Certain recurring concepts dominate horror fiction, and most of them make perfect
sense. The vampire, the ghost, the psychotic killer, the werewolf—these and their
frightening companions in the horror canon have stood the test of time, have scared
many generations, and will scare many more.

But there is one horror concept that is much harder to

grasp. It dispenses with monsters and villains and things
that go bump in the night. It finds horror in the most
commonplace and familiar element of our day-to-day
life, as unexceptional as the back of our hand and our
gaze in the mirror. Yet, it may be the most disturbing
of any of the horrors, all the more unsettling for its very
guise of normalcy.

I am speaking of the
double.  What an odd starting point
for horror, yet the literature is filled with scary stories
built on this concept. Edgar Allan Poe delivered a
masterpiece of the genre in his story "William Wilson,"
whose narrator is harassed by a rival who presents a
perfect imitation of himself—yet he is the only person
who can recognize this sly mimicry. But the double
is never an exact double, and often represents a darker
alternative self. We see this in classic horror fiction
from Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Robert
Bloch's Psycho.  And we can trace it back even earlier
in myths—Narcissus, Romulus and Remus, and so
many other traditional accounts involving twins or siblings—built on the familiar notion
that our greatest adversary may look exactly like ourselves. In the foundational story of
Judeo-Christian belief systems, Cain kills Abel—the first murder story drawing on this
sense of a dangerous reciprocity.

At first glance, the Double seems a fairly tame villain, certainly not as formidable an

adversary as, say, Count Dracula or the Frankenstein monster. But it possesses one
quality that those others lack. You can run away from a vampire, but how can you escape
the horror that is so close to you that it could very well inhabit your own skin? This is
the most existential horror of them all.

Such is the horror at the heart of Thomas Tryon’s 1971 novel,
The Other. Tryon enjoyed
huge crossover success with this book.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a handful of
horror novels managed to break out of the narrow world of genre fiction, and reach a
large mainstream audience. But the other books that achieved this crossover success—
most notably, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist—needed to enlist Satan himself in
their attempts to jar the sensibilities of modern audiences. Tryon, in contrast, relied
on something far simpler and more familiar, a pair of twins.

Throughout this novel, Tryon builds suspense from misdirection and understatement.

The key moments of violence in this plot are presented from an oblique angle—
sometimes from afar, or in misty flashback, or occasionally only by implication. We
are all familiar with genre stories which force readers to decipher clues in order to guess
who committed the crime, but in The Other even the nature of the transgressions
require sleuthing. We are equally aware of stories with unreliable narrators, but Tryon
goes a step further in this novel, forcing us to guess the very identity of the person
who emerges periodically as the master storyteller.

Even the setting runs counter to the usual settings for horror.  Here is no haunted

house, no eerie castle, no spooky deserted buildings. Instead, we are invited into a
bustling household packed to the brim with
extended family—well, at least at first, the number
of residents declines precipitously over the course
of the story—in a sleepy small town, circa 1935.
The most horrible thing on the minds of the
community members is a distant crime, namely
the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in faraway East
Amwell, New Jersey.

But the people in Pequot Landing, Connecticut,

the setting of Tryon’s novel, don’t worry much
about crime. When a series of deaths and injuries
take place at the Perry residence, no one looks for
suspects, or even considers that crimes might have
been committed. And no one would suspect that
twin boys, Holland and Niles Perry, might be
responsible for the incidents. The youngsters,
after all, are the victims of these tragedies. Their
father is now dead, and their mother has turned
into a melancholy recluse in the aftermath.  

But even the most complacent onlooker can notice

something peculiar about the Perry twins.  They may look alike, but their personalities
could hardly be more different. Niles, the younger (by a few minutes) of the two, is a
model child, helpful and considerate. But Holland is aloof and contentious, with a
marked cruel streak. Yet despite these obvious differences, the two are fiercely loyal to
each other, even to the extent of becoming co-conspirators in the unnatural events at
the Perry homestead.  

The youngsters have a special talent, taught to them by their grandmother. They can

project themselves into other creatures, making the imaginative leap that allows them
to understand what it might be to fly like a bird, or strut like a rooster, or even blossom
like a flower. Perhaps this is merely a game, a way of expanding personal horizons and
envisioning other possible ways of life. But young Niles Perry is too skilled at playing
this game—so talented at immersing himself in the other that his own personality can
disappear in the process. At this advanced level, his skill turns into a liability, and the
youngster is subject to the vicissitudes of the personalities that supplant his own.

Yet who is wise enough to connect this innocent, almost childish game with the

unsettling series of tragedies that beset the household? And even if someone suspects,
what can be done to stop the viciously unfolding cycle, in which violence triggers
more violence?

Thomas Tryon took this subtle, psychologically rich plot and turned it into a runaway

hit—The Other would eventually sell 4 million copies and spend six months on the
bestseller list.  The book is not without its limitations. The prose gets the job done, but
without much grace. The descriptions of landscape and sky, flora and fauna, won’t make
you forget Cormac McCarthy or Virginia Woolf. But the characters come alive with
animating spirit, and the psychological conflicts simmering throughout this novel are
both plausible and disturbing.  

At the time of its release,
The Other earned praise from Anthony Burgess, and
comparisons with John Cheever and other highbrow establishment authors. Few
horror books have enjoyed such acclaim, but the achievement is all the more
remarkable when one considers the author’s background. Tryon had never published a
novel before The Other. He was a middle-aged actor, who had enjoyed some modest
career successes, largely on the basis of his rugged good looks, suitable for westerns
and war movies. You can see him acting alongside John Wayne in The Longest Day, a
film about the Normandy landing, or as a cowboy in the TV series Wagon Train and The
Big Valley. His biggest acting success, however, came in the role of a Catholic priest in
the 1963 film The Cardinal, for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination. (But he
suffered under the direction of Otto Preminger, whose treatment of the actor bordered
on abuse—at one juncture, he even fired Tryon while his parents looked on.)

But in his mid-40s, Tryon decided that he needed a career change. After all, he had

graduated with honors from Yale, and didn’t need to rely on the shrinking opportunities
to play handsome screen characters. He thought he might have some success as a
film producer, but the studios showed no interest in his pitch for a horror movie
about twins. So he devoted more than a year to turning the concept into a novel. The
Other eventually became a movie, with a screenplay by Tryon, but he eventually decided
that he preferred life away from Hollywood. He had few contacts with the movie industry
in the remaining two decades of his life—although he made considerable sums of
money selling rights for his stories to the leading studios.

The Other is not a novel about the film industry—not by any measure. Yet it does
show the dark side of role-playing, and it is hardly a stretch to view protagonist Niles
Perry as master of method acting. The essence of the horror in these pages draws from
a simple premise: What happens when you stop playing the role and it starts playing
you?

Can we go further, and see Thomas Tryon as projecting himself into the deadly twins

who instigate the horrors in this novel? That would make The Other a book of a
doubled double.  Add to this the complexity Tryon faced in Hollywood as a gay man
whose career would be jeopardized if the public learned the details of his private life.  
He had already dealt with traumatizing situations as an actor, and could envision even
worse ones if his personal ‘other’ got exposed in the press.

Perhaps all this explains the emotional intensity of this novel, and how the untried

Tryon managed to move so effortlessly from film to the bestseller list. He had been
preparing for years to write this kind of horror story—and in the worst possible way:
by living it out.  And the energy in this book, by the same token, perhaps represents
the realization of its author that by moving from the screen to the printed page he
had found an escape, away from the limelight of Hollywood and into the imaginative
life of the professional storyteller. Readers back in 1971 could hardly have grasped
these aspects of The Other, but they could feel its authenticity and passion. And for
all of the limitations of this book, they still enliven its pages today.


Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz from
Basic Books.


Publication Date: September 27, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
annus
horribilis
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
Dracula
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
Carrie
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
Tales
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
Nausea
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
Rebecca
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich

Week 25
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Week 26
Psycho
by Robert Bloch

Week 27
Fledgling
by Octavia E. Butler

Week 28
Demons by Daylight
by Ramsey Campbell

Week 29
The Complete Short Stories
by Ambrose Bierce

Week 30
Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Week 31
Our Lady of Darkness
by Fritz Leiber

Week 32
Grendel
by John Gardner

Week 33
White is for Witching
by Helen Oyeyemi

Week 34
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

Week 35
King Kong
by Edgar Wallace

Week 36
The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole

Week 37
The John Silence Stories
by Algernon Blackwood

Week 38
The Magic Toyshop
by Angela Carter

Week 39
The Other
by Thomas Tryon
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction

Thomas Tryon's The Other
Essay by Ted Gioia
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.
Fledgling

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gardner, John
Grendel

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel
Submission

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen
Carrie

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.
Tales

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for Witching

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram
Dracula

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal


Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List



Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

_____


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Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
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Thomas Tryon in his acting days