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'Bates Motel': it all goes back to a brilliant novelist named Robert Bloch

'Bates Motel,' which airs its season finale May 20, owes its origins to the novel "Psycho" by horror writer Robert Bloch.

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Part of the reason was because the term represented an easy way of explaining people like Norman Bates. Instead of having to master a large body of complex psychology, people could just say that some people are psychos.

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It also helped reinforce the idea that anybody could be a psycho, especially people that seem so nice and ordinary on the surface. As Norman so memorably reminds people, “we all go a little crazy sometimes,” even imaginary stuffed tigers like Hobbes.
Q: What do you make of the book "Psycho" from a modern perspective? Do you think it's literature?
A: Horror novels sometimes have a bad rap with critics who limit their understanding of literature to canonical texts. That’s unfortunate. Horror is often a terrific source for reflecting on American fears and anxieties. In my own teaching and writing, I like to point out that cultures may be studied through their monsters.
Q: How influential was "Psycho" as a book?
A: One of the most important things to remember about Robert Bloch was that he was widely influential outside of "Psycho." He would probably be held in high esteem even if he hadn’t written "Psycho."

Because of Hitchcock’s film, though, Bloch was forever labeled as the author of "Psycho." For better or worse, he grew tired of being known for only that one book. He had a long career and wrote lots of books, short stories, and television and movie screenplays.
Q: He even wrote for the original "Star Trek" series, right?
A: Bloch was something of an expert on Jack the Ripper and wrote a famous story called “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” that was modified and retold in many other settings, including the episode “Wolf in the Fold” from "Star Trek."

Some readers may be interested to know that Bloch also wrote the teleplays for “What are Little Girls Made of?” and “Catspaw,” both from the first season of the original "Star Trek" series.

He was a known commodity. He may not have been read as widely as someone like Stephen King, but he was very successful and highly respected by the major horror writers of his generation.
Q: Any other thoughts?
A: "Psycho" was a crowning achievement because it epitomized Bloch’s belief that horror is more about human psychology than monsters and that fear ultimately comes from within. Bloch taught readers that anyone could be a monster.

Another reason for Bloch’s influence was that he was a genuinely nice guy with a funny sense of humor. He supported other writers, just like his mentor H. P. Lovecraft supported him.

When Bloch was asked why he wrote horror stories, he would often respond that he had the heart of a child – one that he kept in a jar on his desk. He was a funny man who didn’t take himself too seriously.

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.


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