Non-Fiction Reviews

Sleeping With The Lights On:
The unsettling story of horror

(2018) Darryl Jones, Oxford University Press, £10.99, hrdbk, xii + 181pp, ISBN 978-0-198-82648-4


Growing up on the Isle of Wight in the 1960s and '70s, there was not an enormous range of bookshops (having said that, there are even less now !) from which to buy SF/Horror titles. There was Brownlows (I think I’ve got the name right) in Ryde and Birds in Newport, both sadly gone. So imagine my delight when my local newsagent started stocking the odd title, which is when I discovered H. P. Lovecraft, in paperback published by Panther. These were devoured. And then, browsing through W. H . Smith on Southampton station somewhen* in 1975, there was a copy of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which I found I could order through the same newsagent!!!  My cup overflowed.

The short book Sleeping with the Lights on aims to explore why horror is still such a powerful medium, and why we continue to ‘enjoy’ it, and takes concepts from a wide range of genres and subjects – from ancient Greek tragedies to the ‘delights’ of films like The Human Centipede. The author puts groups together of different tropes of horror (e.g. Monsters) and then looks at a number of examples within that aspect. So in that same chapter – Monsters – he focuses on vampires and zombies, and takes films, TV programmes/series and novels which illustrate that theme.

Probably the most important chapter is the introduction when Jones sets the scene and introduces a number of background issues regarding ‘horror’ – what do we mean by horror, why it affects us, the whole aspect of the supernatural and reality, the place that Gothic has in the horror genre. For me, one of the key texts he draws on is Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie which similarly to this volume splits different aspects of ‘horror’ into groups, but uses a much wider span of sources to draw from (again a volume I bought on the basis that he has a chapter on Lovecraft!) – that, and Stephen King’s volume Danse Macabre which looks at a specific period of publishing and the horror novels written during those years (it has a very useful list of King’s favourite novels, which I am slowly working my way through).

There is also a Further Reading section, which I have already ordered from – and discovered that I had already read a number of the volumes cited.

I found this book useful in helping me discover a number of authors, or titles by them, which I did not know, and to think through some of the issues. There were a few quibbles for me, however – an over-dependence on Freud in explaining our enjoyment of horror; and a feeling that people of a religious ‘bent’ should be happy with Satan and the supernatural because if God invented everything, then he invented evil. This sort of falls into ‘dualism’, where God and Satan are equals, and are engaged in some sort of eternal struggle, a bit like Highlander.

All-in-all, a good starting place.

Peter Young

* ‘Somewhen’ is Isle of Wight for ‘sometime’.

See also Sebastian's take on Sleeping With the Lights On.

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