*Warning: This article contains foul language and scenes of unimaginable horror in the form of violence, rape, incest, cannibalism and anything else I can think of to offend your delicate sensibilities. Do not read if you have:
· Anger management issues
· Erectile dysfunction
· sweet tooth
· lack of common sense
· no sense of humour
Okay, so the above trigger warning was silly, and I am in no way making light of the above conditions, but it helps to illustrate a point. Trigger warnings in general are ridiculous.
Humour me for a moment whilst I talk about one of the most successful book series in history, Game of Thrones, written by George R.R. Martin. Like many of you, I am a huge Game of Thrones fan. Admittedly, I’ve never read the books, but I’m currently on my second round of binge-watching the show. I’ve been told that the books are far worse than the show when it comes to violence, sex, foul language, and all the other things people complain about
For those who have never seen GoT, each episode begins with a trigger warning, telling audiences what’s in store for them during the hour that follows. Despite that, in a series 5 show called, “Unbowed, Unbent, and Unbroken.” audiences got upset because Sansa’s husband, Ramsay Bolton raped her on their wedding night.
The camera wasn’t on Sansa during the rape scene. Ramsay tore the back of her dress, and bent her over the bed, and made Theon watch. That’s what we saw – Theon’s face as he witnessed Sansa’s rape. We knew what was happening, but audiences weren’t subjected to the actual rape.
Shortly after the episode aired, the backlash began. People were appalled that a violent rape appeared (even when it technically didn’t) on a show where killing people by beheading, setting them on fire, and slashing their throats is the norm. Even those familiar with Ramsey’s character were shocked and claimed the show went too far. Honestly, with everything GoT has done in the last 5 years, it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse.
Now, let’s switch gears and drive this discussion toward some of today’s horror books.
In Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor 2: Moonstruck, Steven Wilkinson is a werewolf hunter who shoots an 8-year-old girl in the head.
“Megan had reverted to her human form and looked up at the approaching hunter with tear-filled eyes. ‘Please, Mister. Please don’t hurt me. I just want to go home. I just want to …’ The hunter paused and appeared uncertain, then shook his head, aimed the pistol at the young girl and shot her between the eyes.”
In Matt Shaw’s Sick B*stards, Mother, Father, Sister and Brother gather around the dinner table to have their first meal since waking up after the nuclear blast destroyed their world.
“Father didn’t say anything else nor did he wait for us to argue with him. He simply took the knife and cut a slice of meat from the dead girl’s arm.”
“I heard my father bite into the first piece of flesh from the remains.”
Text Message is William Malmborg’s tale of a deranged man who kidnaps teenage girls in a mall. This time, he captures a young girl whose sister is with her. He sends the sister awful demands via text message and claims that if the sister does as she’s told, he will not harm the younger sibling.
“When I was a young man, my mother would wash my mouth out with soap for swearing. Now I will do the same to you.” Mallory waited. Sure enough a message with instructions arrived. Go to the Body Works store and ask the lady which soap would be the best for washing your mouth out. Buy it and do it right in front of her.”
Jasper Bark writes in Stuck on You,
“Ricardo took a deep breath and put his lips to the cold cartilage of Consuela’s ear. He scooped the pork into his mouth with his tongue. It tasted of rancid meat and bile. He chewed and swallowed it anyway.”
These are just a few examples of the extreme side of horror, and of course, these snippets are not in any way the worst of what these books have to offer. (I wouldn’t want to offend anyone so I’ve left them out) Matt Shaw writes graphic scenes of incest, some of which involve using “parts” of victims. The villain in Text Message makes the girl perform graphic sex acts in the mall, and In High Moor 2, there is a scene of unimaginable violence toward a specific character and her unborn baby. Stuck on You is just – well, let’s just say you don’t want to read that book whilst eating.
Most readers who pick up a horror novel are smart enough to expect the worst, even if the cover isn’t filled with trigger warnings. I mean, they are horror novels after all.
Why then do these authors receive reviews like:
Even novels that lack scenes of a grotesque nature come under attack for being offensive. Take Iain Rob Wright’s The Final Winter, for example. This unique tale of the end of the world receives reviews like:
“I thought the premise of this book sounded interesting. However, the book was absolutely full of cursing, obscene slang, and just generally disgusting language.”
“I do like how this author writes, but this one was a miss for me. I'll just say this was a little religious at the end.”
I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you, with utmost certainty, that if the end of the world were upon us, I would curse like a sailor (Okay, so I do that already) and might even start to believe in some kind of religion, but that’s beside the point.
Although it’s true that authors can’t please everyone, well-respected authors like Richard Laymon, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King and many others have been writing books designed to turn our stomachs and give us nightmares for years. So, why does it seem that more people get offended now more than ever?
If you buy a horror novel, especially one with a trigger warning written on the cover, and take offence to it, you absolutely forfeit your right to complain, because common sense dictates that parts of the book will not be pleasant. Matt Shaw writes in several different genres, but my favourites are his extreme horror books. On the cover of these black-cover books, (Hint No.1 that the book won’t be filled with puppies and flowers) he graciously includes a trigger warning (in bright lettering) that reads, “Warning. This is an extreme horror novel. It is not intended for those who are easily shocked or offended.” (Nope. No puppies and flowers here) Shaw isn’t the only one to include trigger warnings, and as much as they annoy me and others, many claim they are a necessity. They are there for the sensitive people among us. We wouldn’t want their feelings to get hurt, after all.
In many horror films, despite having a rating system in place, the camera will pan away from scenes of extreme or disturbing violence, leaving what happens to the audience’s imagination. You rarely see things like animal or child abuse - two subjects that often make people cringe. If you’ve seen 2013’s Carrie, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In the scene where the teens collect the pig blood to dump on Carrie’s head during prom, audiences didn’t see anything and heard only the pig’s squeal when it was hit with the sledgehammer.
Horror novels tend to take a different approach. Although many stay away from vivid descriptions of animal or child abuse, most horror authors don’t hold back, nor should they have to.
High Moor 2 is the perfect example of this. In one particular messy scene about halfway through the book, a werewolf named Connie is on a mission to kill everyone she can to avenge the death of her daughter. She hunts down Olivia, a pregnant police officer and a fight ensues. I won’t go into detail about what happens, but I will say that even I was shocked at how that scene played out. However, looking back on it, had the author done anything differently, it would have changed the whole book, and not in a good way.
Since any good narrative centers on some kind of conflict and characters readers can relate to, it’s not surprising that many books deal with real-life issues such as rape, war, disease, eating disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse and a number of other things people find disturbing. Try to imagine a horror novel without conflict or without characters who haven’t been through a lot of shit throughout their lives. That would be a damn boring novel. Readers who want a book without such things should stick to colouring books.
In a perfect world, readers would have enough common sense to stay away from horror if horrific things bother them. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world and one wrong phrase or taboo subject will bring the whiners out of the woodwork. Authors cannot anticipate, nor should they be expected to anticipate what scene(s) will disturb a reader. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they’re not mind readers. In my opinion, it’s not the writer’s responsibility to censor his or her work. It’s the reader’s responsibility to shield him/herself from things they know could set them off.
Unfortunately, until things change, which probably won’t happen anytime soon, trigger warnings will remain a necessity for certain books, and people will still get their feelings hurt by something they shouldn’t have chosen to read in the first place. What absolutely needs to change is people leaving bad reviews based on content. When a reader gets his feelings hurt by a book, then slams it in a review, it’s not helpful to anyone, especially the author. It’s a horror book. Get over it and don’t ruin an author’s livelihood and reputation or spoil the book for other readers just because you have delicate sensibilities.
How do you feel about trigger warnings? Do you agree that they are a necessary evil, or should authors be free to write what they want, sensitivities be damned?
If you disagree with my little rant, let me know in the comments. I’m not sensitive. I can take it.
DAWN "ANGRY PUPPY" CANO