/ / Articles

What Gives You Nightmares?

Last Friday, our guest blogger, author Wayne Thomas Batson, wrote about fantasy as a vehicle for soul searching. His remarks reminded me of what I read from Anne Rice when she announced her conversion (since revoked) to the Catholic faith. […]

Last Friday, our guest blogger, author Wayne Thomas Batson, wrote about fantasy as a vehicle for soul searching. His remarks reminded me of what I read from Anne Rice when she announced her conversion (since revoked) to the Catholic faith.

As she states, even in her vampire novels she was exploring the spiritual:

Much could be said, and has been said, about all of my works. I would like to say that the one thing which unites them is the theme of the moral and spiritual quest

Apparently the search continues in the second book of her angel series Of Love And Evil.

Interesting!

B&H Books re-released Lee's debut novel last year

I have one friend who refuses to read Tosca Lee‘s Demon: A Memoir because it is too real. After all, demons exist. Instead, this friend prefers to read and write about make-believe monsters — vampires and zombies, selkies, werewolves, and the like.

All those creatures are too horrible for me, at least if they take center stage in the story. I saw an old black and white version of Frankenstein’s Monster when I was a kid, and had nightmares for weeks. It was months before I could go downstairs to our basement level bedrooms without imagining a monster waiting in the dark.

Ever since, I’ve preferred something akin to the mythical creatures who existed in a pretend place and a pretend time — balrogs and orcs, Calormenes and Tash, bisonbecks and blimmets.

The greater distance allows me to examine the war between good and evil, much as Anne Rice’s vampires apparently allowed her to look at the same:

Interview with the Vampire, the novel that brought me to public attention, is about the near despair of an alienated being who searches the world for some hope that his existence can have meaning. His vampire nature is clearly a metaphor for human consciousness or moral awareness. The major theme of the novel is the misery of this character because he cannot find redemption and does not have the strength to end the evil of which he knows himself to be a part.

I have to admit, for years I never considered the possibility that horror had anything to do with an exploration of the spiritual. I looked at stories with vampire protagonists as a glorification of evil.

Anne Rice says it’s not so, at least in her stories:

Evil is never glorified in these books; on the contrary, the continuing battle against evil is the subject of the work. The search for the good is the subject of the work.

The battle against evil is the subject of fantasy, too, but why is horror, or supernatural suspense, as we call it in Christian fiction, so much darker? Why does it induce nightmares in some of us and make others shudder so much we’d just as soon read something else, thank you very much!

I can only postulate answers to that question because I fall into that latter group. Hence, I’m speaking from what I think — which dictates what I decide to read, or rather, not to read — so I’m aware my perception might be completely skewered. Nevertheless, here’s my speculation: could it be the darkness of dark literature comes from the point of view — such as might have occurred had Lord of the Rings been written from Saurman’s perspective or The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe from the standpoint of the witch?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting something like Wicked by Gregory Maguire that apparently told the story of the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. From what I have heard, her evil nature is softened if not explained away by a look at her troubled youth and the roots of her self-loathing.

On second thought, perhaps that one actually is a good illustration, though I suspect less dark than what I had in mind because Oz is so firmly rooted in our cultural imagination as pretend. Interestingly, Publisher’s Weekly called it a “meditation on good and evil, God and free will.”

So I wonder. Am I right that horror or supernatural suspense explores evil and good from a different perspective than fantasy, or is there some other major difference I’m missing?

And in the end, does it give you nightmares? 😕

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Patrick
Guest

Dark stories take minds to dark places. Sometimes I feel that is needed as a… I want to say “reality check” but more accurately the exaggeration of darkness in those sorts of tales seemed to pull my naivety into greater awareness of the dark. I prefer to hold “the world is good” perspective and drift too far into positive distortions of the world we live in… but lately that optimistic bias is hard for me to get to anymore. My paying job is a counselor for abused children. I’ve only done this a few years and I am very sensitive to the darkness theses days and need no reminders of it. I know I’m part of the Kingdom whose victory is already known to be future reality- but it’s painfully not yet here. I have read no horror and can’t even stand to watch the news since I’ve taken this job. The horrors are really out there and more real and prevalent than most people would suspect. I’m reading more fantasy, enjoying the positive perspective of good overcoming evil. I need that now. But I’ve been where my awareness of the battle for Good needed the help of authors like Frank Peretti.

I can see that the Light or Dark tone of the story does have a lot to do with the perspective- which character’s eyes do we see the story from, and how does that character see their world. Do they struggle against external evils, against internal evils, or are they mixed up seeing evil as good and good as evil? When we select the books we read why do we pick them? Do we pick books that resonate with the way we see the world ourselves? Are there others like me that intentionally seek balance? Or do we (as it seems to me most people do) more often reinforce the biases we already hold with the stories we choose to fill our minds with?

I’m also curios about “monsters” and what our monsters are. What do they represent to us? Do we see ourselves as monsters? Are we naturally that way or is it more like a disease we are seeking a cure from? Are the monsters all evil? Should they be? Can they be redeemed? Were they part of the creation of this world or do they come from somewhere else? What are our monsters in our lives? If you can identify that in a real way for your readers you will likely give them nightmares and a lasting impression- I hope that it’s a positive lesson.

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

Taxes.

Kaci Hill
Member

Score.

Deena @ My Bookshelf
Guest

I’m a fan of the new burgeoning Christian horror genre, but I must admit to some doubts about my love for it. First and foremost, the writer needs to take great care that evil, monsters, darkness, etc. never, ever be glorified. That’s what the general marketplace tends to do, and such glorification makes those kinds of stories dangerous, especially when geared toward a young audience.

However, I’ve read some highly skilled authors who can take that darkness and fear of things that go bump in the night and make the light shine all the brighter. By magnifying God’s light and glory and truth in such a way I tend to appreciate it all the more.

These stories are definitely not for the faint of heart, but with a world so desperately fascinated by the supernatural, my hope is that a novel by Mike Dellosso, Eric Wilson, Tim Downs or Robert Liparulo (just to name a few I love) will fall into the right hands and reveal the truth and power of God’s love more than surpasses the evil facade that the enemy portrays in most supernatural literature.

The danger is in just how dark should we go in our reading and our writing. Honestly, I’ve read some stories that make me wonder about the minds that create such tales…

Zoe
Guest

Actually, I’m kind of in the same ballpark as your friend as far as what scares me. LOTR, Narnia, and the like never gave me even an uneasy night’s sleep. But Randy Alcorn’s Ishbane Conspiracy gave me a panic attack that lasted maybe half an hour in the middle of the night. Ever since then, I’ve taken to reading potentially scary things during the day, and preferably around other people (because I had read The Screwtape Letters at a church camp and although it was eerie, I had been fine).

I don’t think it’s that demons are inherently scarier than monsters, but that books like Screwtape and Ishbane and Demon (which I haven’t read yet but really want to) get into a demon’s mind and that is a much more subtle, but far deeper, kind of creepy.

Marion
Guest

Well, the horror genre has been the genre I have never been able to get into. Christian or Secular.

I have read some Dean Koontz’s books over the years and even his novels are a mixture of sci-fi, mystery, horror, and thriller at the same time.

I’m with Becky about having my own evil to deal with it….instead of reading it in a story.

But, I do think Christian novelists should be write about evil and see if it there is any redemptive value in the context of the story. Or even show the opposite on how evil can take someone totally away from God and have to deal with the consequences of that decision.

Marion
Guest

Becky,

I’ve read about 10 of Koontz’s novels.

My favorites from Dean Koontz are Cold Fire and Strangers.

Cold Fire is Koontz’s take on the Superhero/Savior/Tortured Soul Persona.

Strangers is his big novel and deals with friendships and how people are connected together.

He does quite a bit of moralizing in his novels and has a strong libertarian streak. But, he has included Christian themes in some of his novels.

His book Hideaway deals with nature of evil and has some Christian principles included in the story.

Try one of those three and I would like to know what you think about them.

Marion
kammbia1.wordpress.com

trackback

[…] month I wrote an article for Speculative Faith about the horror genre entitled “What Gives You Nightmares?” It was a bit of a reversal for me, as I admitted that I now understand books classified as horror […]

Galadriel
Guest

I like creepies, because
it makes me aware I am currently safe from it.
it reminds me how powerful the light is
…well, I’m sick of low-stakes like PBS kids shows

Kaci Hill
Member

I like the idea that writers delve into the darkness so readers don’t have to.
 
“Follow the light. Don’t be afraid of the shadows it creates.” ~ Ted Dekker