Ever since the early days of horror movies, and horror literature, rats have been used as a display of horror symbolism. As someone who write extensively on horror symbolism, I find it interesting how horror movies and horror literature use rats differently to reference different perspectives.
Connection to Demons
There was an old belief in some parts of Romania that pointed to rats as being the helpers of demons. Areas that were infested by rats were avoided due to the belief that a demon presence must be nearby. Two examples where this was manifested would be in H.P. Lovecraft’s story, “The Rats in the Walls,” and the classic horror movie, Nosferatu. Remember, the character of Nosferatu was considered to be the King of the Rats.
Connections to Disease
Another aspect in which rats were used in Nosferatu was to symbolize the spread of disease. Of course, in this instance, vampirism was considered to be a disease. Another interesting case from horror literature would be found in, “Dead Sea,” by Brian Keene. In that story, a zombie infestation is directly linked to diseased rats.
In real life, there are many diseases that have been proven to be spread by rats. Rabies, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Salmonella, and Leptospirosis are only some of the diseases that have been directly related to rat bites over the years (see source). These facts have made rats perfect horror symbols for horror movies and horror literature.
Connections to the World’s Hidden Depths
If we take a look back at H.P. Lovecraft’s, “The Rats in the Walls,” again, we find that rats are connected to an underground labyrinth that time has hidden from humankind and contains secrets that should never have been revealed. This is a direct reference to an ancient saying, “There are secrets underground that only that rats know.”
The belief that there are secrets that the world has hidden for thousands of years is something that rats are speaking to more and more in horror movies and horror literature. It does not matter if there is an explorer heading through a pharaoh’s tomb, the uncovering of an ancient mausoleum, or someone finding a castle that has been forgotten about for a few centuries, rats are destined to be there.
Instead of thinking of rats as being clichés of horror movies and horror literature, think about how they are being used in the story. Think about what the presence of rats is doing to add a deeper sense of horror symbolism to the story. You might be surprised to find that there is more depth to the squeaky little rodents after all.
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