Innate Fear in the Novel Hunted
Many people are afraid of being lost in the woods. Those who enjoy hiking or other outdoor activities come out of their comfortable, modern lifestyles and delve into the beautiful, wooded unknown for a few hours to relax and enjoy nature. No one ever expects that they may not return to their comfortable lifestyle. Darcy Coates’s 2018 novel Hunted is a suspense thriller story that explores the fears of being lost in the woods. Having no faith in the police, four friends go into the woods where one of their groups has disappeared on a solo hiking expedition. In doing so, the group discovers that someone, or something, is following them. This creature sees them. This creature has set traps. This creature is causing the group to become more lost the further into the woods they go.
This novel conveys the type of story that niggles at our innate fears. An innate human fear is generally defined as an unpleasant feeling when an individual perceives danger that is rooted within the brain from birth (HarperCollins, 2021). In other words, humans are born with the knowledge of danger and what it means. We possess these innate fears as a survival mechanism in order to further the species. They are necessary. Coates’s novel focuses on three innate human fears - the fear of the unknown, the fear of the dark, and the fear of the "other” - to create a suspenseful atmosphere and further the plot.
The first innate human fear that Coates focuses on in her novel is the fear of the unknown. The group is fearful before they begin their rescue mission. They do not know if they will find their friend, and if they do, they do not know if that friend will be alive. Therefore, the group is beginning the story in a state of fear. These initial fears of the unknown are compounded when the group is making the journey out of the forest, and they are unsettled when they realize the twine, they put around trees to find their way to the car has been moved. They had been following the twine until one of the group asks, "Do you guys remember walking through here?” (Coates, 253). When the group responds in the negative, the seed of uncertainty is planted in the reader’s mind. This creates a tension that begins to build the longer the group is in the forest.
The second innate fear Coates explores is the fear of the dark. It is the group’s third night in the forest, and they had expected to be back by then, but now they are lost. Already unsettled by wondering who or what moved the twine and the fact that they are lost, every sound on the third night of camp has them frightened. Unable to see even a foot in front of them without artificial light, they hear footsteps just beyond the flashlight’s beam. It seems that someone is stalking their campsite (Coates, 282-283). Because the group cannot see anything through the thick darkness, they do not know what is watching them or if that entity intends to harm them.
This is a fear that is tied to humans’ survival. By invoking this, the tension Coates created earlier evolves into pure suspense as the reader does not know what will happen to the group. Because the reader is tied to the characters within the group at this point in the story, the fear of darkness and the unknown is activated in the reader.
The third fear Coates focuses on is the fear of the "other.” Humans are generally wary of those that do not look or behave like themselves. As the novel’s plot progresses, the group realizes that someone is hunting them, and they believe it is a monster. They find claw marks on trees and large footprints in the mud (Coates, 337). In the group’s eyes, in civilized society, humans do not hunt other humans, therefore it stands to reason that they are being hunted by a monster, an "other.” This "other” does not behave like they do, so they cannot predict what it will do next. Predicting behavior is essential for human survival, and the lack of being able to predict behavior creates a fear that is deeply ingrained in the human psyche.
Darcy Coates’s novel Hunted is more than just a tale of fiction. It is an exploration into the human psyche and what makes us fearful. From our very core, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the dark, and the fear of the "other” are essential to our survival. These fears alert us to danger so that we may protect ourselves to further the species. Coates taps into these fears in a wilderness setting; a setting that many humans put themselves in for recreational purposes quite often. Because Coates has tapped into these fears for the reader, suspense builds as the story progresses. The story provokes the reader into considering what we might do in the same situation. The decisions are not comfortable, nor are they safe. However, a path needs to be chosen either way, and a person's survival depends on that choice.
Coates, Darcy. Hunted. Naperville: Poisoned Pen Press, 2018.
HarperCollins. "Innate Fear.” Collins Dictionary. 2021. Retrieved 13 Sep 2021.