I recently have completed reading three very scary stories. In reverse order I shall review them.
The most recent work is a famous story by HP Lovecraft. The Mountains of Madness. Lovecraft is superb at setting the stage for creepy, nasty, and unnerving events. His detailed descriptions of Antarctica are wonderfully dread inducing. All the characters, the frame of reference of the teller of the story as a survivor, makes it all the more unsettling. Lovecraft is right up there with Tolkien as a creator of myths. To the point where there are actually idiots who think his continual references to a book he calls the Necronomicon, means the book really exists. Never mind that its author, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazzard would be laughed at since his name contains the Arabic equivalent of a stutter. The proper name would be Abdul Hazzard, not AlHazzard, the extra “al” is redundant. Anyway I digress. The story is wonderful and I highly recommend it. It, unlike many sci-fi-horor tales from the 1930s, is not that dated. Lovecraft leaves enough holes in the whole cloth to let the imagination run wild. Usually screaming to the kitchen for late night snack.
The second book is Along Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leon. It is autobiographical and far scarier than Lovecraft. Since it portrays not some fictitious phantasms, but cold reality where the real monsters are men and at times children. It is a poetic and reverent look into who a loving child is morphed into a killer and then redeemed. His eventual redemption, and his honest appraisal of himself and his actions, also makes for a very uplifting feeling even while being repulsed by the situations in the book. Ishmael Beah is a young man with a bright future.
The Places In Between is the last book. Rory Stewart writes very coolly about his adventures. He does not portray himself as greater than he is. He also neither glorifies nor vilifies the people he meets along his long walk across Afghanistan. This book is scary since it shows the otherworldliness of cultures on the edge of civilization, at least today’s civilization. “Why did you fight the Russians?” the author asked a Pashtun villager chief. “The made our women take off their scarves and they stole our goats.” The chief answered. “Why did you fight the Taliban?” The answer, “They made our women take off their scarves, put on burkas and they stole our goats.” What scares me about this is that we in the west are so myopically self-centered on our own plight we think that those warriors in the hills of distant place give a rat’s ass about us one way or another. We act upon them like the sea upon the beach. The beach has no way of controlling how the ocean treats it. It simply has to take it, put up resistance if it can but it is too busy with the worries of a beach to think about the mathematics of the oceans waves.