Hey folks! I can’t thank you enough for staying on board for this series. You may have read “Part 1,” in the title of this post and are now slightly confused, and maybe a little irritated. Why make the last post of the Why Christians Should Write Genre Fiction series into a 2-parter? Because I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but I’m stubborn so I’ll make it work.
This week and next I will be writing about the genre of Horror, and why Christians should write it. I suspect I’m in precarious waters because horror often involves the most explicit portrayals of evil, whether that be ghosts, demons, or masked, crazed killers. And many Christians feel wary at best at the prospect of horror. I grew up being very wary myself. “Should I expose myself to horror stories? How will they influence my mind and imagination and spirit?” Precarious. Yet I’ve been fascinated by monsters and the supernatural since I can remember. The question of what horror is or isn’t appropriate for Christians to absorb is complex and too nuanced for me to tackle here, but is it worth discussing. But in high school English I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and my cautious dabbling in horror literature began. So let’s talk about horror.
Last spring I read Stephen King’s breakout work, Carrie. Read it. If you only read one work of King’s, make it Carrie. For those of you haven’t read it, the book retells the events of a small town in Maine that is recovering from a hellish catastrophe. A 16 year old girl named Carrie, who is mercilessly bullied at school and lives with her fanatical “Christian” mother, discovers she has telekinetic abilities. She is humiliated at her prom where she is elected prom queen in an elaborate ruse and then she snaps, raining mass murder and mayhem upon the town. There’s much more that could be said, but this isn’t an edition of Minor Spoilers. Frankly, the book is terrifying. King’s use of multiple narrators to reveal the events which culminate in “the Carrie White incident” is captivating and eerie. The reader is informed almost immediately that something horrific has occurred, and as the pieces fall together the reader sees the events slowly building to the book’s inevitable climax.
And herein the terror lies. Not in the chaos and murder, not in the telekinetic destruction–the terror resides in that we should all recognize Carrie. Carrie is the girl who is abused at home and bullied at school. Her clothes are look frumpy and are not at all in vogue. She refrains from social interaction as much as possible and receives little help from school administrators and guidance counselors. In his memoir, On Writing, King admits that Carrie was an amalgamation of two girls he attended high school with. As I read Carrie, I could think of no less than three girls who were the archetypal Carrie in my school. What is terrifying about this story is that Carrie pours out revenge on her classmates for the abuse many of us have witnessed, experienced, or participated in throughout our adolescence. I, for one, asked myself “Would I have been complicit in the fostering of Carrie’s madness and destruction?” And I’m afraid I could have been.
Horror often includes questions or cautionary tales about consequences. Ghost stories, when done well, have more to say about the characters’ own past and what haunts them than it does about a supernatural being seeking revenge. Stories such as Carrie should cause us to reflect on how we’ve treated others. Horror should scare us not because it contains gratuitous gore or a preoccupation with the demonic, but because it can illustrate what grows in the darkness and beneath the surface of ignored social oppression or pathological abuse.
Christian should write horror because the genre can remind us that things like our actions, our treatment of others, and our secrets which remain unconfessed, all have consequences. The Book of Proverbs is full of this notion of cosmic causality, a kind of natural karma amidst human interaction. “Whoever sows injustice shall reap calamity and the rod of his fury will fail” (Proverbs 22:8). The apostle Paul echoes this in his epistle to the church in Galatia (check out Galatians 6:7).
I by no means want to imply that the death of Carrie’s classmates was “deserved,” or that Christians should write horror that is cold and callous to tragedy. Quite the contrary. The bright side of horror, or the positive spin on the cautionary tale, is that much of the horror we witness in our lives may be preventable. Horror helps us consider what seeds our actions are planting in another human being. What horror stories can implicitly acknowledge is that we are communal beings designed for fellowship. And when we resist that communal nature, convinced that our interactions have no effect on the proverbial other, or when we disregard those effects altogether, we abuse others. And we nurture hate.
There is a challenge for Christians in writing horror, however. What of grace? What of forgiveness and mercy? As Christians, we should be very vocal about grace, but grace is not without it’s own causality. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” There’s a moment of grace in Carrie. I won’t spoil it. But it is grace born out of kindness and empathy.
Christians should write horror because our tradition and our sacred text offer us that tension between grace and consequence. And we should long to explore that. Because sometimes grace and consequence coexist. And when there is no grace, it is horrific. But grace can spread from one person to another.
Maybe we can see the handprints of grace, while being scared witless.