As promised, we're striving for daily posts through October, all with a Halloween motif. Today, I think it is time we explored the critters that we associate with dread. I've noticed, for instance, that there are those folk who shudder at the image of an arachnid (spider) creeping along a web. Some people shrink back at the presence of a snake. Others will run for cover when a bat makes an appearance.
It's interesting how certain animals trigger a response and it makes me wonder if that is a learned behavior or some sort of remnant of an instinctual survival mechanism. One can understand how fears of spiders and snakes may have evolved, but certainly to see those fears carried out in a world of chrome and glass is mystifying. And of course, the things that most people should be terrified of ...squirrels...tend to induce most people to smile stupidly.
As a writer, animals provide wonder triggers and metaphors. Stephen King certainly realized that when he wrote IT! Of course, King also used the most unlikely animal for an antagonist---a St. Bernard (Cujo). Stoker used rats and bats for their greatest effect in Dracula, and let's not forget the image of Renfield collecting houseflies for a feast. Poe and Lovecraft both used cats to inspire a sense of the otherworldly. Film culture has taken the exotic and common animal to create dread. Hitchcock's birds, Spielberg's sharks come to mind. Donner used two mastiffs as guardian's of Satan's kid in The Omen.
Perhaps the use of animals in popular culture and literature to spark fear isn't so much a lingering memory as they are a metaphor for the untamed side of human nature, for the beast that lingers within all of us.
NEXT POST: WEREWOLVES AND HAIRY BACKS