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Seven Questions with the creator of Lore Podcast, Aaron Mahnke!

At the heart of every horror story is a little sliver of truth. No matter how small, the effectiveness of successful horror is almost always directly correlated to our ability to accept what we’re seeing or hearing as identifiable. Folklore has a timeless and powerful influence in the things that we fear, and the beliefs that we hold true. In the age of constant changes and an instant log of all of our stories, the skepticism of humanity is growing stronger every day. But somehow, despite it all, we’re still intrigued and terrified by the folklore that existed long before Snopes began disproving things.  Aaron Mahnke is an author and graphic designer from the Boston area, and the mind behind the podcast, Lore. Lore is a bi-weekly podcast about true life scary stories. Ranging from the supernatural history of The Stanley Hotel to the real life-events inspired by the fear of vampires, each episode of Lore looks into a uniquely scary tale and uncovers the truth behind it. Icons of Fright was fortunate enough to grab a quick chat with the researcher, creator, and voice behind one of the most fascinating podcasts on the web.
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ICONS OF FRIGHT: Tell me your earliest memory of being fascinated by a tale of folklore?
AARON MAHNKE: I have this distinct memory of those Scholastic Reader flyers the teachers would send home with us from school. Remember those? They were just a few pages long, colored ink on newsprint, and they had everything a kid could want. Knight Rider sticker books, Star Wars photo journals, you name it.
One of the books I bought from them was a book of mysterious, spooky stories. I remember the story of a man who stepped into a circle in the middle of a corn field and just…vanished. Of course, looking back, I have to wonder how anyone knew he did that unless they were there with him. But it sparked this intense love of the unexplainable, something that’s stuck with me ever since.
ICONS: Going back with your scholastic reader comment, did you ever read the Scary Stores To Tell In The Dark books? Those were definitely a jumping off point for me as a child.
MAHNKE: No, those were books I never bumped into.
ICONS: Your podcast covers a wide range of subjects, of all of your episodes, which one are you personally the most interested in?
MAHNKE: I’d have to say, there’s something intense about episode 3, The Beast Within. On one hand, we have the story of a medieval serial killer who spend years—maybe decades—killing the people in the country he lived in. He was a monster, for sure, and the quirks and oddities about his story and personality led us to the modern idea of what a werewolf was: a monster who, although sort of human, savagely kills people.
On the other hand, we have the people of his village. They track the “beast” down, capture the guy, put him on trial, and then torture and dismember him like a tribe of barbarians. The psychology research paper practically writes itself.
People are the monsters. We always have been; we always will be.
ICONS: While many of us would like to think we’re more humane than we were centuries ago, do you think if there weren’t legal repercussions in place, something like the results of “The Beast Within” would repeat itself? (Meaning, we’d barbarically attack a criminal/killer?)
MANKE: I’d like to think that most people would refrain from acting like that, but then again, even with laws in place, there are still some pretty heinous crimes around us.
ICONS: Another episode I love was your talk of vampires, citing the real-life case of Mercy Brown. Why do you think people allow themselves to make “real life” decisions based on suspected supernatural events?
MAHNKE: I think we forget how powerful folklore was to most people even as recent as a century ago. And when people in your town are dying all around you, you get desperate. The story of Mercy Brown teaches us that people driven to panic will do anything, and folklore is hardwired into our innate response. It might not make sense, but we’re going to chose actions based on folklore when we have nothing else to lean on.
ICONS: Do you think the power of folklore has a direct correlation to how quickly people tend to “believe that everything on the internet is true?”
MAHNKE: No, in fact, I see a movement in the opposite direction. There’s too much on the internet, and people are trusting it less and less.
ICONS: What is your stance on “modern” folklore like creepypastas, Slenderman, etc?
MAHNKE: I’m not a fan. I’m interested in historical, long-standing stories and traditions. Internet Age stories aren’t really something I care about.
ICONS: Considering how much folklore is out there for us to discover, how do you decide what topics to cover?
MAHNKE: Well, like a lot of creative writing, most episodes of Lore start out as a moment of inspiration after reading a fascinating bit of folklore. The trick that a lot of people don’t understand, though, is that not everything that inspires you has “legs”, you know? Not everything can go the distance. I want to talk about something for a while. Usually twenty minutes or so, and that means finding topics or stories that have a ton of historical background to support the narrative.
So I read, and I research. I take notes and I capture details. I use Evernote and their handy web clipper browser extension, which is fantastic for taking a website I’ve just found and sending it into my Evernote account, tagged and filed in the proper folder. And the process of reading everything gives me a sense. I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s a sense of the story, a sense of the structure. You know, like what needs to be said before other things can be said. It’s like building a house; some things naturally have to come first. I look for that as I research.
Aaron Mahnke’s books can be found HERE, and you can listen to Lore HERE.