Tales of dread
‘Tales of dread’ is a genre that has received scant attention in aesthetics. In this paper, I aim to elaborate an account of tales of dread which (1) effectively distinguishes these from horror stories, and (2) helps explain the close affinity between the two, accommodating borderline cases. I briefly consider two existing accounts of the genre – namely, those of Noël Carroll and of Cynthia Freeland – and show why they are inadequate for my purposes. I then develop my own account of tales of dread, drawing on two theoretical resources: Freud’s ‘The “Uncanny”’, and Tzvetan Todorov’s The Fantastic. In particular, I draw on Freud to help distinguish tales of dread from horror stories, and I draw on Todorov to help explain the fluidity between the genres. I argue that both horror stories and tales of dread feature apparent impossibilities which are threatening; but whereas in horror stories the existence of the monster (the apparent impossibility) is confirmed, tales of dread are sustained by the audience’s uncertainty pertaining to preternatural objects or events. Where horror monsters pose an immediate, concrete danger to the subject’s physical well-being, these preternatural objects or events pose a psychological threat to the subject’s grasp of reality.