Happy Frankenstein Day! No, seriously, this is one of the days that celebrates Frankenstein; specifically it’s the commemoration of Mary Shelley’s birth. There are a couple of other Frankenstein days in October (one being the last Friday of the month and the other being the 29th), but I thought it would be kind of fun to focus on this one. Shelley published the story when she was 21 and many believed that this complex thriller could not have been written by her, but by her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. The novel was frightening and its horrors were inconceivable to the audience of that age. But they loved it!
Why do we love scary stories? Why do we enjoy that creeping sensation or jolt of terror when we read a book, see a movie or ride a rollercoaster? Part of the answer has to do with biology. When we are frightened, our bodies fight or flight system kicks in and our amygdala orders up a burst of adrenaline and other hormones like dopamine that go shooting through our system. Fear is a stimulant, and in a setting where we know that we are ultimately going to be okay, it can actually be and enjoyable feeling.
There are some people who become addicted to it, like thrill seekers. Bungee jumping anyone? There are also those for whom the experience is more enjoyable. Take teenagers and young adults, they tend to be more likely to enjoy horror movies than older adults. (Perhaps there is a correlation with awareness of your mortality.)
There could also be a psychological reason why we like to be frightened. Maybe there is a feeling of power gained when we face our fears and seemingly conquer them. Regardless of the reason, tales designed to frighten us have been around for centuries. Have you ever listened to ghost stories around a campfire? Apparently, that tradition has been passed down for centuries as well. Some were told for practical reasons, like keeping children from straying from home, especially at night. But there has always been an entertainment portion. I had a teacher in elementary school who played audio versions of Edgar Allan Poe stories with the lights out. It completely freaked me out, but it’s one of my fondest memories of her.
Do you have a favorite spooky story? Is there something you like to do for the fright effect?