Saturday, October 17, 2009

For Maximum Creepy, Just Add Coyotes

I just finished reading Susan Hill's The Woman in Black for the Slaves of Golconda, where I've just become a contributor. I'll be writing of post for Slaves within the next few days but for now I'd just like to comment on Hill's use of atmosphere. The Woman in Black is centered on a bleak old house in the wild, desolate English swamps. Ruins of an ancient monastery and crumbling graveyard are also located on the property. It's so reminiscent of "The Fall of the House of Usher" that I literally expected the house to, well, fall. But one thing that struck me as I was reading this book was the eerie sounds the protagonist often heard at night, alone in an isolated house alleged to be haunted. A child's scream, a disembodied whistle, the clip-clop of a ghostly horse.

Last night, while in laying in bed by an open window, I was awakened by a chorus of mad pipers. Crazed howlings spiraled out from the dark woods, winding higher and higher and reaching a piercing, fevered pitch.

I love coyotes, but they can be so creepy!

Wolves are such a cliché in fantasy and mythology. (So are felines, to a lesser extent, particularly lions.) Many have waxed poetic about the primal cry of the wolf, and werewolves are second only to vampires and zombies as pop culture's monster of choice. But what about coyotes? I know Patricia Briggs has an urban fantasy series about a werecoyote, but other than that, coyotes are so underrepresented! It really makes no sense - wolves are borderline endangered, whereas coyotes are found everywhere imaginable, from cities (Chicago has a large population) to suburbs to snowy mountains to the tropics. Millions from Alaska down to Central America are familiar with their yips, yaps, and howls and their haunting resonance through the night. So why, I wonder, are they so absent from fiction? They have so much potential!

Think of how much scarier The Woman in Black, or "The Fall of the House of Usher" or any other horror classic would be with coyote noises!

(This coyote is supposed to be expressing happiness but doesn't he just sound like he's in pain?)


Anonymous said...

I haven't heard coyotes since I lived in Oregon when I was a kid. We used to "ow, ow, owoooooooooooooooo" back at them.

E. L. Fay said...

They'll find you soon enough. They're wily little guys who can live just about anywhere.

Lula O said...

I heard wolves howling while camping this summer. The most haunting sounds I've ever heard.

Diane said...

Coyote howls give me goose bumps. Very creepy sound.

E. L. Fay said...

Lula: Yep, wolves can certainly sound haunting, but are they SCARY?

Diane: They're such pretty animals, though. They have such an unfair bad rap.

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