f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 9 of Genre – Horror

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

Friday, August 06, 2004

Day 9 of Genre – Horror

Stephen King.

Alright that wraps up that genre, should we move on? Yes, yes, technically I guess it doesn’t, but it certainly does a lot of the work, though, right?

I go in fits and bursts with King. America seems to as well. He started with a jolt by turning puberty into more of a horror-show than it normally is with his subtle-as-a-jackhammer novel Carrie. After that came vampires and werewolves and the Trashcan Man in his epic end-days novel The Stand. He’s done aliens and killer clowns and pets that won’t stay buried and irritated dogs that will eat you. He’s done demonic buildings and demonic cars. I’m pretty sure he wrote a novel about a helpless woman handcuffed to a bed after kinky sex with her husband goes awry and the man dies leaving her to…. Lovely.

King hit a period in the early nineties when he seemed to flirt with irrelevance. A switch in publisher, some good PR, and a few academics willing to go to bat for him changed all of that with the release of books like Bag of Bones and Hearts in Atlantis. Then he nearly got killed, which is never bad publicity in a morbid sense he, of all people, should appreciate, and he’s topped things off by recently announcing he won’t publish any further fiction.

It’s a long bit on King, but he’s really defined the genre for American literature for almost thirty years now. There’s certainly other authors out there—Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, even older names like Richard Matheson, whom King has always named as an inspiration—but King is the big gorilla.

What’s more impressive, at least to me, is King’s self-awareness, not only about writing but about his chosen genre. His nonfiction book Danse Macabre is a fascinating look behind the curtain of horror, and what it “means.” On Writing, as has been mentioned before, is a decent writer’s tool from a man who’s sold about 500 million books and therefore can claim the floor.

Horror is usually tied with the supernatural, although some of the more frightening scenarios are when horror appears in the real world, i.e. what happens when your huge, honking St. Bernard goes nutso on you or when your biggest “fan” finds you after a car accident and decides to help you recover by cutting your feet off.

It’s the supernatural—and the gore, too, but mostly the supernatural—that gets horror books in the most trouble with Christians. Vampires, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night are not seen as imaginary, even mythologic characters, but as portals into the demonic realm. “You’re playing with fire even reading these books,” the warning wisdom goes. And thus there’s not a lot of “mainstream” horror stories in the CBA. About the only guy who sorta gets away with it is Charles Williams but that’s because A.) his books generally aren’t stocked in CBA anyway and B.) it’s not exactly the simplest thing in the world to tell what in the world he’s talking about most times. It’s fascinating reading, though, and if you’re in for this sort of fiction, I recommend All Hallow’s Eve as a good place to start.

Instead, in CBA, we have spiritual warfare books. Frank Peretti launched his subgenre with This Present Darkness and has followed with some other successful books. It’s always at the heart of any book that tries to make it as a “horror.” The supernatural element is always either unmasked to be of human origin or revealed to be of demonic origin. Basically that sort of kills it on the suspense level.

The interesting question is: would a Christian be able to write Cujo? Or Misery? Should we want to? Is gore and suffering and the froth of rapid dogs antithetical to our call to look on beautiful and pure things? I think the only way to answer the question is to see what the point of the book would be? Is there something to be revealed about God’s character and provision or our faiths by placing Christians in such circumstances? I think some intrepid writer may try it someday. I’m picturing a hoard of angry housecats and a woman in a car filled with tuna fish cans she got on special at the A&P. Gives me shivers.

Best for your weekend.