Beginning in March, I fell down an interesting rabbit-hole while casually reading articles on TV Tropes, an online database of storytelling tropes. For some reason I was continually coming back to sections about eldritch abominations and Lovecraftian lore.
I’ve always loved horror, my father having gotten me into classic horror films at an arguably inappropriate age (I think I saw Alien when I was seven), but my experience with horror in literature has been relatively limited thus far. I’ve read classics like Frankenstein and Dracula, as well as more strictly Gothic novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Castle of Otranto, but I’ve never gotten into horror novels all that much. Even the work of Stephen King I’ve only experienced in the Dark Tower series — which is more fantasy — leaving his best horror stuff untouched along with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, and the like.
As a result, I have been more eager lately to start reading some good horror. The above mentioned rabbit-hole led me to reading the short story “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen, who was cited as one of Lovecraft’s influences (you can read it here). The story was good, but left me hungry to read more stories about forces outside of our perception, where the horror is in the vain struggle to understand.
I could have read Lovecraft online, I know, but I have a fixation on the printed medium, so I wanted to wait until I got a book of his work before delving into it. Where I did end up was no place new to me, but I ended up diving deeper into than I ever had previously: I started going through the Special Containment Procedures (SCP) database — click here if you’re curious.
The SCP Foundation is a fictional organization that is tasked with containing anomalous objects, entities, and phenomena. These anomalous things are referred to as SCPs, and are given a corresponding code (ex: SCP-001). The bulk of the database contains a series of lists of different SCP entries, numbering in the thousands.
SCP-087: A stairwell located in an undisclosed university that descends hundreds of flights with no apparent bottom and is home to a mysterious entity.
SCP-682: A sapient reptilian creature that is extremely hostile and seemingly impossible to kill.
SCP-1025: A book entitled The Encyclopedia of Common Diseases, which causes its reader to develop the symptoms of any disease they read about within its pages.
Along with these entries — which include containment procedures and descriptions about what each entry is and where it came from — there are sometimes incident reports, interviews, and exploration logs attached that expand upon the fiction surrounding the entry.
The website is a wiki that was created in 2008 with a community of writers that create the different entries make up the bulk of the site’s content. What I find most compelling about it on the onset is that it is formatted to look as if it is a real organization’s database, often restricting access to certain files, blacking out words, or redacting/expunging entire sections of data for the sake of security. Entries are written with professional diction and syntax as well, making them read as technical and encyclopedic. All of this works toward the illusion that the SCP Foundation is not just an online wiki of fiction, but a database of real anomalies.
While some entries can be quite chilling or eerie based simply on their concept, there are also a number of entries that use the denial of information to their advantage, such as the forever “restricted” access to the fourth and final exploration log for SCP-087, leaving the reader’s imagination to run wild with possibility.
By far the best use of denying information for horrific effect I have come across is SCP-231, which is best left to speak for itself.
As I read through entry after entry on the site I found myself considering the work as a whole. What I started to find quite compelling is that the SCP Foundation universe really works best as a wiki, a relatively new medium for fictional work. Much of the fiction is created by the layout of the website and the administrative text alone, which helps to uphold the illusion that what you’re reading is real. Reading each entry as a link in a database, with further links to incident reports and other documents maintains this structure in a way that a printed format couldn’t. The best way to possibly recreate the effect of the site physically would be to have a filing cabinet filled with folders containing each SCP entry, which would be impractical.
What we can see in the SCP Foundation website is an example of a new way to tell stories, born through the rise of the internet, that wouldn’t have been possible decades ago. Though I would find it exciting to hear that something for the SCP Foundation was being published in print, I can be perfectly satisfied reading it in its current form. The medium of an online wiki is simply the best one for it because it most strongly allows the reader to willing suspend their disbelief.
Though I still intend to begin reading more classic horror literature in the near future like King’s IT or the Lovecraft collection Necronomicon, going through the SCP database significantly satisfied my desire for mind-bending horror. Though my consumption of it has slowed down, I’m still going through it even now. Whether you delve in entry by entry or pick and choose entries at your leisure, I highly recommend the site to anybody with even a passing interesting in horror and/or paranormal fiction, especially considering that it is [DATA EXPUNGED] and that makes all the difference.