RARA-AVIS: Thrills

From: Chris Routledge ( srcrout@ntlworld.com)
Date: 02 Mar 2001


>Sometimes the thrill comes from expecting the unexpected, which is why
>Disneyworld's Space Mountain, which would be a kinda rinky dink
>rollercoaster if it were outside, is so thrilling, because it is in the
>dark and you can't see the drops and turns ahead. You expect them, but
>don't know exactly when they will come. So the rider is reassured that
>it meets all the expectations, but pleasantly surprised by the way the
>expected thrills actually play themselves out, just like the best genre

This is an excellent summary of why many of us read hb crime fiction, but is it any different from real life? Presumably the escapism part is in knowing that when the bad things happen nobody gets hurt. I think this is where the Flitcraft parable comes in. It's significant that Flitcraft didn't go off and become a test pilot or a bomb disposal expert. Very few people ever take real risks with their lives, and even fewer continue exposing themselves to risk. Hard-boiled detectives are different. They takes all kinds of risks, from the financial risk of doing a low-paid job when they could have something better to the obvious physical ones. In this respect I think the roller-coaster analogy breaks down, since that is more of a virtual risk - the roller-coaster rider, like the video games player actually experiences anxiety (in a safe, controlled environment), while the novel reader enjoys risk vicariously (though that's not to say that readers don't also feel anxious, excited etc.). This reminds me of a stately home I visited years ago (and I can't for the life of me remember the name) where there is a tunnel built in the late 18th century to scare visitors. It has a slight kink in it so that at a certain point you can't see either end and everything does suddenly very dark. Very spooky. For vicarious thrills they read Gothic novels.

Cheers Chris

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