Xlibris Publishing returns with Part 2 of The Stars are Right: Writing Cosmic Horror.
The Loss of Self
Similar to madness but sufficiently different to merit its own entry, ‘Loss of Self’ can refer to a physical, mental, or emotional change within a person that forever changes their identity as a person or even as a human being. In cosmic horror stories, characters rarely if ever come out of the experience unscathed. Though a protagonist might not be reduced to gibbering madman, the events of the story will likely haunt the character from there on out. In some stories a protagonist is either exposed to or discovers something about themselves that physically alters them, changing them into something inhuman and strange. In the H.P. Lovecraft story, Whisperer in the Darkness, the protagonist fears he will end up like his colleague, who forsook his own humanity to become a brain-in-a-jar to travel with a disturbing alien race between the stars.
Fear of the Unknowable
There is a limit to what we as human beings are capable of comprehending, whether physically, scientifically, or psychologically. Consider that human senses are limited as to the frequency of sounds or spectrum of colors we are capable of comprehending. There have been cases when experiences were so overwhelming in terms of sensations or emotions they have resulted in psychological harm. The fear of that which is impossible or harmful to know or understand permeates the cosmic horror genre. Lovecraft’s descriptions of the horrors his protagonists face tend to be vague, often only in flashes of terrifying imagery, sounds, and sensations. In his story, The Colour Out of Space, the titular color is described as something beyond the spectrum of human experience, even as it drains the life out a valley and the residents therein. When a cosmic horror story involves some entity, group, or force behind the horror, often their motivations are kept hidden to the protagonist or even beyond the protagonists’ abilities to comprehend. What motivates Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones or Outer Gods? No one really knows and perhaps for most people, no one wants to know.
Cosmic Horror can be a tricky genre for a writer to grasp. It is a genre that revolves around concepts and fears that, while chilling, do not often occur in the human experience. This is inherent to cosmic horror, making readers come face to face with fears and revelations they might not want to consider.
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By Ian Smith