In The Only Child, a forensic psychiatrist in New York is asked to evaluate a man who may have inspired masterpieces of classic gothic literature. Author of The Demonologist and The Damned, Andrew Pyper is one of Can Lit’s foremost horror writers today, and has built a reputation for smart and creepy reads, so I was thrilled for the chance to interview him for this blog tour.
- Michael inspired not just Frankenstein’s monster but a host of other characters in classic horror fiction. What do all these classic characters have in common, such that a single character could inspire them all?
For me, the three most influential novels of the gothic monster are Frankenstein, Dracula, and Jekyll & Hyde. The monsters these books featured exemplify the three main characteristics of the modern monster: the Undead, the Parasite, the Psychopath (the Devil Within). You can trace pretty much any boogeyman back to one of these three aspects. To have one real-life figure inspire these three novels, therefore, required me to devise Michael as containing version of these three monstrous qualities. He is the original monster, in the Western sense, not just because he gave Shelley, Stoker and Stevenson material to write about, but because he was a collection of this Unholy Trinity of attributes.
- There seems to be a sexual undertone to Lily’s fascination with Michael. Was this deliberate, and if so, what does it say about our response to evil?
Transgression has always been a motivating characteristic of the gothic. To open the forbidden door, ignore warnings, desire what is closed to you: these are the human impulses that lead us to the mansion on the moor, the dark castle, the fogbound woods. Lily’s journey in the novel is, at least on one level, a rising of the Body after a lifetime of being repressed by the Mind. Part of this is to allow herself to fantasize about Michael, at least the beginning. When she discovers he is closer to her than she initially thought possible, she doesn’t think about him in those terms anymore.
- In confronting the truth about her father, Lily is forced to confront some truths about herself as well. How do you think her life would have turned out if she never met Michael?
That’s an interesting question. I suspect that something would have broken Lily open at some point along the line, if for no other reason than it required too much vigilance to hold herself closed to the past, to what her body remembers.
- Michael is presented as a monster, but he isn’t, and has never been, fully evil. What do you think makes a monster? Would you characterize Michael as one?
For me, a monster is a being possessed of special powers (even if that power is the absence of notice of social laws and norms). But what qualifies the existential condition of the monster, regardless to how he may present himself as human or charming or emotional, is his inability to experience love.
- Your recent books seem to be moving away from thrillers with some horror elements to pure horror, and particularly to playing with some classical horror elements (e.g. Dante’s idea of hell, gothic monsters). What draws you to writing horror and in particular to bringing these classic pieces to the modern world?
I don’t know, I still see the playing field as psychological thrillers with the supernatural dancing around the borderlands, but it’s true that I’ve been looking at existing mythologies in the latest books. It has to do with the power of those mythologies, and their openness to augmentation and revision. To play with an existing tradition in this way is to plug into body of questions that want asking, as opposed to fixed meanings we are barred from trespassing on.
Thank you to Andrew Pyper for taking the time to answer my questions, and thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for inviting me to take part in this blog tour!