Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pathetic Fallacies: Hollywood Loves 'Em; Stephen King Spins 'Em

Kenneth Branagh’s film, Much Ado about Nothing, is a delightful romp. I enjoyed sharing the play, then Branagh’s film with students. I also use the film to teach film tropes, including pathetic fallacy.

Branagh employs pathetic fallacy each time Don John, the Duke’s bastard brother and all-round bad guy, enters a scene. Thunder rolls and lightning cracks, suggesting Nature itself recognizes the storm the follows in the wake of Don John.

A tried and sometimes clichéd trope used in horror fiction is an atmosphere of doom and gloom, especially in the genre’s eighteenth and nineteenth century incarnations, Gothic literature.

Powerful, ominous clouds overhead portend doom, illustrating a
pathetic fallacy in literature. Photo courtesy of Al Griffin Photography.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has many gloomy, oppressive settings. While experimenting and studying, Frankenstein works in an isolated and isolating lab, often described as dark to match his own partnership with dark scientific deeds. When the creature awakes, he moves about in the dark and cold. When he is cast out, he suffers storms and cold while struggling to find shelter, food, and most important, affection. When Frankenstein pursues his creature, he does so through the frozen north where Nature is unforgiving and men are poorly equipped to survive.

Stephen King, on the other hand, often turns this trope found in horror fiction on its head. In Finder’s Keeper’s, terrible people commit terrible acts while the light shines and passersby simply go about the business of their routines without any fear or dread. Some people are mortally wounded without altering Nature or alarming witnesses.

Such an unremarkable atmosphere, absent the doom and gloom trope, underscores the horror. Monsters may have the faces of our neighbors, and horrific deeds occur even as the sun shines bright and warm.

Reading Challenge:

Read any of the three works cited for this post: Branagh’s film Much Ado about Nothing, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Stephen King’s Finder’s Keepers.  Take note of the atmosphere or mood developed in each.

Writing Challenge:

Invent an atmosphere of doom and gloom for a moment when humans are afraid, hurt, or sad.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.