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Thinking of Getting Away From It All?

Holidays in Horror Fiction


You'd think a vacation would be a good opportunity to get away from your troubles, but holidays in horror fiction often prove to be fertile sources of fear and tension.


Why though, when it ought to be a question of lying in the baking sun for two weeks on the beach?


The unknown is always a good starting point for frightening the reader.


Holidays might seem on the face of it to be a welcome escape from the tedium of the everyday, but in horror fiction they put you at the mercy of predators you aren't familiar with and don't know how to counter.


The master of ghost stories, MR James features quite a few vacation trips in his short stories. 'A Warning To The Curious' is set in Seaburgh, which is based closely on the small town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, England.


Apart from being a delightful day out from London and the Home Counties, Aldeburgh is primarily known as the location of composer Benjamin Britten's home, and it hosts an annual classical music festival in his memory.


I love this little seaside town for its beautiful coast, lovely beach and friendly welcome. However, MR James's visitors (the narrator and his good friend Henry Long, two bachelors enjoying a golfing holiday) don't get to enjoy their trip.


Instead, they are accosted by a nervous young man who is staying at the same inn, 'The Bear', who begs them to help him return the crown of an Anglo-Saxon king he's dug up from a nearby longbarrow (burial chamber).


All three of them are haunted by the dark shadow of a man following them until they return the crown, after which the spirit reaps its revenge on the thief without mercy.


HP Lovecraft was keen to use the holidaymaker to good effect, and the rural nature of New England lent itself well to the concept. In 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth', the narrator takes a cut-price bus holiday, travelling alone as cheaply as possible and staying in some pretty rundown hotels.


His scrimping on cost quickly puts him in peril at the hands of his hotelier and the other inhabitants of the isolated seaside town when he's forced by mechanical difficulties to spend the night.


Fascination with holidays in horror continues right through the twentieth century. English science fiction writer John Wyndham combined horror with an alien source of danger to mankind in his 1953 novel The Kraken Wakes.


On their honeymoon cruise, Bill and Phyllis Watson encounter the giant fireballs sent across the universe to land hissing in our oceans at some of their deepest points. A terror from across the cosmos is something of which HP Lovecraft would undoubtedly have approved.


Bill and Phyllis are journalists, so they leap at having a scoop and become media experts in both the mysterious fireballs and the tank-like creatures with flailing tentacles that follow.


The 'bathies' crawl onto beaches all over the world and snatch unsuspecting holidaymakers. Bill and Phyllis are supposed to be working when they fly to the island of Escondida in the Caribbean, but they spent hours enjoying siestas, drinking local cocktails and soaking up the atmosphere before finally coming under attack from the bathies. Nice work if you can get it!


In American fiction, the 'holidays in horror' feel is well represented by Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco. It's swelteringly hot in New York, but Ben and Marian, their son David and Aunt Elizabeth are offered the ideal vacation opportunity: a country house on Long Island set in grounds of woodland.


They leap at the chance, despite the suspiciously low rental charged for an entire summer. Nor does it put them off when they are asked to take care of the owners' elderly mother for the duration.


The image shows a rainy river and valley.
Thinking of Getting Away From It All? Holidays in Horror Fiction

But weird things start happening, they are more and more loathe to leave the estate at all and just being around old Mrs Allardyce starts to have a really draining effect on their psyches. Their summer ends up being far from the restful break from Ben's stressful teaching career they had hoped for.


A holiday is the perfect vehicle for a horror story. The traveller is relaxed and off their guard, they are isolated physically in an often very quiet location and they are cut off from their usual support network.


No wonder so many awful fates befall the trusting traveller in horror fiction!


Thank you for reading my article about holidays in horror fiction. I'll be back on Wednesday. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of The Rain here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Woods by Harlen Coben here.


If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Clover by Susan Coolidge here.