The Shaping of FEAR

Eventually, those surrounding LRH would tell several apocryphal tales regarding his authorship of Fear: how the work had virtually possessed him, how it had first been conceived over barbecued steaks on John Campbell’s New Jersey lawn, how Ron had furiously rewritten the work on a midnight train from Connecticut. None of it is verifiable, and the best description of how he came to author a tale of which so much would be said is found in his letters to friends from the third week in January 1940. Selections of these letters are reproduced here for the first time.

“L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear is one of the few books in the chiller genre which actually merits employment of the overworked adjective ‘classic,’ as in ‘This is a classic tale of creeping, surreal menace and horror’... This is one of the really, really good ones.”

– Stephen King

     Knickerbocker Hotel
     January 18, 1940

     ...I have been so upset about a story for the past few days that I have not written to you, not wanting to even touch this mill. However I finally got the plot of it licked and am doing research upon it . . .

     The story will be named PHANTASMAGORIA and the theme is, “What happened to Dwight Brown on the day he cannot remember?” Twenty-four hours lost from a man’s life. And if I handle it properly it will be something Dostoevski might have done. He strives to locate his deeds while missing everywhere but in the right place, for he fears to look there. He is surrounded, day by day, by more terror and apparitions as his solutions are gathered about him only to become hollow and half seen. He knows, deep down, that the day he recognizes his deeds of the day he cannot remember, on that day he shall die. And, having gone mad he has to choose between being mad forever and being dead. And if you don’t think that one was a tough one at which to arrive and now plot by incident...! And John Campbell all the while drumming new suggestions at me and insisting I use them...! And five conflicting stories to be woven into one...!!!!!!!

L. Ron Hubbard has been, since the 40’s, one of the five writers in the SF field who have served me as models and teachers. His stories, Fear in particular, directly influenced all my work...”

– Ray Faraday Nelson

     Knickerbocker Hotel
     January 28, 1940

     I tried, today, to start PHANTASMAGORIA, having fully outlined it last night. But for some reason I could not think connectedly enough or establish a sufficient mood. It is a pretty dolorous story and so I suppose I had better tell it very calmly and factually, without striving to dwell on mood....

     While I’ve been writing you some part of my head has been trying to coax up a certain tone for the story. And I think a nice, delicate style is best suited. Paint everything in sweetness and light and then begin to dampen it, not with the style, but with the events themselves. In other words lead the reader in all unsuspecting and then dump the works on his head. Show very little true sympathy and do not at all try to make the facts worse than they are but rather make light of them. Oh hell! This is such a hard story! But I can see a sleepy college town with spring and elms and yawning students and a man just back from an ethnological expedition, called to take over from a professor who has become ill. A man suited to quiet solitude with a certain still idealism about him, who has come back to his home and his wife and is trying anxiously to fit into the picture which he so long ago left. If told almost dispassionately the thing ought to be good. In other words, I’ll just write it. For I can’t work up a gruesome mood. Ah, for a few days out of my adolescence! The character must take it all mildly, that’s the easiest way. How I hate to make anyone “emote"!...

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