What’s Wrong With Supernatural Suspense?

Last week I had an interesting discussion with the manager of a Christian bookstore about the types of fiction his store carries. I’ll be doing a book signing for his store in about a month so I was curious about what he keeps on the shelves. During the course of the conversation he said he likes supernatural suspense (aka Christian horror) but he doesn’t carry a lot of it.

The decision on what to stock comes primarily from the home office.

At one point in of the conversation he said he thought the genre would sell well in his store, particularly considering the resurgence of similar books on the secular side of the fence.

Granted, there are some big names who still make it to the shelves; Peretti, Dekker, Lee, and a few others. But for everyone else, it can be a struggle. And getting readers to sample a book or two from the supernatural suspense side also has its challenges. Granted, we all have our genre preferences, but I don’t know many people who read in just one genre or who read a single author exclusively. And while preference is one thing, I have a sneaking suspicion part of the reason has to do with some readers’ narrow view of literature coupled with an equally narrow view of theology (or what sometimes passes as theology; often part theology and part personal ideas).

Some of the more common reasons people don’t read this particular genre are:

  • I don’t like scary stories
  • I don’t want that kind of thing in my head
  • I don’t want to give evil a foothold in my life
  • I prefer stories with a positive message
  • I don’t believe in the supernatural
  • I don’t read supernatural books

OK, I understand not liking scary stories. I don’t like roller coasters. But the genre is supernatural suspense…not supernatural scary. And like a secular suspense novel, sometimes it isn’t about scaring you, but it’s about dropping you into a suspenseful situation and watching the characters work it out.

As for not wanting that kind of thing in your head, I can only assume you don’t watch the news or surf the Internet. Because I can assure you there are worse things there than you will ever find in one of our books. We make this stuff up.  But when you read about human trafficking (or talk about it in Sunday School), murder, rape, incest, bestiality, and people being held as sexual slaves or worse in somebody’s neighbor’s basement, how do you get that out of your head?

On the not wanting to give evil a foothold in your life front, that doesn’t come from what you read. It comes from the choices you make every day. It comes from a conscious decision to embrace the darkness instead of the light. Embracing evil is a choice, and it is not based on the literature you read. It is based on whether you choose to embrace God or Satan.  Not whether you liked Mike Dellosso‘s latest book or saw Cross Shadow Productions‘ latest movie.

In Deborah Hughes’ interview with Jeff Bennington, he made an effective point along this line.

“I believe that evil persists today in the spirit realm as much as it did from the beginning. Although I do not desire to dabble in the dark side, I am not afraid of it because I trust in the one who created all things, and He has ultimate power over evil and my soul, so I’m not worried about supernatural evil effecting my eternal position. However, because we live in a broken world, where sin and death are part of our reality, I know that I have to keep my guard up and be careful to not give evil a foothold …”

I saved my two favorites for last. If you don’t believe in the supernatural, how do you explain God? I understand He is something of a supernatural being. He is the ultimate supernatural being. And if you don’t read supernatural books, I have to assume that includes the Bible. It’s filled with the supernatural, both good and evil.

In a May 2010 post Mike Duran observed:

“Heck, the very first book of Scripture contains stories about a talking serpent, an angel with a flaming sword driving sinners from Paradise, an entire city being destroyed by fire and brimstone, plagues of frogs and rivers of blood, sparring magicians, a death angel who slaughters firstborns, and an ocean parted at one man’s word. And that’s just the first book of the Bible! Read on and there’s a story about a witch who conjures the ghost of a prophet, an apostle whose shadow heals the sick, and four apocalyptic horseman who are en route to planet earth.”

You see, I think readers lose sight of the fact we are writing Christian fiction, so by its very nature, the good guys win. Christ is victorious. In the battle between good and evil, evil is defeated by the power of God. In short, any novel in the Christian fiction realm MUST uphold the tenets of Christianity. As I wrote in the afterword to my novel, Something Stirs:


It exists. It’s real. It shoots children on playgrounds and in hallways, sells women and children as sexual slaves, crashes planes into buildings, kills and eats other human beings, keeps people chained in makeshift dungeons, kills multiple victims over a period of years for the thrill of it. Oh yes, evil is real, it’s out there, and it does more unspeakable things than I can (or will) list here.

But there is an equally powerful force that is in a constant battle with evil. That force is called the love of God, and it has the power to not only overcome evil, but also heal the resulting scars, and bring peace to the most troubled heart.

Is that the kind of thing you don’t want in your head? Is that the kind of story that’s going to give evil a foothold in your life? Is that message somehow different from the love of God shown in other genres?

Can the ultimate outcome of the battle between good and evil come to fruition any way other than through supernatural means?


2 Replies to “What’s Wrong With Supernatural Suspense?”

  1. Great post! I think some people shy away from supernatural stories because they have a strong belief that such things (supernatural entities or powers) are pretty darn strong (be it good or bad) and reading them might open doors to the netherworld, feed existing fears (or create new ones!), and incite nightmares. I can understand the concern but most of these sorts of books, as you’ve stated, usually have the ultimate victory going to the good side.

    There are, however, stories out there where evil wins. It is the possibility of stumbling onto one of those that really keeps one wary (it does me!). I think – for most of us anyway – we have a pretty basic desire to leave a story, no matter how horrific the content, with the relief of knowing that the good people can and do triumph over the bad ones. I know for me, I wouldn’t want it any other way. So this is where reading reviews and personal recommendations are the best way to get your hands on stories with the most satisfying (“Take that, you evil doer you!”) endings.

    Supernatural stories are epic … they are the stuff of all that exists … known and unknown … and though they may frighten, they also strengthen your understanding on how nothing, no matter how evil, can truly triumph over God. It’s the ultimate battle…one fought in many ways every day! To stay away from such stories is to miss out on some of the best books (and the best reading experiences) out there!

    1. Thanks Deborah. You make some good points.Ultimately supernatural suspense/Christian horror is just a canvas on which the writer creates as is romance, science fiction, westerns, etc. Thanks again for the comments.

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