ESB: Mike, thanks for joining us. You’ve written supernatural/paranormal/fantastical novels, such as The Ghost Box and The Telling, as well as shared prolific thoughts at MikeDuran.com. What led to you branching out into this nonfiction book, and why explore the topic of horror?
Mike: Well, it’s an idea that’s been fermenting for a while.
Back in 2007, I attended a Christian writer’s conference in nearby Orange County, California. Dave Long, who at the time was an acquisition editor for Bethany House, hosted a workshop on the state of the Christian fiction market. He mentioned T.L. Hines’ then-newly released novel Waking Lazarus. The story is about a man who dies, is resuscitated multiple times, and as a result, discovers he possesses clairvoyant-like powers.
During his lecture, Long referenced Hines’ novel as horror, with this caveat: “Christians don’t like the word ‘horror,’ so the book is labeled as Supernatural Suspense.” It got me thinking about why the term was so oft-putting for evangelical readers and publishers, especially when so many horror tropes are rooted in a biblical worldview.
Over the years, observing the Christian market and interacting with writer fans and friends has reinforced the tenuous relationship between evangelicals and the horror genre.
Much of it relates to the branding of contemporary Christian fiction. Horror is a tough fit in a market where “safe,” “inspirational,” and “family-friendly” have become monikers for our brand. But I also discovered something more troubling: a lack of compelling arguments for the incompatibility of a biblical worldview and the horror genre.
I wrote Christian Horror with the idea of building a case for evangelicals reassessing the genre while attempting to answer some of the most common objections.
ESB: For my part, I’m not a horror-genre “buff.” I don’t care for films about zombies, demon possessions, or poor folks chained in prisons and forced to play games. But I know this book is necessary because other stories include horror images; also, horror is so prevalent in our culture. What could you say to Christians who are open to fantasy but recoil from “horror”?
Mike: In a way, people should recoil from horror. I mean, the genre often aims to stir visceral and powerful emotions. Frankly, I’d be more concerned about someone who delights in the dark and horrific than someone who is repelled by it.To those who are open to fantasy but reject horror, I would point out that some fellow Christians also reject fantasy as a viable genre for believers. Ironically, they do so by making similar objections as the ones used against horror — “Scripture condemns the occult, magic, sorcery, witchcraft, etc.” So Christians who enjoy fantasy are often forced to develop their own apologetic to justify their enjoyment of the genre.
In both cases, what we’re dealing with is a certain approach to art and culture. The lines are just drawn differently per group.
I’ve discovered that in many cases what people are repulsed by is a caricature of the genre, not what actually comprises the entire genre. For example, when they think of horror they immediately think of slashers, gore, or torture porn. But these represent a fairly small segment of the canon of horror.
For those who reject horror simply on the basis of gore, it’s helpful to point out “classic” novels like The Picture of Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, I Am Legend, or Something Wicked This Way Comes which contain little graphic content.
Likewise, there’s plenty of contemporary horror films that veer away from excessive blood and guts. Films like Signs, Rear Window, Misery, or even the Blair Witch Project contain minimal to no gore. Point being, it’s unfair to lump all horror into the category of “gore.”
ESB: What horror-genre stories — films, novels, television — have captivated you? Why might these interest you more than other genres popular with Christians, especially fantasy?
Mike: I’m a fantasy fan, so I’d have a hard time favoring one genre over the other.
In reality, horror elements occur in many fantasy novels and films. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy contains many horrific images: the Ring Wraiths, the Dead Army, and Saruman (portrayed fittingly by horror film veteran Christopher Lee), just to name a few.
As a kid, I was weaned on The Twilight Zone and Ray Bradbury, both which regularly veered into the horror genre. Perhaps what fascinated me — and continues to fascinate me — is the way so much horror assumes a real spiritual dimension and explores the realm of the supernatural. Sure, some of those ventures are anything but orthodoxy. Nevertheless, in many horror tales there is an assumption that we live in a supernatural universe, one filled with bizarre phenomena and non-human beings. This jibes with Scripture.
Horror may be the one genre that regularly emphasizes a supernatural, non-materialistic view of the world. Hell, heaven, the afterlife, demons, sin and divine judgment are recurrent themes in the horror genre. Coincidentally, they are all tethered to a biblical worldview.
To be continued Friday, June 5. You can read a preview of Christian Horror or purchase the book on Amazon.