Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs: L-Z - Vol. 2

By Jean-Charles Seigneuret | Go to book overview

T

TERROR

The. Oxford English Dictionary defines terror as "the state of being terrified or greatly frightened; intense fear, fright, or dread." Because many authors use the terms "terror" and "horror" interchangeably, and because many combine terror with horror, the two terms are often confused. Fear of an extraordinary intensity is the operating principle of terror. Fear is also a characteristic of horror, but with horror that fear becomes so dreadful as to result in loathing, abhorrence, or revulsion.

Some generalizations can be made about the ways that authors evoke terror and about the reasons they use it as a theme or motif in their works by examining the evolution of terror in literature. When characters are frightened by physical danger or death, by supernatural occurrences, or by their own excessive imaginations, they experience terror. Another type of terror results from a character's learning about his or her own guilt or about others' evil natures or criminal behavior. Some authors include terror in their works to illustrate a moral or a truth about human nature; some use it to cause the reader or audience to empathize with the hero or heroine. Still others use it to show the interrelatedness of emotions--the connection between pleasure and pain, melancholy and love. Finally, many authors, particularly of popular literature, use terror primarily for entertainment.

An eighteenth-century essay, "On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror" (from Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose by John and Anna Laetitia Aikin-- later Mrs. Barbauld--[ London, 1773]), accounts for the popular appeal of some types of terror. The reader's love of a

strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps it on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of "forms unseen, and mightier far than we," our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid

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Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs: L-Z - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xv
  • Bibliography xxii
  • L 691
  • N 885
  • O 929
  • P 935
  • R 1021
  • S 1109
  • Selected Bibliography 1126
  • T 1255
  • U 1333
  • V 1373
  • W 1383
  • Cross-Index 1389
  • Index 1401
  • About the Editors and Contributors 1495
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