The things that scare us reflect our beliefs, how we treat one another and how we consider ourselves, says Dr. Gina Brandolino from the University of Michigan.

Horror as a literary genre isn’t just about registering a shock of fear. Spooky stories have played a really important role in social and political movements over time and, have, more importantly, told us about ourselves and what it means to be human in ways that other genres can’t. 

“There are so many ways that we can understand more about ourselves by explaining who, and what, we consider monsters.” — Dr. Gina Brandolino, English lecturer at the University of Michigan 

Through stories of terror and fright, horror taps into emotions and aspects of the human condition that force us to stare into our own reflections and demand hard questions about how we treat our fellow human beings. 

Listen: A conversation with an English lecturer about the horror lessons we love.


Dr. Gina Brandolino is a lecturer in the Department of English and the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan. Brandolino focuses on a wide variety of literature topics, including horror, and says there are many theories about why humans cherish the genre. Brandolino notes that the end of a horror novel often has a way of returning society to a “normal” state, offering us comfort. This, she says, is why scary literature is actually not reflective of the current pandemic. “I feel like the moment that we’re living through definitely gives us a sense of horror that is too real to be useful in the horror fiction way,” she says. 

Horror is useful, says Brandolino, in the ways that it reflects human anxieties, fears and biases. “There are so many ways that we can understand more about ourselves by explaining who, and what, we consider monsters,” she says, “and, in a way, the monster shows us who we are more than it reveals anything about itself.” 

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