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Stolen Tongues is the horror novel of the moment.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are abuzz with the terrifying take on the bogeyman by Felix Blackwell. And with good reason. If there is anything more irritating than someone talking gibberish and not answering your responses – I don’t want to know about it. If there’s anything more terrifying than someone you love talking in their sleep to a man outside the window – I don’t want to know about it.

This is the basic principle of this novel’s plot and, honestly, to say anymore would be to spoil the enjoyment of deep diving into this story that will chill your skin and make you close your windows at night… heat be damned!

Origins of Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell

Originally an online post on the No Sleep sub-Reddit (originally titled My Romantic Cabin Getaway), Felix Blackwell transformed the praise he received online into the momentum to fully round the story into the novel Stolen Tongues.

And in doing so, Felix Blackwell has changed the way we react to sleepwalking… from gentle encouragements to go back to bed to roundhouse kicking our partners out of the front door, lest they let The Impostor in.

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Don’t Invite Him In

One of the most compelling narratives of the novel are the use of incursions from the outside testing the resilience of our ability to define what is ‘inside’ and what is ‘outside.’ This definition is paramount as it decides the borders of how we decide to let someone in and, more strikingly for horror, how we fight back to expel someone back out. The Impostor, as he becomes defined by Native American mythology towards the end of the novel, brings the horror of the novel by how he tries to trick Felix and Faye into coming outside and the lengths they go to resist those tricks.

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The relative safety of the cabin brought me no solace. I barricaded the door with furniture, set the gun on the counter, and blared the cheeriest music I could find in Lynne’s CD collection, but the primal dread of death never lifted.

This echoes how those with anxiety often feel when they are overwhelmed with the outside word. Blackwell is clever here, incorporating relatable feelings of seclusion with the tensions required of his novel. The “cheeriest music” here reminds us of watching a cartoon after a scary film, of having a glass of wine after a long day, it’s a distraction, one used to artificially separate us from our struggles with chemical imbalances in our brain or the heightened adrenaline of having watched a horror film.

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It is a common trope to have some ‘other’ invading our home in horror. But the Impostor isn’t trying to invade the home, instead he (they?) has followed Faye and Felix from Colorado to California in an attempt to bring them out of their home and give him what he wants – the mystery of Number Five. While undoubtedly this is the weakest aspect of the novel, the multitude of ways the Impostor tries to lure them from the ‘safety’ of their homes is chilling.

My Experience with the Book

The title is a very literal one. The Impostor mimics the voices of those he has ever come into contact with.

As someone who lives in a flat along a busy student avenue to and from Magdalen Green, this was one of the most terrifying aspects of the book. While I read it, a party was going on a few doors down and as someone who hates going outside yet doesn’t hate the outside, I always sleep with my windows open. Voices trickled in my window, pulled to it by the chilly June wind (Scotland) so while children were laughing in the novel and voices were asking to “come in” the cabin on Pale Peak, the singing, laughing and conversations of drunk students were wafting in my window.

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I shuddered beneath the duvet and woke my partner up to make sure he could hear the “scary as fuck voices outside” too.

Meaning in Stolen Tongues

While this novel follows many tropes in horror (Native American lore, singing children, cabin in the woods, family secrets) there is a distinct effort to break the mould around what a domestic set horror can mean in the modern world.

— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —

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Now, more than ever, this book resonates with our fears of the outside coming in. While published in 2017, recent lockdowns and the Corona Virus (Cardi B voice) sweeping the globe means that our relationship with the outside world is changing. In this vein, the Impostor becomes, not the boogeyman, but the life we once lead before the pandemic, one in which we were free to go shopping, to work, and the cinema as we pleased. Now we have experienced what it is like to be locked inside our own homes, the Impostor stands for those things that we want to do in the outside again, however dangerous it may be.

It calls to us and we respond in kind.

Last Updated on July 22, 2021.

Conner McAleese
Conner McAleese is a current PhD student at the University of Dundee studying 'spaces' in contemporary horror. His debut novel, The Goose Mistress, was published in 2018 by Dark Ink Press and details Eva Braun's experience of World War Two. McAleese now considers himself a horror writer and has had his short stories published in Blood Rites Magazine and Haunting Voices among others. He looks to the 'disturbing' for inspiration, hoping to academically push back the last taboos in literature to analyse what they represent for today's cultural fears and anxieties. However, he hopes to balance this with a satisfying and long career in horror writing. He currently lives in Dundee and is working on his first horror novel.

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