The Role Of The Hero In Horror

Literature Essay, Research Paper The young maiden swoons, about to fall into the deep black hole, but then, suddenly, a set of strong bronze arms reaches out and grabs her waist pulling her to safety. She looks up to see her handsome rescuer, instantly falls in love and they live happily ever after. This is an example of a scene that is common to many romance novels; the hero s brave rescue scene.

Literature Essay, Research Paper

The young maiden swoons, about to fall into the deep black hole, but then, suddenly, a set of strong bronze arms reaches out and grabs her waist pulling her to safety. She looks up to see her handsome rescuer, instantly falls in love and they live happily ever after. This is an example of a scene that is common to many romance novels; the hero s brave rescue scene. Heroes play a key role in many stories and most people know the formula for a hero in any story. As Freud points out in paragraph six of his essay The Relation of the Poet to Daydreaming, throughout any story one is secure in knowing that even if the hero is left unconscious and bleeding in one scene he will soon be safe again with his wounds nicely healing. This is an example of the most important variable in the classic hero formula. The special providence looking over the hero to keep him safe from all evils that may be directed towards him. The rest of the variables may differ slightly from story to story, however they are basically the same for all stories. Almost all heroes have a woman with whom they are in love, and conveniently they get to save the life of either her or someone close to her during the story. Another variable in the typical hero story is the hero s archenemy who is, of course, always cleverly defeated at the end of the story so that the hero may live happily ever after with the woman of his choice. This classic hero formula is often used, and people never seem to tire of reading it no matter how predictable it is. However, there are also many stories that do not follow this particular hero story line. If one is to look at a collection of horror stories he will find that most of them do not follow the simple hero formula that people have come to expect. This discord with the classic hero formula leads to why people consider these stories are horrifying.

In the first frame of the movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919, Robert Weine), the audience is introduced to the character of Francis and discovers that he is to tell a story of him and his fianc e Jane. As the story develops it is discovered that a string of murders has left a good friend of Francis and Jane, who are not yet engaged, dead. Francis begins investigating the murders and discovers the perpetrator to be the evil Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, Cesare. In the classic hero formula Francis would now apprehend the evil murderers winning Jane s heart. The plot continues as expected when Francis locks up Dr. Caligari and Cesare dies in a climatic chase scene. But then, the classic hero formula begins to fall apart. In the classic hero formula Francis and Jane would now get married and live happily ever after; but Jane informs Francis that she could never marry him because she is royalty. At first this is confusing because Jane s father was shown earlier in the film and he was not royalty. This confusion is soon cleared up when it is discovered that Francis, who is actually a patient in a mental institution, concocted this whole story. None of this happened except in his very active imagination. That can t be right. Everyone knows that the hero is a good guy and always gets the girl he wants, but Francis turns out to be a mental patient who was refused by his true love. This movie challenges all variables of the classic hero formula.

There are some special circumstances to be considered in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when looking at Francis as a hero because it is a story within a story. In the outside frame of the movie, where Francis is telling the story, Francis cannot be considered a hero. He is a patient in a mental hospital and fabricated this whole story because he believed his doctor to be the ancient Dr. Caligari. This does not follow the classic hero formula; however, if we consider the inside as a totally different story then Francis fits the formula for a hero. Despite coming in contact with the murderers numerous times he never gets hurt, and he manages to save the day by discovering Caligari s evil plot. But, since one must look at the story as a whole, it is apparent that, as a whole, Francis does not fit into the classic hero formula. The outside frame is a better indicator of his true character than the inside frame because the inside frame is just his fantasy and most people are heroes in their fantasies even if they are not one in real life.

In the novel The Castle Otronto by Horace Walpole, like in the movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the classic hero formula is challenged even though certain variables fall into place. In this novel the hero, Theodore, is first introduced as a peasant who is believed to have been responsible for the death of the prince s son. Thus the classic villain, Prince Manfred, puts him into jail. After escaping from jail Theodore helps a young maiden, Isabella, to escape from Manfred who is old enough to be her father, yet wants to marry her. While helping Isabella to escape her evil pursuer Theodore gets recaptured and jailed. This act puts him in the company of the most chivalrous of heroes. Once Theodore is recaptured Manfred sentences him to be beheaded for murder. But, his death is delayed because right before Theodore is about to be beheaded it is discovered that he is actually the son of a nobleman, Father Jerome. Jerome saves Theodore s life by promising to get Manfred a divorce from his current wife, Hippolita, and marry him to Isabella. Up to this point in the story Theodore perfectly fits into the classic hero formula. Unfortunately, this formula begins to fall apart and Theodore moves away from the classic hero.

Theodore, once again, comes to the rescue of Isabella when she is, again, forced to flee from Manfred and the castle. However, he begins to slip from the definition of a hero when he nearly fatally wounds her father in an attempt to save her. This is not something that happens to the average hero. Killing a girl s only immediate family is not a good way to impress her and win her undying love. But, then it is discovered that Theodore does not love Isabella! Rather, he loves Matilda; but she is the daughter of Manfred the very man who wanted to kill him. In the classic hero formula this would mean that Theodore and Matilda would run away together and live happily ever after, but, alas, this is not to be. Instead, Matilda is accidentally murdered by her own father. Poor Theodore, he s valiantly tried to follow the hero formula, but it just won t work out for him. His only true love is dead, he didn t even get the chance to save her, and he is extremely unhappy. Then, he ends up marrying, Isabella, a girl he doesn t really love. This is definitely not the classic hero formula; everything seems to go wrong for the supposed hero, Theodore, and he doesn t get his expected happy ending.

Since neither of the characters in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari nor The Castle Otronto fit into the classic hero formula, it is important to evaluate if they are truly heroes. Before evaluating whether or not they are truly heroes it is necessary to decide if the stories need a hero. In order to decide this, it is important to look at fiction as a whole and not just individual stories. Is there an effective way to develop the plot of a fiction story without involving a hero figure in the plot? No, there is not. To look at a specific example: if The Castle Otronto did not have a hero figure Isabella would have been captured and forced to marry Manfred right away. If this happened the story would have been over in the first thirty pages, because all of the action and intrigue would be gone. As the story stands, with Theodore as the hero, it is interesting and makes the reader want to continue reading as the story continues to a climatic ending. Whether the story is a mystery, romance, science fiction, or something else there must be a hero figure in order for the story to develop. The key part of this concept is recognizing that the story does not need a hero , but just a hero figure. In both of the stories above mentioned, the character in question does fill at least one of the variables of the hero formula giving him the qualities necessary to be a hero figure, but not a full-scale hero .

It is now important to evaluate why these hero figures do not fit into the classic hero formula and how this affects the story as a whole. One of the reasons that the characters of Francis and Theodore do not fit into the hero formula is the type of literature in which they appear. Horror literature is bound to be vastly different than romance literature for the simple reason that the author is trying to get a different response out of the audience. In a romance novel one of the author s purposes is to make the reader feel safe and secure so that when he is finished reading the book he is left with the feeling that everything worked out perfectly and everyone is happy. These might be considered warm, fuzzy books. On the other hand, in a horror story the reader is not going to be left with a warm, fuzzy feeling. These are better classified as cold, skeptical books. If things do work out in the end of a horror story it is normally after multiple deaths, horrific disasters and lots of blood. So, if the hero came out of the story with nothing going wrong it would take away from the story as a whole. It would contradict all of the bad things that happened in the story and leave the reader with ambivalent feelings. It would be the same thing as putting a sad ending on a comedy. The reader goes through the whole story laughing then all of a sudden the reader begins crying. After this happens the reader is left with ambivalent feelings. He wants to be sad because of the ending, yet he can t help but laugh since the rest of the story was so humorous. If the hero in a horror story has a happy ending than the reader would want to be happy for him, but because of all of the bad things that have already happened this is impossible. The way these stories stand, where everything does not work out for the hero, the reader is left with a definite morose feeling.

This morose feeling that the reader is left with after reading a horror story adds to the entertainment value. The reason that people enjoy horror is because it does not leave them with a happy feeling. They enjoy knowing that all of these bad things are happening to other people and not themselves. Horror stories give people a feeling of safe terror. They get the same adrenaline rushes that come with true fear, but, at the same time, they realize that this is not really happening to them and they are safe. According to Stephen King in his essay Why We Crave Horror Movies, people also enjoy horror movies because all people have repressed violent emotions and horror allows a safe outlet for these emotions. People enjoy the release of these repressed emotions because it provides them with a sense of relief. These two ideas are what make horror stories entertaining.

Even though the heroes in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Castle Otronto do not fit into the classic hero formula in which everything works out for the hero and nothing can hurt him, they are hero figures and are necessary to the story as a whole. Without these hero figures the stories would not only lose much of their entertainment value, but they would also be hard put to come to a satisfactory conclusion.