H. P Lovecraft once said “The strongest emotion is that of fear, and mankind’s greatest fear is that of the unknown.” I was reminded of this just this morning as my wife was getting ready for work. Max, our 110 pound Yellow Lab was sitting at my feet begging for attention as I sipped my coffee. The bedroom door clicked as she opened it and Max spun around to wait and watch, perfectly still, until he was sure of who was emerging from behind the closed door. Once he realized it was my wife his tail started wagging and my wife asked him who he thought might be coming out of the room. It struck me then that to Max, who is not allowed in the bedroom, he had no idea who might be coming through that door. I knew the only one who would be coming through that door would be my wife. But for Max what lies beyond that closed door is the unknown.
This got me to thinking about the closed door metaphor and how it’s used in horror fiction. For me the best closed door scene was in Stephen King’s THE SHINING when Danny is told to stay out of room 237, but goes in anyway, and discovers the dead woman in the tub. When he tries to run away he finds the door locked and now he’s trapped inside with a dead woman who’s coming to get him. One of the most chilling scenes I’ve ever read.
I believe that’s what makes horror so appealing. The character is warned. Don’t go in there, or don’t open that box, or don’t look. Yet they choose to ignore the warning and what happens after can leave a lasting impression on the reader.