What feelings lie within the story of Jonah and his whale? On the surface there is horror, but, as George Orwell argued, there lies beneath the horror a deeper current of feeling, one predominated by envy. A half-suppressed wish to trade places with Jonah and to take with acceptance what he fled from in terror. To surrender all worldly agency and concern, to give up on responsibility, to retreat within a small and private world and to there while away all the long hours of this life in perfect comfort and pointlessness.
Much of the horror genre follows this pattern, a veneer of fear layered over an appealing fantasy of greater or lesser anti-social character, and for the story of Jonah it is the appeal of whale as womb. The siren song of warm oblivion. The song that, as Margaret Atwood put it, "forces men to leap overboard in squadrons even though they see the beached skulls." In our current age it is heroin that sings to us this song.