Picture this: it’s 1975, Jaws just came out, and everyone’s seen it. You watched it, read the book, and now you’re hungry for more killer shark stories. So you go to your bookstore and… can’t find anything. Shark stories, like Jaws, are a part of eco-horror, a subgenre of horror focused on the environment. It’s a large genre, and yet there aren’t that many sharks in it. Even now, it’s difficult to find stories that can compete with Jaws. So why aren’t there more horror shark books? And how can we read about sharks again?
Jaws and Sharks in Fiction
Jaws was incredibly popular at its peak and is a classic today. Yet only a few series tried to follow its act, and arguably, never reached the same level of fame. Meg came out a few years after, detailing what it would be like if megalodons — the ancestors of great white sharks — still existed. Shark Beach came out way later in 2019. It was like a test to see if readers still wanted scary shark stories, and it didn’t receive nearly the amount of attention that its predecessors did, despite being a very similar story.
No one could really ride on the coattails of the success of Jaws, which meant that readers who enjoyed Jaws had very few reading choices to continue their obsession with terrifying sharks. What happened to people wanting scary shark stories?
Where Did Shark Books Go?
With the massive success of Jaws, readers would think it would spawn more than two or three similar stories. But there was a small issue when Jaws came out: galeophobia. Galeophobia is a fear of sharks. And studies have shown that after the release of Jaws, people’s fear of sharks increased.
Sharks aren’t naturally inclined to attack humans in real life. Normally, they attack humans by accident when mistaking them for seals or other fish. But after the publishing of Jaws, and the movie, an unnatural fear of sharks rose. Which led to the hunting and killing of many sharks.
“I truly, and to this day, regret the decimation of the shark population because of the book and the film.”Steven Spielburg
Not long after the release of Jaws, shark populations declined by nearly 50 percent in the waters east of North America. Steven Spielberg, in charge of the movie, and Peter Benchley, author of the original book, both love sharks. They never meant for shark hunts to increase due to the story of Jaws. Suddenly, there was an effort to decriminalize sharks.
The way that Jaws changed the public’s perception of sharks is the main reason more books never followed its act. No one wanted to damage the reputation or population of sharks any further. So while a few more eco-horror stories of sharks arose here and there, the craze for horrific sharks mostly lived and died with Jaws.
Will There Ever Be More Shark Books?
Certainly! And there should be, so people can understand that sharks aren’t bloodthirsty killers. It’s unlikely sharks will ever have a resurgence in the eco-horror genre. Although many other deep-sea horror stories with different creatures, both real and mythical, fill up that space on bookshelves.
Now, sharks appear in other genres, like nonfiction, with the popularity of Soul Surfer. Soul Surfer follows the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a famous surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. And while yes, that was horrific, unlike Jaws, Soul Surfer doesn’t villainize the shark. Bethany Hamilton worked to get over her fear of sharks afterward and got back in the water.
Stories like these can satisfy readers who like sharks and want to hear about shark attacks without turning them into killer creatures constantly trying to eat humans. Stories that show how powerful and interesting they are without vilifying them are the shark stories we need.
Sharks are amazing sea creatures, and they don’t deserve the bad rap they often get in novels and movies. So remember to support the new books you can find about sharks! They still deserve their space in books, just in ways that aren’t harmful to them in real life. The more new shark books that are created and supported, the more their bad reputation from Jaws will become a thing of fiction, and not a real fear.
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