Exploring Horror Or Exploring Light


300x179xthe-walking-dead-s4-e16-zombies-636-380-300x179.jpg.pagespeed.ic.35AUmep_fuWhen I first heard the term “Christian horror,” I laughed. I thought the person was kidding. I mean, how could blood and psycho-killers and hauntings and demon possession be Christian? Since then I’ve learned that some serious writers—including some Christians—believe horror fiction holds a necessary place in understanding evil, and therefore confronting it.

A number of years ago, for example, author Brian Godawa posted a three-part apology for Christian horror at Speculative Faith. More recently author and friend Mike Duran has published Christian Horror:On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.

While I’ve moved from a hard stance against horror (I insisted that the genre existed to accomplish one thing—produce fear), conceding that some writers and readers confront evil and explore how to counter it through fiction, I’m far from holding the view that horror is “must read” fiction for Christians, that to turn away from an exploration of evil is to isolate ourselves from the reality of the world in which we live.

I expressed my thoughts in a post at Spec Faith nearly four years ago, ideas to which I still hold. The following is a slightly revised version of that post.

Author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire fiction and her conversions to and from Christianity, has stated that her vampire books were actually explorations of the spiritual. Spiritual light or spiritual darkness?

Some may say that an exploration of spiritual darkness must precede any look at spiritual light. I suppose this might be one of those areas that differ from person to person, but I can’t help but wonder why we Christians aren’t exploring the light more than we are the darkness.

Corrie ten Boom

Certainly darkness is in the world. Yet when I think of darkness, some of the most uplifting, true stories I’ve read come to mind. Take Corrie ten Boom, for example. Without a doubt, her story contains horrific elements, including the inhuman conditions in a Nazi concentration camp and the death of her dear sister as a result.

But throughout, from the decision to help Jews, to Corrie’s release from the camp and her subsequent commitment to show the love and forgiveness of God to victim and victimizer alike, the story is infused with hope and promise and the sovereign hand of God over all circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming is similar. These young missionaries, so committed to sharing the gospel with a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, died at the hands of the people they wanted to save. More astounding, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and Nate’s wife Rachel returned to the tribe, lived with them for two years, and saw many come to Christ. The forgiveness and love these women lived out in the midst of tragedy and loss is a revelation of God’s love and forgiveness.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s story is equally inspirational. Injured as a seventeen year old, Joni has lived as a quadriplegic for forty-eight years.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Despite her disability, she shines the love of Jesus into the lives of hundreds of thousands through her writing, painting, and speaking. She has even put out a vocal recording and starred in the video of her life story. Perhaps her greatest work has been establishing Joni and Friends, an international disability center bringing hope and help to people throughout the world.

Hope. That seems to be a key thread that runs through these stories of triumph over tragedy. The darkness is very real in each one—Joni’s despair, the deaths of the missionaries and Corrie’s sister, the brutality of the Nazis—but triumph dominates the story.

The Hiding Place is not the story about Corrie’s sister dying but about God’s love and forgiveness manifested in an unspeakably cruel place.

Through Gates of Splendor is not a story about five twenty-something missionary men being killed but about the truth in this verse of the hymn from which the title of the book came:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Joni is not the story of a seventeen-year-old whose life caved in, but of a God who brings meaning and purpose out of suffering.

You might wonder why I’m taking a look at all these true stories in a post about speculative fiction. I see how inspirational the lives of these three who suffered greatly have been. They personally explored the light in the midst of the darkness of their real circumstances. The result has been phenomenal. They have pointed generations of people to Christ.

Why, then, would a fiction writer not want to adopt this model — an exploration of light in the midst of darkness? Why go the other route and spend pages and pages exploring the dark, even if the light comes filtering in at the end?

I personally (and remember what I said at the beginning of this post about us all being different) find hope and help to be what I want to read. Darkness, I already know. Hope and help in the midst of darkness is compelling. Why aren’t more Christian speculative novels exploring the light?

It seems to me we are becoming fixated with what is true to the human experience, and as a result we are not setting our “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2). Do we think we know all there is to know about God, so we don’t need to focus on Him as much as we do the depravity and corruption sin causes?

Darkness will be a part of fiction, I believe. But I also see there are two ways of looking at it. In one case, stories seem to explore the darkness, in the other they seem to explore the light that triumphs over the darkness. This latter type is the kind of story I like to read and I want to write.

The Value Of Monsters


MonsterI’m not a horror person. I don’t go to horror movies, and I try not to read horror literature (once in a while I’ve acquiesced and read a novel by a friend or for a blog tour). I’m not big on supernatural stories either, which usually have some type of confrontation with demons. I’ve chalked this up to the fact that I don’t like to be scared.

I figured no one liked to be scared, so I couldn’t understand why a great many people “enjoyed” horror stories. Lo and behold, when I actually took time to ask around, I discovered that a lot of people actually DO like to be scared. They get a rush of adrenaline that jolts them, and they find the experience exhilarating.

Except . . . then I discovered some people who like monster stories but not demon stories. The monsters are pretend, the explanation goes, but the demons are real. The monster stories inevitably show victory over the monsters. They help process through make-believe what we must contend with in real life. And good wins out in the end.

In the long run, I think that’s precisely the function monsters serve. We are faced with humans who act like monsters because of the corruption of sin. Sometimes we see our own monstrous tendencies. And of course there are the rulers, powers, world forces of this darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness–spiritual monsters–Paul says are our true enemies (see Eph. 6:12).

Fictitious monsters put limits on evil. They become more manageable when they have a defined scope and a finite appearance. Oh the other hand, I suspect one reason vampires (until Twilight) were such feared monsters was their immortality. If you can’t kill a monster, it becomes infinitely more frightening.

Some of the most famous horror stories were, in fact, centered on efforts to kill what seemed to be indestructible.

Perhaps the best and most truthful horror story would be the one that shows a monster that cannot be overcome, at least not by ordinary humans. We are, after all, without means to defeat sin and Satan. God alone can put an end to those we war against.

But I suppose most monster stories aren’t about ultimate victory as much as they are temporal overcoming. After all, stab a stake into the heart of one vampire, and another one creeps around the corner into town.

So we battle one monster at a time, and perhaps the make-believe stories help some to go forward into the fight, equipped and prepared and less afraid.

Me? I’ll just confess it up front: I’m a coward. I would much rather hide from the prowling lion, the wolf in sheep’s clothes, the dragon breathing fire. I have a Rock, a Fortress, a Deliverer, and I prefer taking refuge in Him. 😉

Published in: on October 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Darkness Follows, Day 3


Some books aren’t destined to be loved, I don’t think, whereas their authors might be. Stephen King comes to mind as an example. I suspect Mike Dellosso, author of the CSFF Blog Tour June feature, Darkness Follows, might also fall into this category.

Of course, this idea that authors can be loved even if their books aren’t, can be argued, depending on why a particular reader loves a book. For me, being appalled pretty much eliminates a novel from the “I love it” category. Others may well disagree.

All this to say, I am happy I read a Mike Dellosso novel. I’d happily recommend him to anyone who wants to read horror. At the same time, I won’t be reading another one of his.

I’ve said from time to time that I enjoy reading most genres, but not suspense or horror. And yet I’ve read some suspense and liked it, some Christian supernatural suspense and liked it. However, in reading reviews of those books, I discovered that readers who genuinely enjoy the suspense or horror genres thought the books I liked were too tame.

I don’t think any horror fan would find Darkness Follows tame.

Which is why I won’t read any more Dellosso novels. He’s too good. By that I mean, the story was the kind that comes alive. The characters seemed like real people, the growing darkness a real threat, the danger a tragedy waiting to happen. I hated it — in the same way that I hate roller coasters. Other people find the adrenaline rush thrilling, I find it horrific.

All that by way of introduction to my review. 😉

The Story.
Sam Travis is recovering from a brain injury — except he feels as if he’s not. He has begun to hear things, like sounds of battle, the kind that would have come from the Battle of Gettysberg that took place not far from his home. He’s also started seeing things, or more accurately, a person — his dead brother. The capper is, he’s starting to do things he doesn’t remember, specifically journaling as if he is Captain Samuel Whiting, a member of the US military during the Civil War.

Fearing for his sanity, Sam does not reveal what he’s experiencing to his wife or his little girl, Eva, though both are concerned for him and the changes they see. A gulf begins to grow between them, and Sam finds himself more and more drawn into what he perceives to be an inevitable darkness that propels him toward unspeakable actions.

Strengths.
The story is well-written and compelling. The prose is not lyrical but it is certainly above average. Scenes are vivid, action properly motivated, characters painted as individuals, each with his or her own unique story. The interaction between Sam and his daughter and between Sam and his wife was so natural which made the progression toward estrangement more and more painful.

The tension was palpable, and the suspense proved to be that “compelling” element.

The theme of love as the redeeming factor in a person’s life was clear — not not just love in a generic way, but Jesus’s love.

Weaknesses.
I had one minor issue that proved to be major for me. At one point the antagonist stalks his target, described to have brown hair. Because the character the reader would assume to be the target of a kidnapping had blond hair, I surmised that someone else was the actual target. Not so. Apparently it was an editing glitch. I admit I was disappointed because I thought that could have taken the story in an interesting direction.

The larger issue, however, was that some of the end didn’t seem earned. The explanation of brainwashing and neo-Nazi involvement was from out of the blue. The subconscious journal writing and the appearance of a message written in grass (when Sam was fully conscious and absent from the location) was never adequately explained. Nor was the inciting incident — the Civil War sounds and the shattered window that started him on his journey toward darkness.

Surprisingly, the puzzle pieces not quite fitting didn’t deter from the story. Only as I thought about it after finishing was I aware of the questions the story left a little scrambled.

Recommendation.
This one is no yawner. The pages flew by, and if I enjoyed horror, I have no doubt that I would have discovered a new favorite author. Mike writes well!

That being said, this is horror. Actual ugly horror with horrific things happening. This is a book that earns the word Darkness in the title, and anyone picking it up should realize they are not getting a sanitized version of horror.

I highly recommend Darkness Follows to anyone interested in horror and particular to anyone who wants to see what Christian horror looks like. To anyone who doesn’t care for horror, stay away from this one.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Vampires and Angels


Faith_Fiction2I’m late, but I wanted to add my voice to the discussion started at My Friend Amy as part of her Faith ‘n Fiction Saturday. Here are the questions:

So my question for you today is…what do you think about these kinds [vampire] of stories? Do you enjoy the fictional vampire stories or the fictional stories about angels? Are you more likely to read a story about an angel than a vampire? What do you think is the appeal of these books?

Interesting topic in light of the discussion we had centered on Eric Wilson’s Haunt of Jackals.

First vampires. Not my cup of tea. I may have mentioned a time or two that I’m not a fan of horror. I don’t like being scared and don’t understand why anyone else would. It is an unpleasant sensation, so why would I voluntarily put myself through the experience for hours on end? It makes no sense to me.

Some people have told me it’s an adrenalin rush. I get plenty of that as a sports fan (and earlier, as a coach and player) and don’t find that source to be unpleasant (unless my team loses 🙄 ).

Of late I’ve been dismayed by the “twilighting” of vampires. As I understand their original mythic role, they were evil, beings to fight against. But today’s vampires—from TV’s Angel to Twilight’s whats-his-name—vampires might be blood-suckers, but their self-restraint made them good. It’s a very humanistic message, not to mention that it plays to the “love the bad boy” syndrome too many young girls fall into as it is.

But are angel stories any better? I’ve only read a couple. I understand “fallen angels” stories are becoming more and more popular. Uh … I thought fallen angels were demons. So how can fallen angels be characters we cheer for? Perhaps the fallen angels will be beings to fear, taking the place, in essence, of olden day vampires. In that case, I refer you to the paragraph above about my reaction to horror. 😀

The larger issue when it comes to angels, however, is exactly what Amy said in her answer to these questions: angels are real. Vampires, as fictitious beings, aren’t tied to the original imagining of such creatures. Authors are free to speculate all they wish.

Angels, as long as they are not the cute and cuddly kind—in other words, angels portrayed in any way as Scripture reveals them to be—must be handled in the same way other historical beings are handled. They must be researched. They must adhere to what we know to be true.

Personally, I don’t see stories about angels being interesting at all. If we give them anthropomorphic emotions, we will be distorting reality. If we show them as single-minded servants of the most high God, then there really is no internal conflict that makes for a good story.

I’m not in anyway interested in these stories. The ones I’ve read fell far short, even when the writing was good.

So I’ll have to say, count me out of these angel/vampire tales.

How about you? Are you a fan of vampire stories? And if so, why? Have you read any angel stories? Do you look forward to the new wave of stories featuring angels?

As an aside, months ago I started a discussion over at Amazon and last week, who should make a comment but Anne Rice. I wanted to verify that this was THE Anne Rice, and sure enough, it was. In the process, though, I visited her Web site and saw the “angels are the new vampires” tag line. That was the first I was aware of the coming trend.

More about Christian Horror (?)


Before I get started, I want to mention I’ll be putting up the poll for the November CSFF Top Blogger Award soon. You might take some time to read the blog posts from the participants listed in the last post with three checks in front of their names. Those are the bloggers who are eligible for the award.

On Monday I concluded a discussion about the definition of horror with this paragraph:

So where does Shade fit in? Does Dr. Olson’s story about supernatural evil—for clearly, it is that, even though there are no vampires—exist to generate fear, or to wrestle with the forces of evil? Is it a story intended for nothing more than entertainment, or is it attempting a greater goal by entering into the examination of spiritual warfare?

My initial reaction to Shade was that it reminded me of a Frank Peretti book—not a particular one, but that kind of story that brings the supernatural to life in a contemporary setting. I have happily called such books “supernatural suspense,” because they are most definitely not slasher-variety horror. There is a greater purpose than to frighten.

Perhaps adding “Christian” mitigates the denotation of “horror,” and therefore “Christian Horror” is an accurate name for the types of novels (and short stories) that do something greater. I happen to think it is important that people come to grips with the spiritual world. The fact that demons exist, that Satan is real, that a battle is on-going seem to be important facts to grasp if a Christian is to take seriously the Apostle Paul’s admonition to put on spiritual armor.

I’m not so sure about fist fights and knife fights with demon-possessed characters, however. It seems to me that such plot developments may exist primarily to entertain. Not a bad thing, mind you. Stories need to be interesting, after all. But if a book is to reveal something about spiritual warfare in the here and now real world, perhaps the actual tools of fighting evil need to come to the forefront.

Otherwise, how is a reader to think? Evil does exist, but Melchi, who protected Hailey, is just a character in a book. Who is to protect readers, then? Does Shade give any insights into answers of that question?

I don’t think so. Hailey is a Christian, after all, but she does the least fighting of all. In fact, her most proactive role is to run away.

Yes, there are many unanswered questions in Shade, many of which may be addressed in future books. And there are the many subliminal references (I ran across another one today. The Blaise character I wasn’t sure to whom he referred? My guess is it’s Blaise Pascal, the noted 17th century mathematician and Christian apologist who wrote criticizing a trend in the church to use reason to justify certain sins). Yet the actual story seems to be a pleasant yarn, a good vs. evil struggle, with good coming out on top, mostly by happy coincidence and a selfless, sacrificial act from an off camera character.

In the end, I guess the reader needs to decide if he or she thinks this work exists for its entertainment value alone, or if it accomplishes something greater. My guess is Dr. Olson was trying for something greater. Did he pull it off? Up to you to decide.

Published in: on November 20, 2008 at 2:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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Shade – November’s CSFF Tour, Day 1


John Olson's ShadeI can’t help but think this tour for John Olson’s Shade (B&H Publishing) will be one of the more interesting tours we’ve had in CSFF this year. As Jason Joyner, CSFF member in good standing (now on sabbatical to help tend to his newborn daughter 😀 ), mentioned in a blog post last August, this book has been touted as a vampireless vampire story.

I hear that designation and my first thought is “horror.” OK, that reaction takes place on several levels—horror, the genre, for one and Horror! a Christian horror story? on another.

The first level. Is Shade indeed a horror story? I’m maybe the worst person to answer this question since I’ve made a point not to read horror. In the past I objected to the idea that Horror as a genre, defined by Wikipedia as that which exists to generate fear, could, in fact, be Christian.

I have yet to find anyone quibble with that conclusion, but many people disagree with the definition. Since it isn’t mine, I have no vested interest in whether it is or is not right. The point for me is that Wikipedia thinks it’s right—Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the people. In other words, as long as that definition stands on the Wikipedia site, I assume that most people visiting that page aren’t finding the definition inaccurate.

However, Olson begins several sections of Shade with quotes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, quotes that make it clear there is much wrestling with the supernatural in that classic story. Including the quotes makes me think that Olson is tying his story to that same line.

Modern horror writer, and recently professing Catholic convert, Anne Rice said as much about her vampire novels in her statements concerning her journey to faith. Those earlier novels, she said (and now has written in her latest book Called Out of Darkness: A spiritual confession), were part of her exploration of the supernatural and played a big role in her returning to Catholicism. From a statement by Rice posted on her Web site:

I am hardly stating an original idea when I say that such stories are transformative. They invite the reader on a journey which reflects perfectly the formula of Aristotle for great drama: as one reads (or watches the film or play), one feels pity and fear, and eventually experiences catharsis. One is taken to a place, through the literary experience, to which one might not have ever gone on one’s own. I feel strongly that dark stories demand that the audience earn the transformation; they require a certain suffering on the part of the audience as the price of eventual affirmation.

I would like to submit that my vampire novels … are attempting to be transformative stories as well. All these novels involve a strong moral compass. Evil is never glorified in these books; on the contrary, the continuing battle against evil is the subject of the work. The search for the good is the subject of the work.

Then later she says:

For me, the entire body of my earlier work, reflects a movement towards Jesus Christ. In 2002, I consecrated my work to Jesus Christ. This did not involve a denunciation of works that reflected the journey. It was rather a statement that from then on I would write directly for Jesus Christ. I would write works about salvation, as opposed to alienation; I would write books about reconciliation in Christ, rather than books about the struggle for answers in a post World War II seemingly atheistic world.

So where does Shade fit in? Does Dr. Olson’s story about supernatural evil—for clearly, it is that, even though there are no vampires—exist to generate fear, or to wrestle with the forces of evil? Is it a story intended for nothing more than entertainment, or is it attempting a greater goal by entering into the examination of spiritual warfare?

I guess you’ll need to see what others on the CSFF tour think. 😉 (OK, I’ll probably have my say later on, too).

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton(not on the original list posted at CSFF)
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Jason Joyner
Kait
Magma
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Pam Morrisson (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

“√” indicates I know a blog post is up.

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 12:55 pm  Comments (16)  
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