Monday, August 31, 2015

Gone But Unforgettable

Wes Craven is one of the reasons I always wanted to be a writer. Not that I watched 'Nightmare on Elm Street' as a nine-year old and came away wanting to make horror movies; I don't even think I saw the movies until they showed up in greatly-diminished form on UHF television a few years later. But as a nine-year old, I did know one thing; every kid on the playground was talking about Freddy Krueger.

How could they not? He was, and is, a potent and iconic symbol in popular culture. He was a brilliant distillation of a host of fears both modern and ancient--he tapped into the zeigeist of the time and the panic over child abductions and repressed traumas, but he also expressed the most ancient and terrible fears about the strange world of dreams that we enter unwillingly for eight hours every night. Everyone has a nightmare. Everyone was once a child afraid of a sinister stranger, or an adult frightened for their child. Freddy Krueger manifested those fears so perfectly that he was made immortal in almost the first instant of his appearance on camera.

Which isn't to reduce Wes Craven to Freddy Krueger; he had a long and brilliant career with plenty of famous gems and plenty of underappreciated classics that will bear re-examination. (I'm a particular fan of 'The Wishmaster', myself; it's a fairly classic tale, the person who awakens a genie and learns first-hand to be careful what they wish for, but it's elegantly and stylishly told.) But Freddy Krueger is a genuine contribution to humanity's common myth, a folklore figure whose tales will be told and retold down through the ages. A thousand years from now, whether as interactive hologram or direct mental projection or (depending on how pessimistic you want to be) people telling stories in front of the fire erected to keep out the lizardwolves, they will tell stories about the man with knives for fingers who will get you in your sleep. (Which is a good way to keep everyone awake and watching for lizardwolves, really.)

And Wes Craven, while he may not always be remembered as Freddy Krueger's creator, will always be remembered because of Freddy Krueger. With his imagination, he has purchased a form of immortality, a legacy that will live on long after we have forgotten our presidents and kings and long after the richest man's money has trickled away into the hands of his descendants. Wes Craven is dead, but Wes Craven will also live forever. That's the kind of thing that deep down, all writers aspire to. I can't say I'm any different.

Godspeed, Mister Craven. You cannot be forgotten.

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