The Darkening Garden: Hook

The following is an entry reprinted from The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, written by the World Fantasy Convention 2012 Encyclopedist Guest of Honor, John Clute. This is the second entry of several from The Darkening Garden to be reprinted on this site over the course of ten days. Some formatting has been changed from the original published form of the text. Bolded items within this entry can be found within The Darkening Garden as additional / complementary entries. – The Editors

Image © Corey Lunn

Or Hooked. A term which is understood here in the sense that a gaffed fish is understood to have been Hooked. It is the equivalent in Horror to the quest in Fantasy; its use here is primarily as a mnemonic device to remind readers of a characteristic expression of the grammar of Horror. It is not, in other words, intended to provide an architectural equivalent to Quest as, for instance, that term is utilized in “Portal/Quest Fantasies”, the first chapter of Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan University Press, 2007). The term as used here points rather to a practical question as to how Horror is told: what is it that can impel a protagonist to pass through the frying pan of Thickening into the fire of Revel? Advocates of Affect Horror tend to think of protagonists as in fact engaging upon a kind of Quest, that their lust to penetrate the Unknown is in some sense voluntary. The model here presented of Horror — as a grammar of moves that culminate in an understanding that the true world augurs and embodies an ultimate terror that does not lie to us — does however make it difficult to focus on volunteers: hence the use of the term Hook.

The “granting” to a protagonist of a first Sighting of things to come is not an invitation but an impalement. To catch Sight of something (especially something in a Mirror) is to be Hooked in the eye, the organ that trompe l’oeils are designed to fool, like the protagonist of Tanith Lee’s “Snow-Drop” (in Snow White, Blood Red, anth 1993, ed Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), who destroys the uncanny image of a young girl who haunts her only to be trawled into the presence of the girl herself, in the flesh, fatally. (This one example, out of thousands, may suffice for all.) So the protagonist may deny that she is swimming upstream into a Thickening world at a pace that would kill any ungaffed mortal; he may deny that he is being Followed by nemesis, often in the form of a Double or some other topiary parody of the norm, some “metonymy contagion” (see Thickening) that wells up like magma through the rind. But this is according to the rules of Horror: for the world in which a Horror tale begins is a world of denial: protagonists in Horror begin, therefore, in a state of denial. They are like fish in an aquarium, who cannot see the glass. For the Horror tale to continue, they must be Hooked out of there. They must be given a chance to see the world.