Horror, at least for me, is a distinct genre, particularly when it comes to books. I’ve always felt that readers need to delve deeper and exert extra effort to create that world and atmosphere of horror and dread in their minds, one that sends shivers down the spine and raises the hairs on your skin as you anxiously await what lurks around the next corner, or rather, the next page.
The reason for this preamble is simple: today, we’re discussing James Herbert and his horror novel “The Fog.” Just to clear any confusion, this book has nothing to do with the film of the same name by Carpenter, nor is this the author of the cult classic “Dune” (that would be Frank Herbert, this is James).
Although Herbert might not have been overly popular for some, we’re talking about a British horror writer who penned over 20 works, contributed to some film projects, received awards for his contributions to the horror genre by the “World Horror Convention” (joining the ranks of luminaries like Arthur Bloch, Stephen King, Den Simons, or Clive Barker), and was even honored by Prince Charles for his contributions to the arts in the United Kingdom!
A quiet village in Britain is struck by an unprecedented disaster. A powerful earthquake causes a massive fissure in the earth, virtually swallowing the entire village, and a disgusting, foul-smelling fog emerges from the ground. Rescue services manage to save a few people, including John Holman, an employee of the environmental protection team. When rescued, he was like a wild beast, struggling, aggressive, and violent, constantly uttering profanities. Such is life in the public service, I guess…
However, after mysteriously recovering quickly, John returns to the city with his young girlfriend, Casey, who came to pick him up. It’s an understatement to say that they drove through a bit of fog on their way.
Before turning our attention to our main protagonist, Holman, I’d like to say a word or two about Casey. She lives with John, though their relationship is somewhat undefined. They love each other, but it seems like both aren’t completely sure about this love. Moreover, Casey has a somewhat strange relationship with her father, who is maybe a bit too protective of his daughter, and on top of that, her father and John don’t exactly see eye to eye. You’ll see why as the novel progresses.
John used to work as a special field agent investigating the Ministry of Defense, as there was a possibility that they were polluting the environment (“Oh, what a shock!” – note the sarcasm). However, your week surely can’t start off well if you’re nearly declared insane, then your boss commits suicide right in front of you, and the police detain you for witnessing a murder, not to mention your girlfriend looks beaten after some violent argument. However, things soon clear up.
The mysterious fog (the one that emerged from the earth) leaves behind horrifying horrors wherever it passes, initially ignored by the state. My God, men trampled by their own cows, pigeons with blood-red eyes pecking their keeper to death, a priest, excuse my language, literally urinating on his congregation, or boys orgying in school, followed by the mysterious burning down of the same school. All these are in vain when Special Agent Holman points out the connection with the fog. No! Of course, the police know better… until a girl who had contact with the fog kills her father and tries to murder a police officer involved in the investigation against John Holman. And when news breaks that an entire village committed mass suicide by drowning themselves, for no apparent reason… except maybe the fog that visited them the night before. Then panic sets in, and a race against time begins.
The novel could best be described as a horror-disaster. Everything is depicted literally, like the scenes where the fog appears and the horrors it leaves behind (which I would rather not describe, you’ll see for yourself), and how Holman tries (in collaboration with Britain’s greatest minds), to prevent a total apocalypse, attempting to destroy the ominous fog, which often seems to possess a form of intelligence.
The writing style is easy to read, though not everyone may appreciate its raw manner, making the novel more reminiscent of an action horror filled with lots of fighting and shooting, rather than a tense “suspense” horror. However, consider that this is a novel written 40 years ago.
Two details caught my eye, adding an interesting note to this horror. First, horror doesn’t have to be caused by external, supernatural/fantasy factors; the cause of horror and apocalypse can also be man himself. Secondly, a simple yet romantic undertone is successfully woven in a few places in the relationship between John and Casey, which adds a refreshing element to the horror genre, you know…
To recommend “The Fog” or not? For horror enthusiasts, yes. Those who aren’t will likely pass it by. And for those on a mission to read only the classics of world literature (yes, there are such people)… meh, they can, but they won’t miss much if they skip it. But then again, it’s a quick read. 🙂
I believe Stephen King summed up Herbert’s work best:
“The best of Herbert’s work has an effect akin to Mike Tyson in his championship days: no finesse, all raw power. These books were bestsellers because many readers (myself included), were too horrified to put them down.”
Of course, the events in this novel didn’t scare me. I’ve always closed windows when I see fog and then used an oxygen bottle. Nor am I uncomfortable when more than three pigeons watch me as I walk through the city. No, I wasn’t scared at all…
A question for my brave readers:
Is it more likely that we experience such a horror apocalyptic scenario due to a human error, or do you believe in supernatural forces (hell or something similar) capable of causing it?
(Originally reviewed: 29/01/2018)