There is something fundamentally petrifying about the vast scale of the sea and its ice. About nature flexing its muscles in a display of strength so large it cares not for your tiny eyes peering up from its shadows.
Cold landscapes are stunning. I had the pleasure of visiting Iceland many moons ago and the land was phenomenal and awe inspiring. The earth bellowed smoke and the ice cracked with thick snaps through cold that chilled you deeper than England’s garden variety attempts. It was gorgeous and beautiful, but you could also feel the power of the landscape rumbling underneath you.
For me, when you start to set stories in frozen wastes and cold seas, you start to tap into the type of power and fear that speaks to human vulnerability. The body’s frailness, the mind’s weak grasp on reality when confronted with such incomprehensible extremes. Extremes so far to the edges of normal that they start to brush up against the unreal.
You start to get something that’s really goddam chilling (sorry, I can’t help myself, pretend I never typed that).
And the last few months I’ve stumbled across this theme in some excellent tales on screen and on paper. Here’s three of my recent favourites.
A TV series: The Terror (season one)
I absolutely devoured this series (currently available on BBC iPlayer for those of you in the UK). Honestly, I didn’t expect to like it. I have a thing about period dramas where everything tends to strike me as panto-esque and over-done. But this was fantastic. Dark, chilling, it’s a fictional exploration of the increasingly desperate attempts at survival of the crews of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and it is successfully, bone-tinglingly spooky. A month or so after finishing the series I channel-hopped onto a documentary showing the discovery of the wreckage of one of the boats, adding a deeper twinge of sadness behind the spookiness.
The scene setting and acting is simply brilliant. Jared Harris is particularly good, and also reminded me of the equally excellent Chernobyl series in which he was also excellent, and which is another series that is haunting and horrific albeit in different ways.
Although I’ve not read it myself, I’ve heard great things about Dan Simmons’ novel of the same name on which the series is based, and it’s definitely one added to my TBR pile.
Season two, focusing on a Japanese internment camp, is on my to-watch list just as soon as it’s available to watch in the UK.
A novel: The Deep by Alma Katsu
Alma Katsu’s foray into ghostly horror on the Titanic and Britannic is so delicately done it’s truly impressive. She weaves her tale carefully into the famous maritime disaster, and the sense of place, and horror borne of both real events and supernatural undertones create a genuinely chilling read. Read more of my thoughts on how good it is at my ‘On reading‘ review, or buy the book here.
A short story: Where things fall from the sky by Ally Wilkes
Since my self-imposed semi-hiatus from social media, I’ve been finding more time to devour flash fiction and short stories from across the web. In my mini-fiction travels, I came across this tale by Ally Wilkes at Nightmare Magazine, a neatly written gothic horror following the tightening grip of madness as it slowly takes hold of the crew on a whaling ship in the Arctic. Her novel All the White Spaces due out next year is surely something to look forward to.
Share your favourite frozen horrors in the comments below. After all, we’re heading into Autumn soon, the perfect time to give yourself chills while keeping warm in front of an open fire.