[Note: This one is a bit long]
That last post was not the kind of thing I normally want to dwell on. But it serves a purpose in the discussion about why some people balk at the idea of a Christian writing horror. And the short answer is, I think they confuse horror with excess and depravity. You see, some of what passes for the horror genre in movies, books and music has crossed the line into absolute depravity. As with the warning in yesterday’s post about looking up information about a certain movie, while it represents the top of the chain as far as depraved images in film, it is not alone.
There is a writer I read for a while who has a refreshing style and innovative ideas. I also can’t read his work anymore because in his third book he began to cross the line from horror into exploring societal taboos in graphic detail. Not just things people don’t talk about in polite society. Vile things. He crossed the line. That book went into the trash immediately and after trying a new one and finding the same kind of thing, I quit even looking for his novels (he has over 30).
Horror should explore the dark side … not glorify it. And as I said, I’m not a prude. I enjoy a good horror story and there are some good ones out there. But there is some dreck.
Splatterpunk came along in the early 80s as a movement within horror fiction distinguished by its graphic, gory, depiction of violence and “hyperintensive horror with no limits.”* It essentially a revolt against the traditional horror story which those who wrote “splatter” found to be too soft or weak. The movement reached its pinnacle in the mid 80s into the 90s and the last major “splatter” work came out about 1995. But during its heyday Dean Koontz and I had an ongoing discussion about the problems inherent with the movement. He made some interesting and eerily prophetic observations in one particular letter:
” …it seemed obvious to me that if splatterpunk was going to continue to dominate the genre [horror], then the genre was destined to crash. I was dismayed to see so many young writers aligning themselves with that ‘school’ and thereby insuring they would go down with all the splatter writers when, inevitably, publishers realized that no reader with a mental and emotional maturity greater than that of a fourteen-year-old would find the stuff appealing … I became something of a nagging old aunt … urging writers to be individuals, to find their own styles, to avoid linking themselves with splatterpunk, or for that matter, any school of writing … some of these folks have spent the better part of a decade associating themselves with what seemed hip and cool rather than finding their own voice, and now they will need another decade to re-establish themselves … imagine if Christ had decided that the best way to spread His message was not to say something fresh to the masses but to join with the trendiest cult of the moment and then try to attract attention merely by yelling louder than anyone else! He made the harder and better choice of striking out in a new direction. Of course, He had divine guidance …” – Dean Koontz (10/3/91)
The problem is, horror is an emotion. Not a literary device. But marketing requires labels. So, as a genre of literature, a “horror story” is intended to frighten its readers in the same way a roller coaster terrifies the rider. A thrill ride with no lasting ill effects. Much like a ghost story told around a campfire. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural.
There have been tales of terror as long as there has been written language. And as a genre its roots can be traced to the Gothic horror of the eighteenth century with the publication of The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole.
Writers such as Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce, some of the most important names in American literature, wrote horror stories. Were known for them in fact. Much of Shakespeare’s work contains supernatural elements. As early as the 8-11th century an anonymous poet composed the epic poem, Beowulf.
So … where does that leave us? It actually leaves us in a pretty good place.
Any story can serve as a vehicle for truth. Again, Jesus used parables to convey eternal truth. And the Christian writer, if he or she is true to their craft and to their desire to serve God, can do the same with their stories. Recently I read Michelle Sutton’s novel, Letting Go, in order to write an endorsement. In the course of the story of two broken people fighting for the future of a child, the power of God’s healing grace was evident. In Darlington Woods, Mike Dellosso creates a terrifying world of vampire-like creatures that plunge the reader into a heart-wrenching tale of a father’s love and the healing love of God.
Not bad for a horror story. And like the non-horror tale by Michelle, the overall message is clear.
As I’ve said before, Christian fiction does three things:
- It can be the catalyst that helps a person make the decision to become a Christian.
- For the person who is already a Christian, it can reinforce an element of the Christian faith, or give them new insight into their own faith.
- It can provide the reader with a story that entertains without the use of gratuitous sex, violence, language or other offensive elements.
Which course it takes once it comes into the reader’s hands is up to God.
Christian fiction, be it horror; romance; science fiction; historical; Amish; or some new genre yet to be created, is simply a canvas for the truth.And while horror provides an idea vehicle by which we can explore some of the darker issues that face us (remember … not every monster has fangs and lurks in the shadows), it also serves as a reminder of the great goodness around us. Evil cannot exist without goodness. They are entwined until Christ’s final coming.
And horror (as does other members of the “suspense family”) provides roller coaster thrills for those of us who are afraid of roller coasters. It’s a safe way to examine our fears, the terrors of this world, and the all encompassing love that comes to us from the one who created us (that’s God for those who joined us late).