Transcendence by Brendan Foley

“My name was Cornelius Stack, and I have been lost to the wind for over a hundred years. Or so I think.

I suppose I was once like you. I can remember the feel of skin, of my fingertips as they brushed against pieces of paper, played against the bark of a tree. I can remember what it was to feel. I believe I can.

I can remember her. I think I can.”

It feels a little strange to talk about ‘transcendence’ with regards to a story involving monsters and magic, these elements of the fantastical that have little to do with the spiritual/psychological pursuits with which we might normally associate that term. There is, I think you might find, a noted difference between ‘transcendence’ and ‘escapism’, and narratives and fictions of a genre bent are typically tied to the latter.

But I’ve always found that escapism is only a small element in understanding the draw of fantasy and the fantastical. After all, if we sought these narratives because we seek escape, then why do so many of the great and beloved fantasy texts take the form of emotional and physical endurance tests in which our beloved protagonists suffer every indignity imaginable on their way towards happily ever after, an ending which is often a good deal more complicated than those three words suggest?

No, see, I believe we are drawn to the fantastic not as a means to escape reality but as a last-ditch effort to understand it. Children learn to understand the world through games and fairy tales, and we really are no better than them. The great masters of genre fiction and cinema understand that implicitly, and utilize their stories to reflect rather than deflect from these truths. And so you get David Cronenberg using mutations and mutilations to capture the emotional ravages of divorce (The Brood), cable television (Videodrome) and disease (The Fly). In his twin masterpieces The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, writer-director Guillermo del Toro used fantasies of ghosts and fauns to bring the ravages of civil war and splintered families to horrifying life, his monsters searing the savagery into a viewer’s mind in a way no stock war movie tropes possibly could.

And, hell, at least if the metaphors fail, you get a crazy monster movie out of it.

But if we accept my thesis as fact (which, I mean, would be only polite), then what does this have to do with ‘transcendence’? I think what you will find is that giving these fears and anxieties a face, even a monstrous one, allows you to process and deal with those fears and those anxieties, the fantastic emboldening you to overcome and transcend (see what I did there?) in a very real way.

That’s why I have to roll my eyes anytime someone tries to lump all horror fans into one category of blood-lusting lunatics getting off on watching co-eds gets cut up with a chainsaw. There’s plenty of chum to churn through (some of it more entertaining than others) but I find that most horror fans that I talk to are joined in pursuit of something much richer than cheap thrills and tawdry schlock. In tunneling into the darkness that exists at the core of all institutions and most people, we seek to find that light that survives, that overcomes these traumas and fights on for another day. In facing the Other, we find ourselves.

I wrote a weird little story about a man whose souls comes unstuck from his body and drifts forever on the wind. There are monsters and other magics in play, but the purpose of this story was never to give a quick bit of silly distraction. I wanted to talk about memory, about the way our choices echo long after we’ve finished making them, and I wanted to write about how so often the forces and factors that shape our lives our invisible to our eyes. There are a lot of ways such ideas can be tackled, as I’m sure a number of other wonderful stories within the upcoming collection can attest to, but I have always found that the weird (and the Weird) is the best way to mine emotional truths.

You don’t have to love genre stories and genre storytelling. Different strokes and all that. But please understand that we who create and inhale this material do so not because we can’t deal with the world as it is.

It’s because we see it for exactly what it is. We see the bars of reality very clearly.

But we also know how to set ourselves free.

 

 

48416177_2008938705839504_8094266344947580928_nAn aspiring aspirer out of Massachusetts, Brendan Foley is the creator of the BLACK SUN DISPATCHES podcast. He offers nightmares at a very reduced price.”

 

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