f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Pale Pages, Black Cover, Lots of Mascara Around It's "I's"—Hey, It's a Gothic Novel!

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Pale Pages, Black Cover, Lots of Mascara Around It's "I's"—Hey, It's a Gothic Novel!

So, you know what I don’t like? I don’t like when a sermon or essay begins by pulling out Webster’s dictionary to offer us a definition. It’s cliché and boring and it’s exactly what I’m going to do right now because in talking about Goths and the Gothic mindset it’s important to get a few facts straight. (Oh, and if you’re interested in reading what may be the most definitive survey of Gothic psychology, art, and influence, check out Gothic by Richard Davenport-Hines. Slick cover.)

1. Gothic Art—Traditional
Gothic style appeared during the Middle Ages, primarily in architecture. Think brooding, massive cathedrals like Notre Dame and Chartres. Here’s a nice link of other links if you want to see actual images.

2. Gothic Literature—Classic
(according to Merriam-Webster Unabridged) c (1) : of or relating to a late 18th and early 19th century style of fiction characterized by the use of medieval settings, a murky atmosphere of horror and gloom, and macabre, mysterious, and violent incidents.

Dracula and Frankenstein are part of this. The Castle of Otranto.

3. Gothic Literature—Modern (including Jesus Saves)
2) : of or relating to a literary style or an example of such style characterized by grotesque, macabre, or fantastic incidents or by an atmosphere of irrational violence, desolation, and decay

Some more examples are Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved are part of this. The line becomes pretty blurry between horror and gothic, however.

4. Goths
Ah, Goths. Our gloomy, fair-skinned friends. You’d see them at Cure concerts. Or standing in line to get Neil Gaiman’s autograph. Or buying one more studded collar. They are “children of the night” with a bent toward the occult and a pre-occupation with eyeliner. The word you most commonly hear used to slander them is “freak.”

At its heart, I think “gothic” mindset thinks that it’s about honesty. Pain and misery abound in the world, so why do we pretend as though our lives are actually pleasant? Let’s call a blood-filled-vial a blood-filled-vial and at least revel in our moodiness and gloom. Let’s make it our home so we can master it, rather than let it master us.

Yeah, so that’s a reductionist pop-psych 101 take, but there’s a kernel of truth to it. (I like this site’s cheeky take on the whole movement.)

So, that’s a lot of set-up. The question put before us, is what purpose does Gothic literature serve? What’s the reason we have books that traffic in darkness and gloom? And where does faith—supposedly a light that should never have a bushel over it—fit into this mess?

To me, Gothic literature is, on a continuum, as far from standard “Christian” fiction has you can get. Where horror fiction often wallows in Evil, usually there is a corresponding Good that proves more powerful. In Gothic literature, the evil is much more insidious and often in our own hearts.

As Ginger’s father preaches in Jesus Saves

“…each of us must look into our own hearts and acknowledge the darkness there. That’s the shocking truth. The evil power that abducted Sandy is not just the exception to the rule but rather part of the fabric of human reality, of our reality, a dark fabric with which we are all clothed and which we cannot cast off.”
This is original sin taken to its brutal and unsettling apex. Or, sans theology, it’s nihilism turned outward, the annihilation of others because of the meaningless of life. Either way it’s a rough and rocky road and one I don’t enjoy treading too often. As I’ve mentioned before, I think there’s value in such works, however. Just as I think there’s value in a book that shows what happens when moral choices are ignored, I think there’s merit, every once in a while, to trying to fathom a world of oppressing ugliness (through fiction) to more fully appreciate the blessings of the real world in which we live.

Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

This is a tough bit of Scripture that comes up a lot when face with difficult art. People often use it as the millstone to sink any attempt to show the world as anything other than mild and redeemed. I think any writer will need to find his or her own answer to it, both in her reading and writing. Do you pick up a book like Jesus Saves and see what it holds for the world? Do you write that story about a Christian engulfed in Depression who just can’t for the life of her find her way out?

Nobody said this was always going to be simple or fun. But we’ll find our way.