Eat Me! Actually, Don’t
By Somer Canon
I think a lot of us horror writers have hang ups that we revisit often in our writing. Dean Koontz has his golden retrievers, Stephen King has his kids with psychic powers, and I have cannibalism. Now, I don’t flatter myself into thinking that I’m at all in equal standing with Koontz and King, but I do see it in other writers that I admire. It’s often a personal thing. I won’t speak to the other writers out there, but I can say that my “thing” with cannibalism is just that it’s something that I find to be really, very disturbing. Yeah, yeah, join the group, I know. Society as a whole finds cannibalism and the cooking of human remains to be abhorrent, even in the form of an idea. And yet, it fascinates me even while I feel my skin crawling.
This past summer, I went to lunch with a couple of other writers and while in the restaurant, someone made an offhand remark about eating a face and the rest of us joined in, pondering how one would go about preparing a face so that it would be most palatable. This was all done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but we noticed that there was a family sitting at the table next to ours looking thoroughly horrified. We had some good ideas, though. Faces are tricky as a meat source, and we ultimately decided that it would be better as a starter than as an entrée.
I’m a horror writer but first and foremost, always and forever, I am a horror fan. I like being grossed out, scared, horrified, and repulsed. I love when I read a book that gets so under my skin that I have to close it and walk away for a while. I love watching a movie that gets to me to the point that I’ve got a pillow over my face or I’m sitting still, stunned to immobility. I think because of this, it only makes sense that cannibalism is a recurring thing in my works. The very act of detailing how one would cook a human body and how the butchering process would go gives me a thrill. As I’m writing about marinades and aromatics that would best suit the taste of human flesh, you can bet that my face is vacillating between a mischievous grin and a downturned mouth, thoroughly grossed-out.
I could try to be interesting and not be so engrossed in such a sensational topic. A quick search of cannibalism on Google yields countless results, and not just second-hand accounts. There are lots of links to articles with titles making it clear that the author had spent time among cannibals. Then there are the articles that cash in even more on the sensationalism. Someone got high on bath salts and ate their nephew’s face, a guy in New Orleans had some sort of spiritual breakdown and boiled his girlfriend’s head, and a serial killer had a freezer full of body parts. It can really capture the imagination. I mean, Hannibal Lecter is one of the most terrifying characters in fiction and yet many, not just me, are completely fascinated with him. There’s an art to the preparation of his victims. His aberrations are beyond a backyard barbecue of the neighbors or a pot of landlady soup. They’re amazing and execrable at once. In my fascination with the topic of cannibalism, I can only hope to reach that perfect place, interesting and repugnant.
I’m not done cooking and eating people in my fictional works. I’ve half-joked in the past about writing a cannibal’s cookbook. It’s my thing. My golden retriever, my spontaneous psychic power. Hopefully I can continue doing so for years to come and maybe, just maybe, I’ll hit a sweet spot that has people cringing and second-guessing their own dinners.