Last month, I made a list of the goriest scenes in horror fiction for Meli’s Thanksgiving Day Gross-Outs. It not difficult to come up with memorable gag-inducing moments, but have you ever thought about the most heartwarming moments in the genre? This Christmas, to keep in the spirit of giving, good will toward men, twinkling lights, sugar cookies shaped like fir trees and all the joy the holiday brings, I want to focus on the softer side of horror lit. How hard could that be? I mean, it’s the author’s ability to touch our heart and soul that render the nasty bits so effective, right? Turns out this was more difficult than I originally anticipated. When I solicited other horror fiction fans for their picks via Facebook, Twitter, and my favorite message board, the Rue Morgue Mortuary, all that came back was the sound of crickets chirping. While the thread in the Mortuary for “Goriest Book Ever” went on for 3 pages, “Most Heartwarming Moments in Horror Fiction” got one response, and that was to say “Gonna have to think on this…” Still, bound and determined to prove that where there is blood there is heart, I managed a few choice moments from horror fiction that really tug on the heartstrings and get readers grabbing for tissues. Bust out your Kleenex, folks, these are my most heartwarming moments in horror fiction!
The Scene: The ending. (Don’t worry, I’ll give you proper warning when we get into spoiler territory.)
Why it’s heartwarming: The entire novel is a heartwarming tale about a little boy Toby who meets a monster in the woods, Owen. They grow up together and face many challenges, but through it all remain best friends. Toby tries to introduce Owen to his girlfriend and eventually his daughter, but Owen’s frightening appearance always scares people away. Everyone but his bestie, Toby, of course.
** SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! **
The most heartwarming moment is also the saddest part of the book. Owen escapes his wooded hideaway and goes on a rampage that ends with him being gunned down by the police. Toby gets between his friend and the cops’ fire in an attempt to save him, but it’s too late. Right before Toby and Owen take their last breath, Toby puts hand in claw and they both die holding onto each other. If the ending of this book, quoted below, doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, you’re dead inside!
Toby could barely feel anything. Before he completely lost sensation in his arm, he twisted his body, flopping his arm over and putting his hand into Owen’s claw. Owen’s claw tightened around his fingers. Toby closed his eyes and they began their next adventure together.
Book / Author: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Scene: Frankenstein’s monster finds a friend.
Why it’s heartwarming: This novel always leaves me with a heavy heart. Although Frankenstein is a horror story and our titular doctor has supposedly created this abominable creature, I always sympathized with the monster, as I’m sure most people do. Everyone knows the story. Dr. Frankenstein, with his selfish God complex, attempts to create a new breed of man using the body parts of the dead. But, the doctor doesn’t consider the responsibility that comes with creating life and quickly abandons the project after resurrecting the monster. Hideously deformed, Frankenstein’s monster struggles to survive and aches for the comfort of human friendship. The monster camps out near a family’s home, observing their habits of living and speaking, and teaches himself the language. When all the members of the household but the old blind man leave for a walk one day, the monster cautiously approaches the home seeking the kindness and sympathy of man. Although short-lived, the monster finally experiences the warmth of friendship. The monster relays his predicament and is comforted by the old man’s words.
To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate, but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes; and if these friends are good and amiable, do not despair.
The Scene: Bucky reunites with his estranged daughters, Minnie and May.
Why it’s heartwarming: J.R. Parks’ southern-fried hero, Bucky, has a killer ‘stache and a big heart. He spends the majority of this book kicking monster ass and saving humanity, but even though he is a bad mofo, he has a soft side. Bucky is estranged from his two girls, Minnie and May, and wants nothing more than to hold them again. The majority of Bucky’s journey in this story is violent and dangerous. He often gets the worst end of the deal, saving everyone else but himself. That’s why it’s so touching when he finally comes face-to-face with his two girls, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal. Bucky is a real charmer and the long-awaited reunion with his daughters really warmed my heart and had me reaching for the tissue.
Minnie and May were closer than they’d been in years. I smelled their hair, felt the cool touch of tiny hands stroking my soaking face. They kissed my head and hands, held me. I wept, my shambling body empty of reason my quivering soul shrunken into a colorless pellet.
Book / Author: The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
The Scene: Vasiliy Fet finds his true calling.
Why it’s heartwarming: An apocalypse tale is nothing without sympathetic characters. Part of the appeal of The Strain Trilogy, besides being a well-written and unique twist on the vampire myth, is the colorful characters. One of my favorites is the exterminator Vasiliy Fet, a regular working Joe who becomes a hero of the post-apocalypse. Fet thrives in the new world, showing a natural skill for fighting vampires and saving lives. Technically, this is more a moment of admiration than heartwarming, but this particular passage gave me a sense of pride in this character that I think deserves to be included. The following quote from The Fall not only sums up Fet’s transformation perfectly, but also embodies the reason I think readers are attracted to the apocalypse story. Whether vampires or zombies, the desire to escape our routine and put our survival skills to the test is precisely the reason end-of-the-world tropes will remain popular.
There are men who bloom in chaos. You call them heroes or villains, depending on which side wins the war, but until the battle call they are but normal men who long for action, who lust for the opportunity to throw off the routine of their normal lives like a cocoon and come into their own. They sense a destiny larger than themselves, but only when structures collapse around them do these men become warriors.
The Scene: Tim finally moves forward and finds artistic inspiration.
Why it’s heartwarming: This survival tale is concerned with successful sculptor Tim Overleigh as he struggles with the death of his wife and muse, Hannah. When his friend invites him on a dangerous expedition to the Godesh Ridge in Nepal, Tim thinks this is his opportunity to face his demons and rediscover his talent. Along with a group of other thrill seekers, this adventure offers him many life-affirming moments, bringing him closer to salvation from his deep seeded guilt which keeps him from creating the ultimate masterpiece.
** SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! **
There is nothing more heartwarming than a tragic character rediscovering his strength and rebuilding his life after intense hardship. Tim hits rock bottom, both literally – in a caving accident that almost ends his life – and figuratively – as he finds himself on the brink of a mental breakdown. So when he finally comes to terms with his devastating tragedy and leaves that chapter of his life behind, my heart leapt for joy! In one last haunting, Hannah leaves Tim forever and he is finally able to sculpt again.
Later that day, I carried a hammer and a chisel to the black stones along the beach, I started sculpting again. I sculpted for myself… I sculpted for John Petras who was so close but never got to see the Canyon of Souls. I sculpted for Hannah, my Hannah, who had returned to me my ability to create artistic paradise…
Those are the moments in horror fiction that give me the warm and fuzzy, what’s yours?