Fear of the unknown

Last night we had a storm. Storms don’t frighten me, never have. I have always loved watching the lightning and listening to thunder growling. Jumping at a crash right overhead is the nearest I ever get to enjoying the thrill of fear. My dad was like that too, though my mother was terrified of storms and if ever we were out when one broke she would insist that we hide somewhere until it was over. Only now, forty years later, can I begin to understand her terror when our flight home from a childhood holiday in Rome was delayed because of a terrific electric storm.

The storm last night was a pretty feeble affair, and no doubt wouldn’t have even stirred me from my deep four in the morning sleep. What did wake me though was a very large, very frightened dog bursting into our bedroom looking for reassurance and somewhere to hide.
My husband started humming ‘My favourite things’ from The Sound of Music and joked about the possibility of the children appearing one after the other in the doorway. No chance. An earthquake wouldn’t wake any of them. Dog though was terrified and had to be hugged very tight for the duration. During a storm the cats disappear into their hiding places, as cats do, but Finbar needs physical contact to reassure him that the world isn’t coming to an end.

PENTAX Digital Camera
As I lay awake playing mother to a trembling hound, I thought about the relationship of early people with the power of nature, and whether what was going on in Finbar’s head was in any way similar: with the proviso that human fear was modified by reverence and awe, which I don’t think play much of a part in Finbar’s psyche.
In my current WIP veneration of the forces of nature, especially the destructive ones, is central to the antagonists’ mindset. The Scyldings are based on early northern European people; they don’t have our scientific knowledge, or our modern scepticism. Most of their reactions are pretty basic and brutal, but they fear what they don’t understand and seek guidance, albeit grudgingly, from an adept of the occult.

Sometimes an intelligent animal’s reaction to a phenomenon can be taken as an indication that early people may have interpreted it the same way. The need to hole up somewhere at night, the relief when the light comes back in the morning, the reluctance to go out in the cold or great heat, the fear of thunder, hail and torrential rain, heaving seas and strong winds, all of these seem credible reactions for my Scyldings as well as my fearful dog.
The ancient Celts, if the Romans are to be believed, feared only one thing: the sky falling on their heads. Is that what Finbar fears too? And don’t even we, modern, sophisticated sceptics, feel something similar when we hear about asteroids, or another rogue state installing nuclear missiles?


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

8 thoughts on “Fear of the unknown”

  1. We had a storm last night – pretty good – I too love them and look forward to this time of the year when they are more likely. I do wonder though what it must be like for the animals when it is their first encounter with this force of nature, do they simply accept it or do the, like your poor Finbar, seek safety. Funnily enough I have just posted a short of Shortbread based on a storm – must be something in the air !!!!

  2. I didn’t realise you had another blog. Just read your story and very much enjoyed it. There is something fundamentally upsetting about storms. Even if you’re not actually frightened by them, they never fail to captivate. Being indoors helps with the fright aspect too. I admit to making sure I’m never caught out in a storm!

  3. I’ve got the same problem with our yellow labrador – biggest suck ever when a storm hits! I hate those big booms that make you jump out of your skin! I think we’ve been so removed from nature, that we’re reminded now and then of her strength and power! Great post, Jane!

  4. Animals often seem to have a much more sensible approach to the power of nature than we do. You don’t find dogs sightseeing on cliff edges in the middle of a hurricane or deciding to hike up a mountain when a blizzard’s forecast.

  5. I love thunderstorms, but they terrified my mother. I found out why. While pregnant with me a tree she passed was struck by lightning. She carried a large pot with soup, it was after the war and food was scarce. While her hair stood on end, she held on to the pot. I was obviously electrified 🙂 The incident features in my novel.

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