What is horror fiction?
Genreflecting defines it this way: “A horror text is one that contains a monster, whether it be supernatural, human, or a metaphor for psychological torment.” Anthony Fonseca and June Pulliam, Hooked on Horror Wikipedia says this: Horror fiction is, broadly, fiction in any medium intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the reader. Historically, the cause of the horror experience has often been the intrusion of an evil, or occasionally misunderstood, supernatural element into everyday human experience. Wikipedia goes on to say horror often overlaps with fantasy and science fiction.
There are even subgenres of horror from ghost stories to demonic possession to splatterpunk. (I don’t read splatterpunk, so don’t worry about me going there.)
My personal definition of horror literature concentrates mostly on the unsettling aspects. For example Psycho is considered a masterful suspense movie by most. To me it borders on horror first because of the shower scene. I saw the movie on TV as an adult and I could not close the shower curtain for two months. I realize I’m pushing here, but I felt quite unsettled and downright scared. Then Norman Bates dressed up like Mama and I was done.
The question I think is more important for this discussion is “Why should anyone even consider horror fiction a valid genre for a Christian?” Now I do have to stop and say here I don’t buy ‘scaring’ someone into salvation with stories of hell and brimstone and eternally smelling like rotten eggs. You might scare them to the alter, but the transaction taking place there is based on Grace, Mercy, and Love.
But, the Bible includes some horrific scenes. The Bible and the Horror Genre outlines some of these. God can use horror to teach us, to turn us away from sin, to bring us closer to Him. I think God would not have included the story of the dogs licking up King Ahab’s blood if it didn’t serve a purpose. And it’s certainly a scene right out of good horror.
I have a discussion in every Christian writing group I’ve ever participated in.
Goes like this: “Who’s your favorite writer?” asks the unsuspecting writer person.
“Stephen King,” I say.
“I don’t know how you can read that crap,” unsuspecting writer person replies, usually clutching chest. “Have you ever read anything by King?” I already know this answer.
“Of course not. I just don’t think a good Christian should read that stuff.” Unsuspecting writer person turns to walk away.
“I’m not a good Christian, just a forgiven one,” I say under my breath. I don’t want to be rude.
One thing I love about King’s stories, especially the ones from the past 17-18 years is that the ‘good’ guy usually wins. He’s beat up, sometimes lost everything, but he wins. His hope is restored. He overcomes the darkness.
Try the last few paragraphs of King’s book Desperation:
David took the blue pass. “Of course. First John, chapter four, verse eight. ‘God is love.’”
She looked at him for a long time. “Is he, David? Is he love?”
“Oh, yes,” David said. He folded the pass along its crease. “I guess he’s sort of …everything.” Horror can show the triumph of the human spirit. Digging into our deep, dark, moldy places can allow us to see Grace, can give us Hope.
Next week I want to talk about a couple of sites and writers specific to Christian Horror.