. By marrying aspects of war with childhood imagination, Golding blurs the boundaries between the boys playing soldiers and the real horrors of conflict. When a naval officer in the final chapter rescues the schoolboys, he diminishes the boys’ militant appearances, ‘streaked with coloured clay, sharp sticks in their hands’ (p. 223), as ‘fun and games’ (ibid). The imagery of army face paint and weaponry are used here, thus drawing upon similarities between the children and military traits. The margin between imagination and reality is brutally destroyed as the officer realises that the two fatalities mentioned by Ralph are in fact tangible. This loss of innocence through the soldier ‘game’ is chilling, as it seems to reflect anxieties of war and its effect on children. In particular, boys and their expected reputation within 1950s society. 

Noel Carroll states ‘Monsters are supernatural […] they at least defy nature as we know it […] Horrific monsters, that is, embody the notion of a violation of nature’. This defiance of nature is subtly drawn upon within Lord of the Flies, as Golding capitalises on the creepers through repetition, as an eerie, sinister element within the novel’s setting. The botanical monstrosities quite literally creep in, toying with the boys’ imaginations in a particularly chilling manner, as if the island itself was driving them to violence and misconduct. The word ‘creepers’ is in fact written thirty-eight times within the novel, indicating Golding’s intention to entwine the idea into the tale, enforcing the literal aspect of nature permeating the plot in an unnerving fashion. The manipulative quality of nature on the island is epitomised by these plants, as by definition, a creeper is a ‘plant that grows along the ground, around another plant […] by means of extending stems or branches’, suggesting that the vines are tangling into the boys’ lives. When the older children ignite a forest fire on the island, claiming one of the ‘littluns’ (p. 46) lives, the creepers take on an eerie temperament:

Tall swathes of creepers rose for a moment into view, agonized, and went down again. The little boys screamed at them.

“Snakes! Snakes! Look at the snakes!” (p. 47)

Golding elevates the plants above the characters, giving them a monstrous physicality to overwhelm the children. By anthropomorphising them as being in agony, a sense of misplacement is devised by Golding as the plant is seen in an abnormal way. The horrified boys replicate the aesthetic of terror, as they scream in panic, once more due their imagination of the snakes. The depiction of the creepers as snakes suggests a biblical reference to the Garden of Eden, whereby the serpentine plants mirror the representation of evil and the island as the garden. Here, innocence and temptation are interlinked, as the loss of childhood through murder mirrors the loss of purity of Eve in the biblical fable. The psychological factor of this passage is particularly distressing, as the characterisation of the panicked children is innately emotive due to their immature vulnerability. The stealthily horrific nature of the creepers is dissimilar to traditional representations of plant-based horror, as Golding adapts the organisms to suit a more psychologically disturbing form - their sinister manipulation over the boys. Additionally, the creepers serve as an omen for danger as peril usually follows their presence. Furthermore, they foreshadow it and warn of potential ill doings. This further aids the ominous manifestation of the plants and allows the plot to adopt a horrific tone. 

The recurrent motif of nightmares is repeated within the plot to signify the younger boys’ fear, subsequently providing the narrative with an uncomfortable sense of reality within the dream-like society built by the children. Nightmares are defined as dreams with strong negative emotions, which awaken the dreamer. As most people experience these, Golding exploits the reader’s empathy in order to evoke emotions of terror and disturbance through the relatable aspect of nightmares. Psychological horrors suffered by the younger characters are particularly chilling, due to the fact that their reactions to the nightmares reflect the helpless, feeble psychosis of a victim. Ralph’s acknowledgment of the psychosis emphasises these notions of post-traumatic stress disorder: 

“I mean the way things are. They dream. You can hear ’em. 

Have you been awake at night?”
Jack shook his head.
“They talk and scream. The littluns. Even some of the others. As if—” 

“As if it wasn’t a good island.” (pp. 52-53)

The succinct conversation and sentence structure build an unnerving tension and suspense that indicates the uncomfortable horrors of night terrors. The ‘littluns’ (p. 46) themselves become an element of horror in the narrative, as their distressed state of unconsciousness indicates raw, uncontrolled fear.The nightmares remind the reader of shell shock, a knock-on psychological consequence of war. Adam Hochschild describes this, stating that ‘even after the most obedient soldier had had enough shells rain down on him […] he often lost all self-control. This could take many forms: panic, […] inability to sleep or […] to walk’. The idea of shell shock is evident as the littluns ‘talk’ (p. 53) and ‘scream’ (ibid) in their sleep in unsettled states of insomnia and night terrors.Again, the theme of conflict and reference to war governs the actions of the children in an unnerving approach to the crumble of society. The idea of the menacing island having a sinister effect on the children’s psychological wellbeing again creeps into the plot, as the subconscious state of the littluns’ portrays the setting as being a threatening place. The older boys’ apprehension to admit that the island ‘wasn’t a good island’ (ibid) creates a sense of horror within the novel, as the characters themselves recognise the hostile nature of the place and are consequently frightened by the prospect. Although there is a sense of uneasiness towards the island in this passage, it is the psychological aspect of the boys’ nightmares that provides elements of horror, as the uncontrollable nature of the dreams is both hysterical and foreboding.

Golding’s Lord of the Flies transcends obviously horrific literature, by providing a psychological approach to the genre through the imaginations and fears of children. In doing so, the author unites social anxieties of war with the damaging prospect of loss of innocence through violence. The young boys embody the horrors of war as the isolated setting provides a remote backdrop whereby the children divulge in a play-like re-enactment of military combat. The particularly chilling reality that the children are resorting to actual violence and murder enforces the true horrors of the war. This loss of innocence and warped reality are enforced, as the blurred boundaries between playing soldiers and war are broken. The terrors of modern society are examined as the regression of the children towards savagery verifies the true nature of the human psyche as primal and aggressive. Furthering the aspect of primitive terror, Golding incorporates notions of insanity to further the horrific element of isolation and psychological disturbance, rendering the children themselves as components of terror. However, perhaps the crucial element of horror within the novel is its setting. Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor argue that the island itself ‘gives the children freedom to reveal themselves’, evidence that the true nature of the children is revealed through the isolated setting. Through traumatic experiences with the island’s creepers and its monstrous animosity, the children are tormented by the place as it whittles down their mental state and drives them to acts of extreme terror.


Chapter Two – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) bonds fantasy to the genre of horror, placing the inhabitants of Green Town within a tremendously thrilling series of circumstances. The plot focuses on two boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, on the cusp of puberty, as they encounter the horrors of a nightmarish carnival. A key element of the novel is the carnival’s isolated setting and supernatural elements, which entice both children and adults, surpassing age as it attracts many members of the town. However, focusing on the two young boys allows Golding to utilise the genre of horror to suit the novel’s coming of age subplot, as the storm and carnival seem to represent their impending puberty. The novel’s dark setting and haunting scenery provide a physical backdrop for the symbolic nature of this, through the alluringly dangerous freak show. Bradbury’s use of language of bad weather serves a dual purpose: both to foreshadow sinister events and to symbolise the overcasting prospect of the boys’ loss of innocence. A primal element of sex furthers the notion of puberty, as Bradbury balances the opposing views of pleasure and revulsion between the boys, when one revels in the concept while it repulses the other. Although the narrative provides a subtle insight into the nature of maturing, ultimately, the stock fairy tale characters, such as witches and immortal villains inject Something Wicked This Way Comes with a fantastically juvenile sense of both physical and psychological horror. Despite the focus on children, Bradbury’s novel differs from other depictions of children in horrific circumstances as adults both believe events and are involved in them. Inspired by Bradbury’s fascination with fairgrounds and carnivals, the novel draws upon an overtly bleak view of the amusements. The author talked about the novel, stating that it ‘[summed] up [his] entire life of loving Lon Chaney and the magicians and grotesques he played’, which is evidence of his gruesomely macabre carnival inspiration.

Something Wicked This Way Comes fits neatly into both coming-of-age and horror genres, perhaps due to Bradbury’s dual approach to the boys’ attitudes to sex. The young boys’ polar stances towards the prospect of sex sees an opposition between the two, whereby Will is uninterested and repulsed by the act and Jim becomes fascinated and eager to experience more. Bradbury associates sex with voyeurism, disconnecting the children from it as they encounter a ‘Theatre’ in which a ‘‘thing’ happened which changed the houses [and] the taste of the fruit’ (p.26). The ‘thing’ (ibid) referred to is a palpable reference to sex, which alters the boys’ lives, represented by the ‘houses’ (ibid) and ‘fruit’ (ibid) as they are introduced to an adult matter. Will’s horrified reaction to the act emphasises his immaturity and generates a scene fitting to the genre of horror due to the panicked nature of his speech:

staring in at the Theatre, that peculiar stage where people […] flourished shirts above their hands, let fall clothes to the rug, stood raw and animal-crazy, naked, like shivering horses […]

What’re they doing! thought Will. Why are they laughing? What’s wrong with them, what’s Wrong!? (p. 27)

The animosity of the events draws upon the primal nature of sex, its uncontrolled passion something to be feared by the young boy. Will’s internal monologue is panicked and confused as the character’s witnessing places him in a state of distressed perplexity. Repetition of the adjective ‘wrong’ (ibid) separates the adults from the child’s perception of morality, implementing the act as something alien and disturbing. Furthering the notion of detachment, Bradbury depicts the display of adulthood as a Theatre. There is a sense here that the author is hinting notions of peep shows, whereby contemporary peep shows typically depict pornographic scenes intended for adult audiences. It is within the psychological trauma of the young boy that Bradbury draws upon the horrors of adolescence and the fear of maturity. 

It is possible to connect Will’s aversion and Jim’s attraction to so sex to Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory of personality development, whereby the two represent two pivotal stages of childhood and adolescence: the Latency stage and the Genital stage. Here, Will represents the Latency stage, whereby the libido is dormant. Freud thought that most sexual impulses are repressed during the latent stage and sexual energy can be sublimated towards friendship among other entities. Will’s horrified reaction towards sex thus represents his pre-pubescent disposition and lack of interest in sexual progression. Alternately, Jim may represent the early Genital stage, as his fixation on the Theatre and subsequently interest in sexual associations are, for Freud, attributed to psychosexual development and puberty. This is evident through Jim’s reaction as his ‘face was flushed’ (ibid) and ‘his cheeks blazing’ (ibid), postulating a sense of excitement and arousal. The difference in reactions provides two opposing views of the moment: Will’s, a gruesomely primal and horrific event and Jim’s, a thrilling aesthetic moment. This paradoxical outlook reminds us of the notion that repulsion spurs attraction, as although there is a polar difference of opinions, both are enticed and thrilled by the event, be it through disgust or fascination. 

A prevailing aspect of the novel is the theatrical and chilling setting. From the onset, the novel is irrigated with a bizarre sense of darkness and horror that offers an evil portent throughout. In a particularly chilling fashion, the journey of the approaching carnival creates an eerily disconcerting air, as the locomotive is accompanied by a haunting calliope ‘grieving to itself, a million miles away’ (p. 40). The train is described as ‘weeping […] sighing […and…] wailing’ (pp. 41-43) as it journeys to the town, Bradbury’s use of personification providing the object with a sense of misery. Initially, the carnival is depressive, surrounded by a macabre sense of despair via the sensual aspect of music and sound. Through this, the parade takes on a Dionysian role, its darkness somewhat alluring to the inhabitants of Green Town, as it promises possibilities that appeal to people’s egotistical and selfish natures. The train welcomes unrestrained panic as its whistle blows, the language of alarm arousing a sense of fright:

The whistle screamed. Jim screamed against the scream. The whistle shrieked. Will shrieked against the shriek. (p. 44)

Bradbury’s use of repetitive, dread-induced verbs is a potent enforcement of anxiety, establishing the passage as characteristically horrific, as the screams resonate with both the train and the children. The already horrific imagery is emphasised by the actively psychological horrors instilled on the carnival by the children. In an elated state of terror, Will and Jim flee from the carnival’s arrival, the tents described in an organic style as they hear ‘the beat of great oil-black wings’ (p. 47). It is the young boy’s perspective that builds terror as they describe the ‘seemingly empty tents’ (ibid) with ‘great side-show signs swarming with unguessed wings, horns, and demon smiles’ (p. 48). This imagery of predatory body parts threatening the boys is psychologically disturbing rather than physically invasive, allowing a chilling depiction of the scene. The physical emblems of horror, such as the ‘wings’ (ibid) and ‘horns’ (ibid) introduce notions of the Devil. The noticeably menacing and malevolent demonic symbolism further this. Although the carnival’s scenery is alien to the amiable town’s scenery and natural surroundings, its isolation from society is key in order to provide a cold, remote atmosphere. The impact that the setting has over the novel is that physical entrapment and separation spurs the sense of unsettlement and unfamiliarity. Furthering this, the foreignness of the carnival and its eerie inhabitants both lures in and terrifies the characters. In particular, the setting attracts the children, isolates them from society and terrorises them, entrapping the vulnerable boys as its supernatural qualities transcend the aid of the authorities and adults. 

David L. Jeffrey states that ‘The 18th [century] was characterised by rationalist scepticism about witchcraft and the devil, and the gothic novels at the end of the century [mingled] witches, demons, ghosts, corpses and specters […] in order to produce horror’. This fear of the supernatural and uncanny has transferred to contemporary literature, as the prospect of superhuman beings remains menacing. Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is a particularly striking example of this. The novel marries childhood with horror through characterisation of the malevolent ‘dust witch’ (p. 29), a distressingly passive yet disturbing stock fairy tale character. Through combining the styles of childhood fable and horror, a sense of infantile vulnerability is enforced on the malevolent situation. Bradbury’s chilling characterisation of the disturbing woman is particularly distressing, as her silently creeping demeanour and corpse-like appearance terrorises the young characters, acting as the carnival’s devious spy. Bradbury depicts the deranged character as disfigured, as the Dust Witch’s ‘eyes did not see; they were sewn shut with laced black-widow web’ (p. 99). Furthering her disturbing description, her close association with black-widow spiders couples witches with spiders, an omen for malevolence. However, despite her gruesome appearance, it is the character’s behaviour that is overtly disconcerting as she calmly torments the boys in their homes. After leaving a ‘track like a snail paints on a sidewalk’ (p. 129), the witch floats away in a giant balloon, controlled by her breathing. The narrative describes how the ‘Witch exhaled. The balloon, freed of this small sour ballast, uprose. The shadow passed’ (pp. 128-129). The acrid description of the mysterious substance created by the Witch enhances her decrepit and vile character, while the notion of the ‘shadow’ (p. 129) further enforces the impression of her malice, denoting darkness and misery. The witches control over the balloon demonstrates her supernatural ability, defying science. This is particularly horrific, as the defiance of natural behaviour serves as an advantage over the young boys. It can be seen that Bradbury uses the witch as a stock device to mimic childhood fables and darker fairy tales, drawing on the concept of the coming-of-age genre as innocence is warped into a chilling sense of terror. The witch may represent an infantile approach to horror and the boys’ disregard to this, whereby they overcome her terror, perhaps demonstrates a progression from childhood fear. Not only are they defying the evil force, but they also deny themselves the psychological torment caused by a villain traditionally associated with children’s stories. 

Bradbury’s prolific use of pathetic fallacy evokes an ambiance of terror within Something Wicked This Way Comes, as the novel is laced with the notion of the ever present, looming threat of a storm. The novel’s opening line ‘the seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm’ (p. 5) is a foreshadowing of both the allegory of puberty and the symbolism of morbid events whereby the ‘storm’ (ibid) represents chaos and disruption. The weather takes on a menacing tone, becoming an omen for turmoil:

[…] a juggernaut of thunder wheeled over the stony heavens in a spark-throwing tumult. Rain fell softly […] chuckled from rainspouts, and spoke in strange subterranean tongues beneath the windows […] (p. 138).

Here, the rain adopts an unsettlingly mischievous quality as Bradbury personifies the weather, the rain ‘chuckling’ (ibid) and speaking. The foreignness of the elements, speaking in ‘tongues’ (ibid), seems to allude to possession, which is particularly sinister as the weather surrounds the children and terrorises them through the foreshadowing of ominous happenings. Furthering the presence of storms, the plot is occupied with the repeated motif of electricity. As the boys discover the carousel’s age rewinding purpose, they attempt to prevent the evil doings by tampering with the control box: ‘Will felt a sting of electricity […] Lightning jumped to the sky’ (p. 91). The close connection between electricity and lightning links the two intently in order to form an ominous coupling of the elements. Although electricity is classically associated with science, Bradbury’s approach provides the plot with horrific connotations of the supernatural where electricity and lightning are concerned. This coupling reminds us of the Gothic genre, whereby electricity accompanied monstrous subtexts, such as the creation of the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), as Victor Frankenstein states ‘I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet’. The combination of electricity and science to create life is particularly disturbing and horrific. Betsy Van Schlun points out:

‘from the beginning, there are two strands inherent in mesmerism, a physical-scientific and a spiritual-mystic one’: it was connected, for example, with theories of electricity and the workings of the brain, and with spiritual séances and supernatural powers.

This highlights the influence of electricity and spirituality within the Gothic, which can also be identified within Something Wicked This Way Comes as the line between reality and fantasy, or the supernatural, becomes distorted. Bradbury forms a quasi-horror style in doing so, as he links the fantasy of childhood and imagination to the psychological terrors of science and playing God. 

The novel’s main backdrop, a dark and tormenting fairground, has become a stock setting for horror within popular culture, such as Stephen King’s contemporary novel Joyland (2013) and television series American Horror Story’s fourth season, Freak Show (2014). The isolated, outcast nature of these places seems to thrill and terrify as a sense of unnatural mischief surrounds the settings. However, it is the torturous nature of Bradbury’s novel that strikes an unsettling chord, as children are at the centre of distressing events. Bradbury engages with the aspect of childhood through dark fairy tale characters and hauntingly personified rides, adapting the joyous nature of beguilement into a deeply eerie atmosphere. The novel’s coming-of-age subtext allows the exploration of psychological terror, as both boys approach the subject differently. Will’s repulsion of primal nature is horrific in itself, as the character views his friend’s loss of innocence and initiation to adulthood as abhorrent. It can be seen that the key element of horror within the narrative is the author’s language style. The novel is irrigated with a sense of foreboding and horror, yet is deeply engrained within the framework of childhood. This may be seen throughout, as the boys’ naivety is wrought with a sense of impending maturity. Bradbury comments on puberty and the prospect of maturity by marrying childhood and psychological trauma within the context of horror. In doing so, the horrifying approach to the subject demonstrates a sense of alienation and alteration of nature. The prevailing of benevolence over malevolence within the plot provides relief, however, thus diminishing the sense of terror. This can be seen as an aspect of Bradbury’s contextual style, whereby the tone is distinctly eerie, yet maintains positive connotations. This differs from later representations of childhood within horror, as audiences become somewhat desensitised to trauma and seek further shock factor within the genre.

Chapter Three – The Shining

Stephen King is considered the father of horror literature and has become a ‘household name’ within the genre, perhaps due to his near relatable plots and commonplace settings. King said, ‘I like to have hooks into the reader entirely, and really, if I had my druthers I’d have somebody in a situation where they would get to the end of chapter nine and say “I think I’ll sleep with the light on”’. The classically horrific narrative encompasses supernatural elements and violence with psychological torment, merging reality with fantasy. The child-focused plot emphasises the ambiguity of reality, as Danny’s imagination provides a deep psychological anguish for the reader when his imagination becomes actuality. The Shining (1977) tells of an ordinary American family who moves to the remote Overlook hotel for the seasonal closing in bleak winter. The hotel’s eerily conscious persona overcomes Jack Torrance, who chases and torments his wife and five-year-old Danny as the hotel’s murderous past incapacitates him. The novel’s isolated setting is a key horrific aspect as the barren surroundings and harsh winter elements encompass fear with a sense of claustrophobia. Moreover, physical entities obtain anthropomorphic qualities, torturing both adult and child in a bid to harm their mental and physical wellbeing. Furthering the notion of mental illness, King centres the plot on Danny and his apparent supernatural psychic ability known as the ‘shining’ (p.86), which his parents attempt to rationalise within a society that denies bizarre tendencies and paranormal possibility. Danny’s psychosomatic capacity embodies itself within his imaginary friend, Tony, a character that functions as a validation of truth for the child’s sixth sense as he foresees impending malevolence. The motif of a child’s imaginary companion is knitted into the sinister overtone to form an unsettling fantasy of psychological terror and innocence. What is more, the stark contrast between the child and adults blurs the concept of reality, as the adult world is proved flawed in its sense of rationality and fact, as Tony’s predictions are deemed accurate. As Mr. Ullman says in the novel’s opening, ‘Solitude can be damaging in itself’ (p. 9). The events that follow this statement demonstrate the grim correlation between solitude and insanity, rendering The Shining a perfect example of horror literature. 

A key element of King's classically horrific tale is the Overlook Hotel. Bitter winter weather envelops the isolated setting and its already remote mountainous location is further quarantined by hazardous conditions, cutting the vulnerable family of three off from society. The Shining’s setting is overtly ominous as the building develops a passive consciousness, eventually consuming Jack’s sanity and using the character as a puppet for murder and destruction. The author utilises every element of the malevolent setting, allowing it to become of central importance to the plot. All aspects of the narrative (such as childhood imagination and psychological torment) are toyed with through King’s terrifying backdrop. Where horror is concerned, The Shining certainly does not neglect stock devices, as the gloomy weather and haunted hotel scream terror and dismay. However, it is the setting’s conscious treatment of both adult and child that allow the novel the opportunity to discuss the importance of childhood imagination versus reality. The two merge throughout psychologically thrilling events. King develops the idea of anthropomorphism with animal-shaped topiary next to the desolate play area in the hotel grounds. Dick Hallorann’s forewarning of the ‘damn hedges clipped to look like animals’ (p. 94) provides a sinister primary impression of the topiary, foreshadowing the terror associated with the shrubberies. This milieu of negative emotive language forms a foundation for when Jack encounters the plants.

Everything was just as it had been, so why had the flesh of his face and hands begun to creep […] there was something different. In the topiary. […] His breath stopped in his throat […] [the topiary dog] was crouched, head tilted, the clipped wedge of mouth seeming to snarl silently (pp. 226-227).

Instinctual terror within the character begins with rational curiosity as Jack’s fear kicks in; the rhetorical questions within the narrative generate suspense. Here, imagination allows the eerily silent beast to ‘snarl’ (ibid), instantly adopting a predatory stance over Jack, the victim. The sharp hazard of the ‘clipped wedge’ (ibid) of botanical mouth holds a rapid association with danger and violence, as nature becomes animated and threatening. However, although Jack’s experience with the creatures is of course terrifying, the character is adamant not to believe the incident and blames psychological mishap, attributing it to tiredness and strain. Jack ‘saw no need to mention his hallucination’ (p. 230) as he ‘knew’ it was psychological. 

Alternatively, King places the child character Danny in the same danger, only to elevate the potential for jeopardy as the animals exploit his vulnerability. No longer ‘harmless lump[s] of snow’ (p. 316), the topiary animals pursue and torment Danny in an intensely horrific hunt. 

[the lion] was grinning. Its mouth was open, its haunches tensed down like a clockspring […] he could see the rabbit, its head now sticking out of the snow, bright green as if it had turned its horrid blank face to watch the end of the stalk (p. 319).

The sinister nature of the monster is emphasised by a psychotic undertone of playfulness as it grins and tampers with Danny’s fear. The joyous concept of animal-shaped topiaries provides the horrific overtone of animation and malevolence with a sense of childhood familiarity. The concept of the monstrosities are yet more thrilling when placed within the context of delight. A sense of the uncanny resides in the ‘blank face’ (p. 319) of the rabbit, as its unsettling appearance provides the creation with an innate sense of terror. According to Nicholas Royle, the uncanny is a crisis of the natural; therefore, King’s faceless, animated creatures are both alien and familiar. Unlike Jack, Danny makes no attempt to rationalise the experience, rather he is engrossed by it and is emotionally affected as he ‘began to cry’ (p. 320) after the chase. In this passage the distinction between child and adult lies within Jack’s attempt to rationalise the situation, however, King undermines this by placing Danny in the same position. Through this, the terrifying concept of the anthropomorphic monstrosities is justified as actual, and the child verifies this within the plot, as it is no longer merely a ‘hallucination’ (p. 230). 

The Shining’s focus on Danny allows King to explore deeper issues within the plot, such as spirituality and rationality, as the young boy’s ‘imaginary’ friend Tony allows the character to adopt a clairvoyant trait as he foresees events. Perhaps the fundamental purpose of Danny’s psychological creation is a coping mechanism for the child and his abusive father. As Marjorie Taylor states:

Imaginary companions can be much more than partners in play. They are all-purpose, extraordinarily useful beings […] they can bear the brunt of a child’s anger […] or serve as a vehicle for communicating information that a child is reluctant to say more directly.

The idea that Danny has concocted a conceptual ally to communicate information is challenged, as Tony takes on alternatively supernatural duties, forewarning Danny of peril and threat. In this, King uses the horror genre to focus the issue of child abuse by placing the familiar prospect of an imaginary friend within the context of a psychotic and murderous father, demonised by a haunted hotel. Tony is first mentioned in the narrative when Danny’s psychic ability picks up on his parents ‘thoughts of DIVORCE’ (p. 30), causing him to divulge in a deep form of episodic meditation. When the child regained consciousness, he ‘tried to explain about Tony’ who his parents call his ‘invisible playmate’ (p. 31). Jack brushes the occasion off, claiming that Danny is ‘having a Ha Loo Sin Nation’ (ibid). King uses juvenile discourse, making Danny’s understanding of the situation naïve and jovial. When coupled with the Overlook, Tony’s purpose shifts from companionship and escape to warning of menacing prospects. Tony forewarns Danny of the events brought by the family’s move to the hotel:

Danny, as always, felt a warm burst of pleasure at seeing his old friend, but this time he seemed to feel a prick of fear, too, as if Tony had come with some darkness behind his back (p. 34).

Danny’s willingness to accept Tony, despite the friend’s association with malevolence and negativity allows the narrative to divulge in the concept of psychic prophecy, providing a sense that Tony’s predicted events are inevitable. The aforementioned ‘darkness’ (ibid) refers to the horrific events later in the narrative, providing a chilling, yet enthralling sense of dread. The spiritual aspect of the boy’s imaginary friend, though amiable, encapsulates an eerie element of horror, as the supernatural presence of Tony is abnormal, therefore psychologically thrilling. Danny’s inability to read verifies Tony as an external consciousness; King’s use of the semi-palindrome ‘REDRUM’ (p. 35) (murder spelled backwards) is an advanced understanding for the five-year-old’s intellect. Thus, Tony’s existence is established. Although Tony is not threatening, it is Danny’s imagination that instils fear in him. Therefore, the character’s supernatural ability to foresee events is psychologically terrifying as the alien concept is unfamiliar and disregards the normative and natural. 

By using a child to communicate a clairvoyant quality, King eliminates the malevolent consciousness associated with adult lunacy and ulterior motive, as Danny is unaware that there may be cause for disbelief for the existence of Tony. Andrew Scahill states that within the horror genre, ‘the child’s capacity for imagination is monstrous in its boundless capacity […] the division between the child’s imaginary world and the spirit world is a tenuous distinction in horror’. Considering this, it can be seen that King’s combining of supernatural horror and spirituality is prominently located within Danny’s childhood imagination and consequently the peculiar presence of Tony.

King projects the rationality of adulthood into the characters Wendy and Jack in order to explain the supernatural aspect of Tony, undermining the element of horror where practicality is concerned. The parents’ attempt to attribute their son’s imaginary friend with medical conditions such as ‘epilepsy’ (p. 150) is evidence of their refusal to accept Danny’s mysterious ability, using science and medical reasoning to do so. When asked by Dr. Edmonds how Danny knows what his mother is thinking, the child responds ‘the shining, I guess’, (p. 158) the child’s dispassionate explanation suggesting that Danny accepts his supernatural ability. Although King attempts to explain the supernatural horror of Tony with science, the ambiguous and unexplained nature of the character leaves the element of fantasy open, as Danny’s eerily accurate prediction of events has no clarification. Dr. Edmonds diagnoses the child with ‘autohypnosis’ (p. 159), suggesting that he induces a state of advanced relaxation. However, this is an undermining of the reality of Danny’s trances, as his ability to predict future events and read minds surpasses meditation and is dismissed by the adults. The Doctor furthers this by saying ‘schizoid behaviour is a pretty common thing in children. It’s accepted, because all we adults have this unspoken agreement that children are lunatics’ (p. 163). King’s use of clinical language enhances the medical perception of insanity, suggesting that not only Danny but also all children are ‘lunatics’ (ibid). It can be seen that the plot is highly centred on childhood and imagination, as the notion of insanity and eccentricity in Danny is accepted by the adults, blinding them to the unmistakable elements of truth behind the horrific occurrences linked to Tony. 

King therefore provides an assertion of the adult state as being rational and unaccepting of supernatural and the bizarre, perhaps blinding them to the pre-warned danger brought by the family’s move to the Overlook. However, there is an underlying sense that primal insanity or ‘schizoid behaviour’ (ibid) is a dormant possibility within people of various ages, which is merely quelled by adulthood. According to Allison James and Alan Prout: 

The model of childhood development which has come to dominate western thought […] connects biological with social development […] the decreasing ‘irrationality’ of children’s play as they mature is taken as a measure of an evolving ‘rationality’ of thought, charting the ways in which ‘primitive’ concepts become replaced by sophisticated ideas. 

James and Prout describe the natural progression of acquired rationality via maturity, as a transgression from ‘primitive concepts’. It is possible to see that Danny’s ‘primitive’ tendencies, such as the imagining of Tony and his psychic instinct, are in fact intuitive and prophesying; his childhood permits the gift and is the fundamental component to it. Considering this, King suggests a criticism of adulthood as overlooking such inclinations, numbing them to spirituality and transcendent disposition. Therefore, Danny provides entry to horrific elements, as the child's insight only contrasts the adults' blindness to such supernatural qualities; the unknown becomes rejected and as a result, eventually shocking to the unsuspecting characters. However, adult characters in The Shining are often shown to be unreliable and unstable, often deeming Danny to be the single consistent centre within the thrilling plot. This sense of uncertainty can be seen in both Jack’s insanity and Wendy and Jack’s refusal of supernatural belief, though they are later disproved. It is within this that King provides a criticism of adult tenacity and childhood insight that is perhaps lost to maturity and reason. Therefore, the key element of rationality lies within Danny’s imagination whereby reality and fantasy are blurred and contribute an element of confusion to the horrific events within The Shining

King embraces the horror genre through his adamant following of conventions such as possession and super-nature. However as with all of King’s work, his stories have grounding in emotional trauma. Within The Shining, the underlying theme of abuse is ever present as Jack reminisces about his violent childhood. This idea creeps into the narrative as Jack tries to suppress his vicious urges towards his own son, suggesting that Danny’s use for Tony is as a coping mechanism for the distress of abuse. The violent tone of the novel is particularly unsettling, as King asserts fantasy within reality via the ordinariness of the Torrance family and the humdrum surroundings. It is the bearing of winter and devilish anthropomorphism that isolates the setting from reality and transform the novel’s atmosphere to that of a horrific and disconcertingly unnatural kind. It can be seen that through Jack’s violence, King poses a reaction against societal violence, in particular towards children. Danny’s psychological escape provided by Tony is overtly horrific, conveying emotional pain and seizure-like physical effects for the child. Through this pseudo-imaginary friend, the character contributes to the obscuring of reality towards fantasy, facilitating confusion and subsequently a notion of discomfort associated with the horrific visions. It is in the element of confusion that King leaves open the potential aspects of truth within the narrative, a terrifying prospect to face within the deeply unsettling horror fiction. 



The literary horror genre is vastly populated and remains at the forefront of literature, as its popularity is culturally rooted within society. Although the genre’s origins are abstruse, the spooky and supernatural have evolved from folklore and have remained a relentlessly thrilling aspect of literature. Successful horror narratives are simultaneously relatable and absurd, elements that are necessary to terrify while maintaining the distant comfort of fiction and estrangement. Golding, Bradbury and King harness the distortion of fantasy and reality, coupling characteristically horrific traits with relatable characters and situations. However, it is the ambiguous nature of each plot that spearheads the novels as oddly unsettling, as their use of childhood allows a sense of infantile confusion and subsequent questioning of the authenticity of events. 

Each of the novels provide social commentary, encompassing childhood and horror as the foundations for such. It can be seen that this reflects society’s increasingly desensitised approach to violence, as the progression from 1950s, such as Golding’s literature, to that of the 1970s, with King’s, displays an obviously more graphic account of violence. Golding’s allegorical stance on war creeps into the schoolboys’ livelihoods, flaunting conflict as an expulsion of primal violence and moral misconduct. This parable aspect feeds into horror via equivocal imagery of shellshock and, more noticeably, insanity. Ideas of the loss of innocence carry through to both Bradbury and King’s narratives, as they are deeply embedded within social conscience, as the child characters act as symbolic embodiments of innate personal fear, such as ageing and the inevitability of death. Although supernatural elements, such as ghosts in The Shining and the witch in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and violence are stock devices of horror, the authors provide a deeper context of society. Innate fears and primal aspects are recurrent themes within all three texts, as the horrifically dark view of human nature is exposed through the characterisation of Jack (The Shining), Mr. Dark (Something Wicked This Way Comes) and the ‘beastie’ (Lord of the Flies). Through the perspective of the children, we can view the sinister actions from a somewhat naïve and untarnished viewpoint. This similarity surpasses location and situation and there is a sense that the innocence of children allows clarity within threatening circumstances. It can be seen that the use of children evokes fearful ambience as the prospect of purity and vulnerability is tampered with. Therefore, it is a successful device within the horror genre, as these authors place normality and infantile virtues into a distorted setting whereby menacing entities prevail. 

Although the genre of horror is widely associated with violence, terror and supernatural evils, it can be seen that the key contribution to the three novels is language. While Golding’s narrative tone is distinctively allusive to that of 1950s style, the slowly progressive nature of its horrors heightens suspense and allows the thrilling nature of events to mask the prospect of peril with eerie discomfort. The element of subtlety is carried through to Bradbury’s language, as the malevolent vices insidiously creep up on the two boys, eventually consuming them with fear. It is through the gradual heightening of terror that both Lord of the Flies and Something Wicked This Way Comes approach the genre in a less violent manner, whereby the strength of horror lies in the creeping fashion of the narratives. King, however, focuses on the adaptation of physical elements to adopt anthropomorphic qualities. This manoeuvring of nature alludes to the uncanny, which psychologically unsettles and disrupts the comfort of normative behaviour. It is through disruption and manipulation of language that Golding, Bradbury and King draw out the disconcerting aspect of horror, as the obscurely fantastical psychological terrors are difficult to stabilise within reality. There is a sense that the creeping element of terror is deeply embedded within the narratives, whereby dread and anxiety prevail over the gruesome aspect of horror. Although elements of grotesque and repulsion remain highly present, rendering the novels innately horrific, it is not merely the presence of axe murderers and monsters classically associated with the genre. The deep underlying issues of war, puberty and familial and societal disintegration provide complex, yet relatable subject matters. The significance of this empathetic aspect enables a sense of self-projection into the events, ultimately using empathy to strike fear into the reader. It has been shown therefore, that the novels’ thematic link of childhood aids the horror genre via their wider societal connotations and vulnerable propensities. Ultimately, the core matter of these works is a morbid sense of the loss of childhood innocence, through traumatic events and psychologically distressing incidents. This aspect forms overtly horrific narratives, allowing the possibility for reality to trickle into the otherwise fantastically horrific plots as certainty is disputed. This is a truly terrifying, yet thrilling prospect.



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Honesty Hight-Warburton


brightONLINE student literary journal

21 Jun 2017