As Yoda says: "You must unlearn what you have learned."

As I’ve written before, one problem I see in horror movies, novels and such is the tendency to over-explain everything, to try to tie up the loose ends in the story. This is a problem because it robs the horror of that most terrifying attribute mystery.

It’s understandable why this happens, though. Works in most other genres are better if you tie everything together neatly. For example, I find there is something immensely enjoyable about watching all the plot threads tie together in comic novels like the “Jeeves” books or A Confederacy of Dunces. In a good humor book, even seemingly trivial elements have a role to play in the story, and the result is to tie them all, humorously, into a funny situation. Similarly, in a mystery story, the big payoff requires Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or whoever to explain everything at the end. Failure to tie things up neatly is a huge flaw.

But the horror genre is different. You must not have that kind of effect in horror, to preserve the uncertain elements, to preserve the sense of fear that must exist for the reader.

I was thinking of this as I was re-reading Robert W. Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign”, which along with his “The Repairer of Reputations”, makes The King in Yellow my favorite weird fiction work ever. As I read, I realized that Chambers was doing things that in most other genres would be unforgivably vague, and render his story incoherent. For example, the principal characters are explicitly noted to be Catholic, yet how this matters to the story, I can’t really say. It doesn’t really seem to be an important element. This would be a problem in most stories, but here it just adds to the wonderfully bizarre feeling of Chambers’ world.

(“The Repairer of Reputations” also has many similarly unexplained elements, perhaps even more, all of which Chambers miraculously made to “work” together.)

Perhaps all this is obvious to most people, but I had never thought of it this way before; that perhaps what is a flaw in most genres can be a good thing in others.

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What's your stake in this, cowboy?