All fiction is fantasy and takes place in the realm of the imagination. Fantasy and Science Fiction, however, as genres of fiction, contain themes about quests that take the reader farther abroad in the realm of imagination as the protagonist travels through fear and impending death to the goal of his/her quest. In Dark Fantasy (also known as Horror), a sub-genre of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the quest is about the confrontation of the protagonist with fear and death (Roberts, 2001, p. 31). The protagonist does not always survive this crisis. This paper will explore how Edgar Allan Poe, Howard Phillips (H. P.) Lovecraft and Stephen King describe the quest of the protagonist through death and horror in their short stories "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Colour Out of Space," and "The Raft."
Poe uses atmosphere, rather than gore, to create a visceral sense of horror. He sets this atmosphere as "The Fall of the House of Usher" opens by using first person to produce immediacy with the reader. Then he uses color and sound to set up an aura of horror in the protagonist's imagination. Although the setting of "Usher" reflected the atmosphere of horror, the actual drama takes place inside the imagination of Poe's characters (Baym in Bloom, 1999). As Poe's nameless protagonist contemplates the house that he is to visit, he has a precognition of horror. It is only a friend's house that the protagonist looks upon, yet as he continues to look his dread increases.
I looked upon the scene before me -- upon the mere house and the simple landscape features of the domain -- upon the bleak walls -- upon the vacant eye-like windows -- upon a few rank sedges -- and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees (Poe in Roberts, 2000, p. 17).
Poe reinforces this aura of dread and of a haunted atmosphere as he brings the protagonist to look upon the small lake, or "tarn" as he calls it. He uses phrases such as "black and lurid tarn," "...