I think it’s interesting (and typical) that while Mother’s Day originally started as a day for church-goers to visit their “Mother Church”, Father’s Day has apparently been an honouring your father thing from the beginning. It originated in the Middle Ages, and is traditionally celebrated on March 19th. Of course, the US has to do things different.
I digress. Anyways, for our Top Ten Tuesday list this week, we did a Father’s Day special. The topic we did was Our Favorite Dads in Sci-Fi & Horror. And it was ridiculously difficult to come up with ten! We ended up having to go with just five. And that’s kind of mind-boggling to think about. Why is it so hard to find evidence of good dads in sci-fi and horror? Both of them would be strengthened by having a few more father figures that readers could look up to in the book. Doesn’t every bookworm have at least one book role-model that they look up to? In my case (Lilyn), it was finding good father figures in books and movies that convinced me that not all dads were horrible human beings. Yes, I knew they were just figments of someone’s imagination, but those people had to have had at least some good experiences with fathers, right?
For this post, we’ll be briefly addressing fathers in horror.
(Note: Most of the following post comes from GracieKat, folks. I’ve made no secret of the fact that Miss L is not a healthy child, and yesterday was a bad day for us. I didn’t have the time or energy to properly contribute to this. I’ve added a bit here and there, but that’s it.)
Fathers in Horror
There always seems to be a distinct lack of fathers in horror. In scary stories for kids, parents missing seems to be for plot purposes. After all, how can they get in their adventures with constant parental supervision? If they are present it’s usually a single parent that has to work often enough so the kids are left to their own devices. Sometimes the horror is the parents. And that tends to be the best case scenario. Once you get into adult horror fiction, it’s not exactly sunshine and roses.
Dads in particular in horror are quite often portrayed as, at the worst, abusive. At the least, neglectful, unobservant or skeptical of what their children are telling them. Taking a look at our Top Ten Tuesday list for our fathers you’ll probably notice that quite a few of them are a father figure, rather than the biological father. It’s good to show this because just biology doesn’t determine whether the person is actually a “father” or not. But it kind of makes me wonder why a child/teen character can have a father figure but not an actual father to help them. Parents are generally held to a higher standard of caring for their children. whether or not that’s always the case. Father figures fill that role nicely. They’re able to be there when needed but also can be a friend when that’s needed as well.
Two of the best that I can think of are Bobby from Supernatural and Harry from the Silent Hill game.
What’s interesting about Bobby is that he’s not just a father to the boys after their father’s death but even before. So, to me, it’s interesting to me as to why exactly they need a father figure to help them with their daily problems and not just being there for the really big stuff. Heck, Dean was laying in bed dying and they couldn’t get their dad on the phone. Bobby is always there for Sam and Dean. Whether it be bullying his way through a phone call pretending to be someone from the FBI to get them out of trouble, or simply showing up to help them hunt when they’re over their heads. He loves those boys. And in return, the boys are there for him as much as possible.
Harry is also in the father figure category but I find his dynamic a bit more interesting because most father figures fill a very specific role. Harry’s is a bit more complicated in the game. Short form that’s mostly spoiler free (see longer form behind the spoilers thing if curious): Neither of the parents were biologically related to the baby they raised. They found her abandoned on the road. But he loves the kid, and when she requests to return to Silent Hill, he takes her. Revelations come one after another, and it turns out Cheryl was literally the missing piece to someone else. Bad things happen, and Harry ends up raising another baby that he’s given in the town. And that doesn’t end up going too well for him either.
In the movies he is still a generally good father but as he’s searching Silent Hill he seems to mainly be looking for his wife, rather than their daughter. They also, which was even more disturbing to me, is that they take the character of Dahlia and completely change her for the movie. In the game she’s a manipulative cult member who is also dealing drugs. She also manipulates her daughter to kill people with her powers in exchange for Dahlia’s love and attention. She also keeps Alessa in excruciating physical pain for seven years (through magic spells) to lure back the other half, Cheryl. There is also no father of record for Alessa. Movie Dahlia is made into a sympathetic character who herself was manipulated and regrets it. Harry’s actual character from the game is also changed into a woman. The director does comment on this by saying he wanted to show the mother/daughter relationship and that Harry showed more feminine aspects. My question to this is why not show a very close father/daughter relationship? And why take a horrible mother and lighten her to a tragic character who screwed up a bit by trusting the wrong person?
Here’s where it ties together (I knew I’d get there someday). I wanted to highlight what could have been with Alessa/Heather. Alessa in particular. Perhaps if she’d had a father to look out for her maybe the whole burning thing would not have happened. Or perhaps it wouldn’t. The only other father shown in connection with the cult is an abusive twat nozzle. It could also be why she gets so attached to Harry as each of the girls. Cheryl seems to love him, Heather loves him, enough to want to get revenge for his death. Alessa, even though she’s trying to slow him down from finding her she’s not hitting him hard, just throwing a few monsters in his way. And keep in mind that this is a girl who can kill with just a thought.
It’s also interesting to note that in the re-imagining that the game changes Harry’s involvement with Cheryl based on the decisions that the user makes in the psych profile. So how you answer directly affects the game and the actions of Harry. At the end it’s revealed that you are actually Cheryl answering the questions. So it makes a difference in Cheryl’s past because of the decisions you make for the character. And they are quite…personal questions from real psychological tests. So it creates a different dynamic to it.
Rupert Giles is one of the only other good fathers in horror that pop to mind. Well, father-figure, really. Though Buffy the Vampire Slayer couldn’t exactly be called horror as much as ‘supernatural’ most of the time. One of the nice things about the show was watching Giles grow into the father-figure role. At first he was the stuffy Watcher. By the end of it, Watcher be damned, he was the Scooby Gang’s dad. You could always count on Giles (even if it was just to tell you that you were being a dunderhead whilst cleaning his glasses.)
There is no doubt that fathers or father figures can have a big impact on a person’s life. A person can get by without them and grow up to be perfectly fine. However, a good ‘dad’ can provide some extra grounding. If you don’t think a father is that important to a person’s development, just look at the sheer amount of times in stories (even fiction outside of horror) where a character is traumatized by his/her father. How many authors write sexual abuse from the father as part of the plot, for instance? We need more good dads and moms in fiction.
Fathers in Horror Questions:
- We would love to see a horror book where the main character actually had a dependable father and mother that she or he could rely on. Have you ever read such a book? If it it exists, please let us know!
- Why do you think good parents are mostly absent in science fiction and horror? How many times do you think having a parent involved would have changed the outcome at least a little bit?
- Do you have any fathers in horror that we missed on our TTT or in this post? Talk to us.
6 thoughts on “Fathers in Horror”
I suspect much of the problem has to do with our gendered view of fatherhood: fathers are supposed to be the strong ones, the ones capable of doing anything, the protectors. A father stands up to evil, and its SOP. But a mother standing up to evil? We see that as an extraordinary effort on her part, for much the same reason horror flicks routinely killed off women except for the one who’s really strong.
So you’re a father figure in a horror story? If you’re strong, game over: you beat the evil and save your child. For the child to be in peril, you have to be weak, which means being a bad father, or absent.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” shows how careful a writer has to be to produce a flawed father who is nevertheless a good one. The father of our protagonist in this story is initially portrayed as weak, because he’s older and physically frailer than most fathers in their town. But he turns out to be strong in spirit and character, and that’s what allows him to HELP his son win the day. (So I’m very glad Misha Burnett mentioned that story.}
And sorry to hear Miss L is ailing more so than usual. When Lilyn has her speak on this blog, she sounds like a likely child! 🙂
I think you’re right about the fact that daddy’s are supposed to be the strong ones in books, and that kind of blows my mind because in real life I’ve never seen that happen. The mom has always been the stronger of the two. Hm.
And thanks, Brian. L is definitely an interesting kid. Hopefully the two lung disease specialists we are seeing soon can help.
Wonderful article. I think parents are inextricably linked to our innate sense of fear, because parents are the people that protect us from things that go bump in the night — that is their prime reason for being. So the horror genre is always exploring what it means to lose a parent, or have an unreliable parent, because it strikes directly at that very primal place in our hearts that hides the scared little child within. I’m revising my current horror novel, and it is very much a story about a man in search of an absentee father; that was a theme that only made itself manifest after I’d completed the first draft!
I think you hit the nail on the head, Sean. I hadn’t even considered that angle, but you’re so right!
Off the top of my head I can think of:
Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
Robert R. McCammon’s “Boy’s Life”
Stephen King’s “Christine”
I haven’t read2 of the 3 you mentioned! Boys Life has been on my radar for a while though!
I dont remember the dad in Christine at all! Gah!
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