Archives For horror

“Isn’t there enough real horror in the world? Why do we need horror stories?” I have been asked these, and other, questions. In fact, I was once on the receiving of a fundagelical intervention because I had the temerity to read the Harry Potter books. In some circles (yes, folks, they’re still out there!), somehow the Old Testament command, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” has come to mean “thou shalt not read the exploits of a certain boy wizard.” Never mind that it’s fantasy, never mind the fact that the stories are rife with not only biblical–dare I say Christian–themes. The books start with a mother giving her life for her only son. There is sacrifice, honor, loyalty, facing adversity, standing up against the odds. I could go on.

And we’re worried about fantasy depictions of magic? Talk about straining at gnats! But I digress. Yes, there is real horror in the world–rapes, murders, war, torture, sex slavery, racism, and on and on and on. The thing is: horror stories don’t add to the horror in the world; rather, they give us a vicarious outlet for processing those real horrors we experience in life (or see in technicolor on YouTube). The horror story, because it’s a story, gives a safe place to feel our fears. We can put on a movie, or curl up with a book, in the safety and comfort our own homes. If it’s too much, we turn off the movie, or put the book down. We are never really in danger, but the stories remind us of the one fact we seem to almost willingly want to forget: the world is not a safe place. We, especially we in the West, crave nothing so much as safety and comfort. And we become quite wroth when anything threatens that delicate equilibrium. We don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly why I both read, and write, horror stories. It’s when I’m feeling the most safe and comfortable that world is most apt to collide head on with me (or I with it). The horror story is a necessary tonic; it reminds us that things aren’t always good, that sometimes things don’t work out for the best in this world. Young men die (I just lost a coworker who was only forty-nine!), while greedy grow old. Babies are born crack-addicted, or with AIDS. Praying grandmothers, serving with all their strength husbands suffering from strokes and with dementia, die before their ill spouses…

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

The horror story comes along, telling us, “Yes, this world is a wilder, weirder, darker, more mysterious place than you can possible imagine.” But you can survive. You will face obstacles you never dreamed of, and will overcome them. The thing is we have to be willing to be made to feel uncomfortable. I find that not many are. We eschew that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead of facing our fears, we often give in them labelling it wisdom. Whoever said this world is a safe place?

Now I’m not here suggesting that the horror story be all that we read; rather that we make it a practice to step outside our comfort zones. It may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, but I think it’s ultimately rewarding. Beyond that, there is precious little other fiction where the veil betwixt the natural and supernatural is so thin–is rent in twain. Horror, and all fantasy fiction for that matter, treats the supernatural as de rigueur–as a matter of fact. Because we, at least those of us who call ourselves christians, live in those two worlds all the time everyday. To us, the supernatural is real. To the writer of fiction, while it might not be real, it at least reflects a worldview much closer to our own; namely, that there are forces which lie outside the realm of physics and rationality. Which can’t be neatly categorized or explained. Supernatural/horror/fantasy fiction, done right, allows for the most of epic of confrontations between good and evil with a capital “E.” In this way, we come nearer in approach to a biblical worldview than we would say a Tom Clancy, or a Lee Child, novel. In those, man is the architect of the evil depicted upon the story’s stage; in Tolkien, there is Sauron. In Harry Potter, Voldemort. In King’s The Stand, there is Flagg. Each of these, whether the author intended or no, comes closer to depicting the world as it is; namely, that there is an enemy, Satan, who is the author of evil. That there is in fact a transcendent evil originating outside our species.

This is why I both read, and write, horror stories.

Beyond that, these stories make us feel something–even if it’s revulsion. They are visceral, and as such can’t be ignored. Like a roller coaster, there are chills and thrills, but ultimately the ride comes to an end, and we get off. Hopefully, we take enough with us to counteract the effects of world which seeks to lull us to sleep, to pull the wool over our eyes. This is why I read and write horror stories.

How about you? Do you read horror stories?

  Folks, I’m excited today to feature an interview with newly published author, Chad Jones. According to Chad, he’s been writing stories since grade school. Most, however, he’s completed in the grey matter residing between his ears, leaving them there for his amusement. Sometimes, to his utter astonishment, these stories make their way out into the wider world. Casita 106 at the Red Pines is one such. Without further ado, here’s Chad:

(Following is a transcript of a telephone interview).

“Chad, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.”

“Sure. Flying monkeys couldn’t drag me away. Or maybe they could. Anyway. You wanted to talk about my new ebook, right?”

“Yes, that’s correct. First of all, you’re a Christian, right?”

“Yes, I am. Have been since nineteen eighty-eight. This has come up before, and I think I know where you’re going with this. See, here’s the thing just because I’m a Christian it doesn’t always follow that I’m going write quote-unquote Christian stories. Sometimes an idea grabs me, and I’ve got to follow it. The way I see, often the most Christian thing I can do is make the best art I can, and not just throw in explicit references to Jesus at every turn. Make sense?”

“I see where you’re coming from. So if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is that a story starts with an idea, which comes to life in the characters, and grows organically from there?”

“I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Without living breathing characters there isn’t much to go on. Even a killer idea isn’t enough to save a story with characters that you, the writer, don’t care about. Really what I’m about is that I want the reader to feel something. So I have to feel it first. Even if it’s revulsion.”

“Speaking of, Chad, there are some revolting things that happen in your new story, Casita 106 at the Red Pines. I have to ask: where do you get your ideas?”

“Everyone asks this. Here’s the deal: we writers don’t know. Some things come from snippets of conversations I have with my wife. For instance, one time we were talking about the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. It got me to thinking what would it be like if zombie Ed McMahon came to your door with a check? That idle conversation sparked an idea that’s grown into a work in progress. Other times, it’s events. Casita came out of a trip my family and I took to Sedona, which is this really rich, beautiful, weird place. Part of a microwave really did fall on my wife, and I actually did have a dream about the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Those things combined in my head in this sort of frisson and Casita was the result.”

“That’s interesting. Thanks for the insight, Chad. But, c’mon, horror? I mean why do you write horror? Is that a very Christian thing to do?”

“I’m going to paraphrase the late C.S. Lewis here. He said that if one is a lawyer, or bricklayer, or whatever, one shouldn’t necessarily seek to leave one’s profession because one has converted to Christianity. God, he said, wants more Christian lawyers, et cetera. So it is with me. Horror is a genre I grew up loving, and found that that love didn’t dissipate just because I’d become a Christian. To quote director Scott Derrickson, “horror is the genre of non-denial.” We’re forced to confront our fears, and yet we’re able to do so in a safe, vicarious manner. Moreover, in my mind the genre is perfectly suited to explore the big questions of life, the universe, and everything. We are presented with ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and see how they respond. We get to ask ourselves: how would we respond? We learn something about ourselves while enjoying a rollicking good yarn. Or a good fright.”

“So you’re saying that horror puts the reader in a crucible along  with the characters in a story, allowing them to share the experience? And decide what they might, or might not, do in a similar situation?”

“Something like that, yes. Have you watched the Walking Dead? That show is rife with questions of morality, faith, trying to hold onto our essential humanity while simultaneously trying to survive. Horror allows us to focus a high lens, or microscope, on these issues. They’re closer to the surface.”

“I see what you’re saying. How does that apply to your story, Casita?”

“Well, of the top of my head, we’ve got the ordinary people in a seemingly ordinary situation. They’re seemingly innocents. And then you as the reader find out, as the story progresses, that neither they, nor the situation is as they first appeared. Then we’ve got other characters who, in the name of survival, are complicit in something… I can’t say anymore here. Don’t want to spoil things for anyone who hasn’t read the story yet. I will say this: I wanted to take some of the normal horror tropes, and either run with them, or appear to run with them, and thereby subvert the reader’s expectations.”

“Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this, Chad. Before we go, can I ask what’s ahead for you?”

“Sure, it’s your blog, man. You can ask whatever you want. To answer your question: I’ve a zombie story in the pipeline. When done, it will likely be the longest thing I’ve ever written. Beyond that, there’s a short story about an exotic dinner that isn’t what it seems. There are plans for a novel, but that’s a little ways down the road.”

“Those sound interesting. I look forward to reading them.”

“Thanks. Me, too.”

“Chad, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in with us. Is there anything else you would like readers to know?”

“No problem. Always willing to open up my schedule for you. Uh, yeah; folks can find Casita 106 at the Red Pines on Amazon. It’s hopefully a fun, quick ride for them with just enough tension (and a little humor) to keep them reading to the last page.”  

  
“Thanks, Chad. Good talking to you. Looking forward to the next time we get to check in. By the way, do you have an Internet presence? I know you writer types often seclude yourselves.”

“Sure. I can be found at RandomlyChad.com, and on Facebook at RandomlyChad. Check ’em out, folks.”

“Thanks, Chad.”

“Anytime. Goodbye.”

This topic, in your mind gentle reader, may seem far afield of the faith once delivered to the saints. But I assure you it’s not.

How not?

Both horror (films, books, etc.), and Christianity force us to take unflinching looks within ourselves at the skull beneath the skin. We are made to confront our fears, lay them bare. This is often an uncomfortable process, and many there are who just won’t go there. Just as Jesus vicariously suffered and died for us, so, too, allows us to vicariously confront our fears (in a safe environment). It is in the words of director Scott Derrickson, “the genre of non-denial.” And rather than adding to the real horrors of the world, the genre gives us way to deal with, process, and understand the horrors of this world.

Additionally, I find that the genre is not so much about making us afraid (although it does do that), but rather about catharsis–about releasing the tension which it builds within us. We return to the real world better able to cope with difficulties we’re facing in our lives.

Nota bene: as with a balanced diet, horror media should not be all we consume. Because balance is the key to life, like vitamins, we should take it in controlled doses. Now this may not be a prescription for everyone, but I will say that I find far too many Christians who don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. Who don’t like to confront their fears. Yes, I know the Scriptures say that “perfect love casts out fear.” Who amongst us, however, has been perfected? If we say we don’t have any fears, we’re lying.

The great C.S. Lewis (he being dead yet speaketh), once said that “we ought to come to God with what is in us. Not with what we think should be in us.” The point being that God already knows all of our fears, failures, flaws anyway.

So we may as well be honest.

And in my view, the horror genre helps us do just that: be honest. Be taking that unflinching look, by confronting us with what’s already inside.

That, my friends, is my $.02. You may have come up with a different equation, or come to a different conclusion. If so, please sound off in the comments below.

Thanks as always for reading!

Yesterday, I wrote Quiet Tragedy: Through a Child’s Eyes, telling my tale of being a child of divorce. As these things often do, it couldn’t have come at a worse time in my life. The fact is, what he was in my childhood–neglectful, distant, closed off–my dad only became more of in my adolescence.

Now he was not only emotionally unavailable, but physically as well. He was not, and has not been, a presence in my life. In the absence of his influence (my mom had to sometimes work two, and three, jobs to keep our home), was a vacuum.

What did my life mean? Who was going to tell me, give me the tools to carve meaning out of the swirling chaos? With dad gone, and my mom overwhelmed, there was porn. (Which I have written of before, and have no desire to rehash now. Search the archives). It was a (poor) substitute for real relationship, and though I looked, it gave me no significance.

Another avenue was reading–perhaps there I could find some meaning? I did–in spades. I was particularly drawn to the horror, and fantasy, genres. Both very different from one another, and yet somehow the same. Though I could not have articulated it at the time, both allowed stark explorations of good and evil in stunning bas relief. Everything was heightened, intensified. Where they diverged was in my unarticulated longing, and approach:

From fantasy, I desired an escape from a life which did not make sense. Horror, however, forced me to find meaning in the chaos. It is, in the words of director Scott Derrickson, the “genre of non-denial.” It does not let one off the hook; as such, it makes us very uncomfortable.

Because we must confront not only the evil we see in the world around, but that which lurks hidden in out own hearts.

Both genres, however disparate birthed in me a love of tales of epic conflicts between the forces of good and evil. From both I learned that evil is a force which must be reckoned with.

And it was up to me–conflicted,  tortured as I may be–to choose carefully my path. Would I be, through choices large, or small, through incidents of seeming insignificance, the hero, or the villain?

It is a choice which is laid everyday before us all.

Which is why I still enjoy a tale well-told–whether it be horror, or fantasy. The best of both both reflect, and illuminate, our condition without being preachy. Which is why I so thoroughly enjoyed this year’s The Conjuring. It was a scary tale well-told. It had something to say about the pervasiveness of evil, and how it must be resisted. It did so without glorifying that evil.

It just presented it as it is.

I have no problems with, or qualms about seeing, movies such as this. No matter the setting or subject matter. Some may disagree with me on this–and that’s okay. I understand. We all have differing convictions and comfort levels. (Which we seem to be quite inconsistent in applying. I know of Christians who will happily read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but won’t go anywhere near Harry Potter).

Problems often arise when we try to foist our convictions upon one another, because how could you not see it that way? What’s wrong with you? Are you in sin, or something? (I once had some dear people I love and respect stage a quasi-intervention because they knew I read, and enjoyed, the Harry Potter series).

You get the point.

If these stories help me to confront the darkness both within, and without, then who are you to say? Let me enjoy what I enjoy without getting in my way. I promise to extend to you the same courtesy and grace.

We need to be Bereans about these things and think critically. Watching (or reading) depctions of evil (as long as it is portrayed as evil) is not the same as participating in evil. Watching (or again reading) depictions of magic is not the same as participating in magic. Magic is a long-used literary device. And while a well-meaning faction of us may decry Harry, where is the outcry against:

C.S. Lewis
J.R.R. Tolkien
Charles Williams
George MacDonald

All were Christians; all depicted magic and/or the supernatural in their works. Yet the get a pass.

Why is that?

Which brings me to another point about fantasy and horror books and films:

The veil is torn, the curtain thin between the seen and the unseen. The supernatural is taken for granted. Isn’t it interesting that, in only the most fantastical of works, is reality presented as it is? That there is a whole unseen world out there that must be reckoned with? And why do so often shun such works?

I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Do you enjoy fantasy, or horror, films (or books)? What are some of your favorites?