Reasons Christians Don’t Read Horror (And Why They Should)

Blog | | Friday, June 15, 2012
We are called to think pure thoughts and meditate on that which is good. However, that does not mean we should live in denial about the darkness all around us. Nor should we eschew the horrific simply because it is unsettling. In fact, it is this “unsettling” that may make our stories more efficacious.


I have met many avid readers, particularly Christian readers, who refuse to read in the horror genre. They’ll read just about anything else—fantasy, romance, espionage, suspense, historical, science fiction. However, they “don’t do horror.”

I confess: I don’t quite get it.

Perhaps the most common reason Christian readers give for refusing to read horror is that horror is Dark … and Christianity is about Light. The Bible calls us to think about things that are true and good and virtuous, they say, usually quoting Philippians 4:8 or some variation for good measure. So why should we voluntarily scare ourselves? Why should we willfully subject our minds to disturbing images, carnage, depravity, the occult, or wickedness?

Granted, some of this reaction may be a reasonable response to gore. Thanks to effects technology, dismemberments and disemboweling are now status quo for Hollywood horror. And, frankly, it sells. Nevertheless, saying that all horror is gore is like saying that all romance is erotica. It’s an unfortunate stereotype. So refusal to read horror on the notion that it’s all splatter is misguided. In fact, some of the best classic horror – like The Haunting of Hill House, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, even Dracula – is relatively gore free.

But let me take this a step further: Even if gore is involved, I think a case could be made for not running from it, not closing our eyes to it. The famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa simply said, “The role of the artist is to not look away.” Christian artists and readers, perhaps more than any other group, should embrace this proverb. We should not “look away.” Our eyes should be wide open. I don’t mean that we should delight in evil, be captivated by the macabre, or celebrate darkness, but that our perspective of the human condition should be unflinching and particularly acute. Feel-good story-telling may have its place. But writers and readers — especially Christian writers and readers — who only subscribe to a “feel-good” world have violated an essential artistic, dare I say, biblical law … they have “looked away.”

The Bible is perhaps the greatest argument in favor of reading the horror genre. The Horror Writers Association puts it this way, “…the best selling book of all time, the Bible, could easily be labeled horror, for where else can you find fallen angels, demonic possessions, and an apocalypse absolutely terrifying in its majesty all in one volume?” Scripture contains scenes of gore, torment, destruction, demons, plagues, catastrophe, divine judgment and eternal anguish. The reader who wants to think only on what is “pure and good” may want to avoid such biblical stand-bys as the Fall of Man (Gen. 3), Noah’s Flood (Gen. 7), the Slaughter of the Firstborn (Ex. 11), the Destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19), the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20), and The Crucifixion of Christ (which involves one of the most brutal forms of execution ever devised). While the Bible’s message is one of redemption, that redemption unfolds amidst a dark world that is cannibalizing itself, pummeled by evil beings and barreling toward chaos and destruction. And we Christians are called to “not look away.”

Some will counter that the reality of evil is not justification to focus on it. Reading horror is focusing on darkness, rather than Light. No doubt, some read and/or watch horror to fuel prurient interests or feed depravity. (I can’t see any other reason why people would watch The Faces of Death except that they are disturbed individuals.) However, there are people who read other genres for the wrong reasons too. Some read romance novels to arouse sexual desire or replace its void. Some read fantasy novels to escape the mess they’ve made of their lives. Some read Amish lit because they simply can’t cope with the 21st century. So while some may, indeed, focus on horror as a means of dark fascination, this is not unique to readers of the horror genre. Readers of ANY genre can turn to novels as an unhealthy form of escapism or titillation.

But I would add, there’s a difference between what we look at / observe / encounter / ponder and what we choose to embrace. Just reading or watching something horrific does not make us horrible, any more than watching a car accident, robbery, adulterous affair, or elder abuse makes us compliant. Sure, fighting monsters might make us monsters (nod to Nietzsche), but this is not a good excuse to ignore the beasts. The Bible is not telling us to turn away from what is unlovely and impure, but to not dwell on them, to not allow the darkness to usurp our hope and resolve. So it’s not an issue of ignoring monsters, but learning to look in their eyes and battle them. Thus, Christians are commanded to NOT turn away from evil and misery. Refusing to look upon or acknowledge evil may in fact BE evil.

Then there are those who refuse to read horror on the grounds that it is shocking and disturbing, it evokes fear and dread. Satan traffics in fear, they say. God is not the author of fear, so why should we seek it out? Have they forgotten that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31)? Just ask Annanias and Saphira. Perhaps this is one reason why we’re commanded to work out our own salvation with “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) … as opposed to working out our salvation in ignorant bliss. And then you have that last book in the Bible which talks about cosmological disaster, global plagues, societal collapse, and a gaping abyss that is famished.

Point is: Scripture uses horrific language and imagery precisely TO shock us.

Jesus did this often. Take for instance the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, wherein the curtain descends upon the rich man, in anguish, pleading to return to earth to warn his brethren. Not quite the happy ending, is it? Robert Penn Warren put it this way: “The grotesque is one of the most obvious forms art may take to pierce the veil of familiarity, to stab us up from the drowse of the accustomed, to make us aware of the perilous paradoxicality of life.” Likewise, horror IS meant to shock. It is meant to unsettle us, rouse our complacency, “pierce the veil” of la-la land, and “stab us” from our stupor. Yes, God does not want you to live in fear. However, sometimes it IS fear that shocks us into living.

In summary, we are called to think pure thoughts and meditate on that which is good. However, that does not mean we should live in denial about the darkness all around us. Nor should we eschew the horrific simply because it is unsettling. In fact, it is this “unsettling” that may make our stories more efficacious. Prairie romances should have a place in the Christian catalog, but so should tales of woe. Scaring the wits out of people, sometimes, is the precursor to offering them hope. As long as there really is a place like Hell, then horror must inhabit part of the “Christian imagination.” As well as our bookshelves.

So I’m interested: Do you “do horror”? Why or why not?

- – - – -

Mike Duran writes supernatural suspense.

His just released novel, The Telling, is about a disfigured modern-day prophet who must overcome his own despair in time to seal one of nine mythical gates of hell.

You can learn more about him and his upcoming projects at mikeduran.com.

Get once-daily email updates for each new Speculative Faith blog column.

88 responses

  1. [...] I’m guest posting at Speculative Faith with a post entitled Reasons Christians Don’t Read Horror (and Why They Should). In it, I tackle some of the most common objections Christians use in refusing to read the horror [...]

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. As a horror reader and writer, my biggest argument for the genre is that it generally shows the defeat of evil, the rise from darkness. Yes, there is fear–but it’s something that is telling the character to *get out* of the situation. I think many of us watch/ read scary movies/books to rejoice in the character conquering fear and defeating the evil. Anyway, my point is, you can’t show the defeat of evil or the rise from darkness if you don’t show the evil or the darkness.

    And thank you for pointing out that it’s misguided to think splatter defines horror. Those movies have a very different purpose. They tend to focus on the evil to a level of almost presenting the antagonist as a protagonist. Maybe some readers/viewers don’t see it that way. But if you’re happy that Freddy is still kickin’ at the end, what does that say about you? I, personally, can’t stomach stories like that. I love reading dark books, but the good guy needs to win in the end. 

    Oddly, after saying all that, I have to admit I’ve written stories where the protagonist doesn’t make it out of the darkness. Yet that is the point of the story. I want my reader to be angry, to be sad, to see that darkness is not the goal and when we let it become the goal we trap ourselves.

    Oh, and I agree about Faces of Death. It’s not horror, not the way fiction is. In fiction, there is a struggle between good and evil, and as the viewer/reader we are given a choice of which side we want to root for. In FoD, the point is merely to feed morbid curiosity, often, as you said, to the point of disturbance. That is a whole different ballgame, and the level to which no Christian horror writer would sink, imho. 

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Okay, Kat, now I <i>have</i> to read your book(s). I’ve been plowing through Stephen King’s books over the course of almost a year. I love reading them. I find his books cathartic. There is redemption in his stories.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • Thanks, Susan! My novel isn’t horror–it’s YA fantasy–tbut I’ve had several people comment on certain dark elements and refer to my horror writing showing through. And I love Stephen King’s books! There is definitely redemption in his stories. A few of them I saw as overtly Christian. What I love about his stuff is that even with all the gore, the real horror comes from the psychological end. The deepest-darkest fears of the characters. My favorites of his so far are Lisey’s Story and Duma Key because they are so deeply psychological.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
        • Christian says:

          I haven’t read those two but I absolutely loved The Stand. It’s a huge tome but not a difficult read. Just be warned: there’s a lot of talk of phlegm.

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Sherry Thompson says:

      Mike, I am totally with you when it comes to Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House! I read it at a ridiculously  young age–and didn’t sleep for about a night & a half. But otherwise, it did me no harm. To the contrary, Jackson showed that in most cases, less is more when writing horror. The same principle applied with the -original- b&w adaptation of the book, which was titled simply The Haunting.
      Kat, you wrote, “my biggest argument for the genre is that it generally shows the defeat of evil, the rise from darkness…”
      In most cases, yes. I’m reminded of C S Lewis & Tolkien re fairy tales;. One of them said roughly, let there be dragons & monsters ibn children’s stories–but let them be soundly conquered at the end. And one of them said something about it not being wise to shield children entirely from all knowledge of evil, lest they not learn how to come to terms with it & overcome it in theory before they did to do so ihn practice. (Sorry about the vague references.)
      I’ve written one or two horror short stories, which like most of my short stories, have never been published. One of these has two endings–in which evil triumphs (the murderer evidently gets away) and in the other version, there’s an indication that the protagonist may yet gain the upper hand.
      And of course, there’s horror in my fantasy novels. Seabird has three sorcerers as the principle foes after all. The protagonist “sees” the true appearance of one of the three–the current state of that sorcerer’s soul if you will. It isn’t pretty. But the knowledge actually helps to defeat the antagonist.
      Earthbow has a variety of scenes that are horrific, sometimes perpetrated by what started off as fairly ordinary human beings who slipped slowly and insensibly into evil.  But Earthbow gives characters, even evil characters, chances to be redeemed and in spite of tragedies & pain, the good guys win. 
      I think that this is what makes the difference. We, aka most Christian fantasy horror readers/authors, need the knight as well as the dragon. Or, if you will, the good and pious dragon as well as the evil human. With some hope that good will ultimately triumph, even if many sacrifices come first. Don’t such stories echo aspects of “the greatest story  ever told” however faintly & subtly?
      Jesus the Creator went through horror to save us. Authors, artists, writers of music, etc have been likened to “sub-creators”, echoing what He did when making the universe in our own small ways. Until such time as evil is no more for once & all, I think we have an obligation to take it into account in at least certain types of story-telling. Not in all of it, of course! We still need tales for small children, lest they get bored & go find a copy of The Haunting of Hill House.
       
       

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
      • Christian says:

        I’ve never actually read any of Shirley Jackson’s stories, but I’ve heard they’re very good and influenced some of horror’s most famous writers like Stephen King (yay!) and Clive Barker (ick!).

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
        • Clive Barker is indeed bizarre, but he hits the nail squarely on the head with his concepts of Hell. For the most part, though, I agree that he is icky. 

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
          • Christian says:

            Absolutely and he’s a very creative writer but I feel his adult fiction celebrates the dark side of horror too much. I’ve enjoyed his Abarat books though.

            Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. I read horror partly for entertainment, but I also enjoy the feeling of hope that pervades the endings of such novels. I guess horror speaks to me because the genre parallels our own lives: we suffer immensely through trials and tribulations, but if we remain strong and keep our faith in God we will be rewarded greatly in the end.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. I ‘do horror’, always have to a certain extent. Psychological horror is fascinating and often points to an unseen reality, one where the nature of sin and consequences are very real and redemption is necessary. In many ways, horror communicates the reality of this life better than any other genre.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. I’ve always wished that there was someone who could be an answer to Lovecraft’s skill and style in the Christian market (though perhaps not be so intent on his Cosmic Horror as a philosophy). It seems silly, but I’ve always thought that if such a thing existed, I would be throwing money at it.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • I tried reading some Lovecraft stories but I haven’t ever quite finished one. The pervasive, insane atmosphere of evil is very well done but I don’t believe Lovecraft was ever a good writer. His writing style is overly heavy (makes Jane Austen seem like light reading!)

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Julius, you might want to check out an older post of mine entitled On Christian Horror and Atheist Dread. While it doesn’t directly address a Christian alternative to Lovecraft, it does wrestle with Lovecraftian themes as they relate to a biblical worldview.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • You could try the Christian writer who inspired Lovecraft–Arthur Machen. I specifically recommend his story “The White People.”

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • Obviously, Lovecraft had influences on writing but I didn’t know one was a Christian author. This must be a little known fact.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
        • Bother. I remember having heard of this guy several years ago when I was looking into the people who inspired Lovecraft’s writings but I never knew that he was a Christian. My mistake. He certainly isn’t a little-known author but widely acknowledged in speculative circles, perhaps just not widely read these days though.

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
        • Lovecraft makes no bones about Machen being a major influence on his work. I mean, we’re talking about the writer who inadvertently created the ongoing  ‘Angels of Mons’ legend with a simple short story.

          Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  6. Apart from agreeing with the well-articulated objections to, and distancing from, gore-for-its-own-sake in some horror novels and movies, my main objection to some horror would be this:

    It may show Satan or his demons being more powerful than they actually are. 

    I don’t object to a story that, for a final victory of light over darkness, has a higher ratio of “bad parts” to “good parts,” say, 9 to 1. However, some “Christian horror” novels I’ve read not only show the Devil as downright invincible (to a point), but offer lame explanations for manifestations of evil. Frank Peretti’s and Ted Dekker’s House, for instance, has what I could call diablo ex machinas all over the place. Something freaky going on? Sick smoke? Walls bleeding? Corpses reanimated? Oh, the Devil did it.

    As a reader I don’t buy this, and as a Christian who believes Christ on the Cross has vanquished the Devil’s real power — and that too many Christians give him credit for miraculous abilities when he just might get more mileage out of exaggerating his powers — my skepticism is even more heightened.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Stephen, yes and no. House, while no great novel, has some interesting ideas. The story is an exploration of the sinful human soul and how sin unchecked ultimately leads to eternal death. Satan influences the human heart but he isn’t the main ‘villain’ in the story. That much is clear.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Argh, I need to argue with you there, brother, mainly because you haven’t argued with me. My main point was that the story was riddled with one diablo ex machina after another. But since you brought up the interesting ideas, I wonder if you might follow up on that. Because from my memory, and according to my review at the time:

      Is House for Christians or non-Christians? The whole thing — let’s just come right out and say it — is an allegory for the evil of self and the need for Christ’s redemption. But in the manner presented, surely non-Christians will be even more confused about exactly what message is at the center of House, if not annoyed when the novel’s Christianity becomes quite blatant near the end.

      Meanwhile, thoughtful Christians will find nothing new here. The salvation allegory is quite transparent throughout, and like too many Christian novels, the authors never go beyond that. The only “final twist” that movie producer Ralph Winter says he “never saw coming” in a quote on the front cover, is the fact that there is no final twist, not really. Goodness vanquishes evil, though not without cost. The last Devil ex machinas explain away all the inhuman weirdness, and finally the leads are saved. That is all. Also, never look away after talking with an angel — you’ll double-take and then find it’s gone.

      Anyway, that’s a tangent. But that’s what this fine little comment-indenting system is for.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • Ah, the devil in the machine! I understand you now. I probably shouldn’t read your posts so late at night. The first 10 or so chapters of House were written by Peretti and the rest was written by Ted Dekker in some collaboration with him. By ‘interesting ideas’ I don’t mean anything revelatory as such but the idea of a hellish house actually being the unrepentant soul still intrigued me. Also, the character of Barsidious White (while not as compelling as Marsuvees Black, was still interesting). Finally, the way Dekker wrote scenes involving abuse were disturbing but not graphic or explicitly said, just suggested. That was probably the most well-written section of the book. Peretti and Dekker are very different people/authors and have hugely different writing styles and focuses. They’ve said that they didn’t work well together and it shows in the result. I think the book is quite a mess and the movie has it’s moments but it isn’t great either. Between the book and the movie though, you have a decent story. And the ending of the movie is far better than the book and more true to Dekker’s original vision for it. Not sure if I answered any of your questions.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Stephen, I’m not a huge stickler for requiring airtight theology in our fiction. (But that’s probably a topic for another time.) Which is why I don’t mind walls bleeding and other goofiness. The most important part of your argument, as I see it, is that “Christ on the Cross has vanquished the Devil’s real power.” But can we — do we need to — always show this? Some tales may require the devil “winning,” or some tolerable ambiguity. Did “The Exorcist” categorically show Christ as Victor? I don’t think so. Or “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”? Nevertheless, while both films probably exaggerate the devil’s power and are ambiguous about the power of Christ in relation to it, they still provide reasonable contemplation from a biblical standpoint.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. I don’t read much “horror” per say, but some of the Doctor Who episodes are absolutely terrifying–”Midnight,” anyone?  Most of those, however, show the fear as a very healthy response to a threatening situation that can be overcome with clear thinking and flight when the situation is too intense.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. As long as you call it “thriller”, I’ll totally read it. As soon as you call it “horror”, I think “splatter” and run the other way.
     
    Some horror elements I really enjoy. Vampires make great villains and werewolves have wonderful angst. Zombies are a fun apocalypse ( and they make great lawyers).
     
    Lovecraftian horror has its place, too. The thing so monstrously bad that you go insane just looking at it. I think that has roots in the truth, and why God had people and animals stoned if they touched Mount Sinai. Looking upon the Other Reality would drive you insane, whether you saw good or evil.
     
    I personally think psychological horror, like Turn of the Screw (is she crazy or are there really ghosts?) are the most fascinating for me. But different strokes. I can’t handle blood, guts, or child abuse. Other people have other levels of tolerance.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  9. Thanks for making my morning with a great read, Mike!

    Faith,

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  10. Hi Mike!
    I read and write in the horror/scifi genre. And I’m sure you can imagine the responses I get:

    What is this doing on a Christian site?
    I wouldn’t touch a so called Christian book with zombies or vampires in it.
    I can’t believe you ended it that way, shouldn’t Christian stories have a happy ending?

    Often I think it perpetuates that view society has that all Christians should be perfect people with no problems. Too many people even believe if something challenges a Christian’s faith, they’ll fall apart. Horror challenges the character’s faith with unmistakable clarity. And does it in such a way that it seems miraculous when the faith survives. That’s why I love Christian Horror.

    BTW, I’m halfway through The Telling right now, and can’t wait to put my review up on my blog next Tuesday!  
    Pauline’s recent blog: Today’s #FREE #Christian #Kindle #Ebooks – 6/15/2012 – #amreadingMy Profile

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  11. I don’t enjoy horror. It has less to do with content than mood.
    For example, Poe and Doyle both wrote about murders. But Poe’s mood is shadowy. Doyle’s is illuminating.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  12. OK, I’ll be the fly in the ointment. How about this for an acceptable reason not to read horror: I hate it!

    I find there to be enough fearful reality, I see no reason to add to it with pretend circumstances that generate fear. Especially if they create fear in things in the real world about which I previously had no fear.

    That to me is the biggest reason why I avoid horror.

    I used to object to the genre on the grounds that the definition I saw put the premium on the fear factor–to qualify as horror, the story has to scare the reader. I’m sorry, but that seems antithetical to the Christian message.

    Since then, however, I’ve been persuaded by people like Greg Mitchell, Brian Godawa (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of his apologetic), and Mike Dellosso that Christian horror  can show the truth of God’s triumph over evil in a powerful way.

    What I object to is the implication in this post and in Mike’s title that a Christian should read horror. I hope that was a form of hyperbole because, quite honestly, I don’t see any spiritual value in putting myself in a situation in which Satan takes up more of my thoughts than God does. That’s precisely what happens when I read horror.

    So sure, I’ll concede that for some readers, Christian horror may show them God’s power in ways they would not have otherwise seen it. I will not agree, however, that all Christians must therefore stick our noses in Satan’s face and watch him torture some poor unsaved sinner.

    I don’t need to read it in a book. The actuality of it is all around in real life.

    OK, while I’m at it, I might as well add–the idea that the Bible is a horror story is … a slanted view at best. Yes, the historical parts don’t cover up the fact that people died. Lots of people. But horror? There’s no mystery why they died, nothing lurking in the weeds waiting to grab them, nothing sinister luring them against their will. Rather, they died because they were doing exactly what they wanted to do in abject rebellion against God. That might be horrific, but I don’t find it to be comparable to contemporary horror.

    So now we can get back to giving Mike all the love he deserves for writing a good post about a touchy subject. ;-)

    Becky

    Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: Walking The Tight RopeMy Profile

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
    • Becky, so if you object to reading horror on the grounds that there is “enough fearful reality, [and you] see no reason to add to it with pretend circumstances that generate fear”, do you apply that to all the fiction you read? That means you could not read any novels that contain… car chases, robberies, gang killings, drug overdoses, spousal abuse, abortion, crimes of passion, crimes of greed, ritual killings, home invasions, kidnappings, jewel heists, child abduction, serial killings, etc., etc., etc. So are you avoiding all books with “fictional fear,” or just horror books?
       

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
      • Mike, I’m not sure how you reached the conclusion that I would choose not to read stories with the things you listed. Are you assuming that I fear those things? Not all reality, even unpleasant or horrific reality, scares me. I think spousal abuse is horrible. But guess what? I don’t fear it. ;-) Actually that’s the case with most of the things you listed.

        It has nothing to do with me covering my eyes or pretending things are not horrible that are. It has to do with what frightens me. I don’t like to be scared. Some people say they get a rush of adrenaline and that’s why they like to be scared. Not me. I do not want that kind of rush. I especially don’t want it to affect my subconscious so that I’m dreaming about it or jumping at shadows. There’s no point in putting myself through that. What is the good?

        I don’t care how redeeming a story is in the end even–and you’re talking about stories that may not resolve in a way that shows God’s power over evil–I don’t benefit from needlessly experiencing fear.

        There’s just no way I ought to read something that tempts me to take my eyes off of God, and that’s what I see fear doing. I start thinking that God can’t protect me. Why would I purposefully put myself in that position?

        Becky

         

        Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: Walking The Tight RopeMy Profile

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
        • “Mike, I’m not sure how you reached the conclusion that I would choose not to read stories with the things you listed. Are you assuming that I fear those things? Not all reality, even unpleasant or horrific reality, scares me.”

          Becky, I reached that because you also said this, “I find there to be enough fearful reality, I see no reason to add to it with pretend circumstances that generate fear.” There seems to be “fearful reality” all over the place. In fact, the basic aim of any drama is to create a certain “fear” — fear for the protagonist, fear of a killer, fear of disease, fear of break-up, fear of death, fear of science gone awry, etc., etc. (hence, my list). Apparently, you’re making a distinction between what is “horrible” and what YOU personally fear.
           

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
          • Mike, you said

            Apparently, you’re making a distinction between what is “horrible” and what YOU personally fear.

            Of course I am. Why would I shy away from reading something that makes someone else fearful? That’s like saying, I won’t go skydiving because someone else might be afraid of heights. Well, no, I won’t go skydiving because I’m afraid of heights.

            This is why I don’t believe it’s a helpful argument to say, “Christians ought to read horror” (emphasis mine–and this statement is my entire disagreement with your post). Others don’t know or understand what each person is facing. Should a woman who is a victim of demon possession (yes, I believe people today may still be demon possessed) have to read a horror story about demon possession? Should someone who came out of Wicca have to read a horror story about hauntings? Should someone who has battled schizophrenia have to read a horror story about emotional  trauma?

            I could go on.

            I find it simplistic to assume that every person who decides not to read horror is doing so out of some kind of refusal to look at the horror of this world. That idea doesn’t take into consideration people’s real lives (that they might be looking at horror daily), and it doesn’t take into consideration their emotional makeup (what sinful temptations reading horror might induce).

            Sure, make a case for horror being a genre that God can use, one that that can expose darkness. But when you say every Christian has to read it, I can’t agree.

            I would dare say, the only things we can conclude  every Christian should do are mentioned in Scripture. I’m not finding, Read horror there. ;-)

            Becky

            Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: It’s All About HimMy Profile

            Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • There is a kind of attitude that rejects horror because of a desire to ignore real evil in the world — and which, in effect, defies Paul’s admonition to “think about things that are … true” (Phi. 4:8). However, that’s different from declining to read books that emphasize horror in particular ways. Of course, “gray areas” exist. I found the film The Dark Knight (2008), with its implied suspense and horror that ultimately culminates in provocative challenges about true heroism, scary as heck at first — and on repeating viewings, more stimulating. But my wife simply doesn’t care for it.

      I’ll throw out another challenge — which is half devil’s-advocate fashion — below.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Just a thought, Rebecca, but have you read The Idea of the Holy by Christian philosopher Rudolf Otto? One of the main premises is that pure holiness is horrifying; terrifying; shocking; utterly stupefying. I write what I call ‘dark fantasy,’ and a large portion of my horror is ‘holy horror,’ not ‘satanic horror.’ I do incorporate some of the latter, but for the most part, if I can make a ten-year-old saint open her mouth so wide that two ne’er-do-wells with seared consciences fall into it on their way to Hell, then I’m happy. Maybe we should focus on more ‘holy horror?’

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • Christian says:

        Pure holiness, intense love – truly horrifying to our sinful human nature. A great concept and one severely lacking in many people’s understandings of God and his nature. Not sure what you mean by “ne’er-do-wells” though.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
        • Short for ‘never-do-well,’ a term used for ruffians, pirates, et al.

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
          • Christian says:

            Okay, thanks. Still, I don’t understand why pirates, ruffians etc. would be swallowed up by a little Christian girl. I’m not familiar with the illustration. Is it an Americanism?

            Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  13. Horror? Yes, I read horror. But sometimes I can’t handle darkness and fear, and I’ll go through long stretches w/o reading any horror at all. I must admit, though, that I don’t find Lovecraft to be even remotely scary. Sometimes, the underlying spirits I detect in literature scare me more than the actual stories, though. I try to look at what is motivating the author, the underlying symbolism, etc.  I’m not making any sense. I can’t think straight right now. If Christian authors are going to use occult symbolism, they’d better clarify where the novel is coming from. I was very confused by a Christian fantasy novel I just finished reading because there was no clarification whatsoever as to the source or purpose of the magic.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Gift of Discernment, sounds like. I understand what you are saying. Spirits in disguise. Nothing overt, yet there is true horror and evil imbedded in the actual spirit of the writing. Wow, that’s meaty. I am given pause to think more about my own work. Thank you, Jill.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  14. How about this for an acceptable reason not to read horror: I hate it!

    Not surprisingly, perhaps, on this one I agree with Becky. In fact, come to think of it, there are all kinds of issues you can win easily simply by saying: I don’t wanna.

    But in this case, methinks we can add some logic.

    I don’t read “horror” as a standalone genre for the same reason I don’t come home for lunch, open the refrigerator, and then pour about half a cup of hot sauce into a bowl. This also applies to romance. Each “genre” really works best when it’s sprinkled in with other ingredients.

    Or at best, each one needs to be used in equal amounts with other ingredients. After all, my hot-sauce analogy implies that horror or romance punch up dishes that may already be tasty on their own. Fair enough. Maybe they’re essential. But no one, then, dumps self-rising flour on a plate, grabs a spoon and digs in. The ingredient must be mixed with others, and likely baked, to be worth anything.

    Perhaps the fictitious demon Screwtape best explained, in backwards-fashion, why emphasizing “horror” over other life truths can naturally result in skewed views:

    Probably the scenes he [the unnamed human "patient" of Screwtape's demon nephew] is now witnessing will not provide material for an intellectual attack on his faith — your previous failures have put that out of your power. But there is a sort of attack on the emotions which can still be tried. It turns on making him feel, when first he sees human remains plastered on a wall, that this is “what the world is really like” and that all his religion has been a fantasy.

    You will notice that we have got them completely fogged about the meaning of the word “real”. They tell each other, of some great spiritual experience, “All that really happened was that you heard some music in a lighted building”; here “Real” means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had. On the other hand, they will also say “It’s all very well discussing that high dive as you sit here in an armchair, but wait till you get up there and see what it’s really like”: here “real” is being used in the opposite sense to mean, not the physical facts (which they know already while discussing the matter in armchairs) but the emotional effect those facts will have on a human consciousness. Either application of the word could be defended; but our business is to keep the two going at once so that the emotional value of the word “real” can be placed now on one side of the account, now on the other, as it happens to suit us.

    The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are “Real” while the spiritual elements are “subjective”; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist.

    Thus in birth the blood and pain are “real”, the rejoicing a mere subjective point of view; in death, the terror and ugliness reveal what death “really means”. The hatefulness of a hated person is “real” — in hatred you see men as they are, you are disillusioned; but the loveliness of a loved person is merely a subjective haze concealing a “real” core of sexual appetite or economic association. Wars and poverty are “really” horrible; peace and plenty are mere physical facts about which men happen to have certain sentiments. The creatures are always accusing one another of wanting “to cat the cake and have it”; but thanks to our labours they are more often in the predicament of paying for the cake and not eating it.

    Your patient, properly handled, will have no difficulty in regarding his emotion at the sight of human entrails as a revelation of Reality and his emotion at the sight of happy children or fair weather as mere sentiment[.]

    C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 30 (paragraphs breaks added for clarity in this format.)

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  15. I get where you are coming from because I lived there once too…

    but today I do not and will not read or watch fictional Horror. I won’t even watch the glimpses of the real horrors on the evening news. The real world already holds too much horror for anyone who has their eyes open. My work requires me to stare it down without flinching on a daily basis.  Why would I bother reading of fictional horrors?

    I choose not to dance with the monsters. If they want to fight me they can come to me where I stand. In the light. I do not run. If the darkness isn’t driving the story then we don’t have horror anymore, do we? God is the powerful one, not the underdog. He directs my adventures and I will not be afraid. Fantasy isn’t an escape for me as much as it is a reminder that Good Wins, and we are actively fighting the darkness. Chasing it, not running from it.

    Not closing our eyes to the Truth of the fall is one thing. To make evil out to be something that we should fear is quite another. Fear God alone. Though sin is the cause of all the “horrors” in the Bible, God is the one who carried out the judgments. The devil can do nothing that God does not allow, and God only allows what He can use for the Good of those who love Him.
    Patrick J. Moore’s recent blog: Worlds Collided (Dear Friend)My Profile

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    • Patrick, you say “If the darkness isn’t driving the story then we don’t have horror anymore, do we?” Sure we do. Have a look at The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto. There are two distinct kinds of horror. The kind you despise, and perhaps rightfully so, and the holy kind which has nothing to do with Satan.
       

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  16. Yes, Mike I do read horror, and write it. My science fiction series “The Windows of Heaven” ends in a psychological horror centered on the Tower of Babel. Ever ask just what in the human mind would need to be disturbed in order to divide something as fundamental to human thought and experience as language? The answer will give you nightmares. God bless!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  17. No, I don’t read horror. It’s just never interested me., but I’m planning on reading some Lovecraft this summer.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  18. I’m with Becky, I don’t like horror. Anytime I have read anything remotely horror, I end up with nightmares. So personally, I stay away from the genre. But that’s just me. I also don’t like roller coasters ;)
    Morgan L. Busse’s recent blog: Sex, Romance, and BooksMy Profile

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Morgan, I don’t like roller coasters either! Maybe there’s a connection! ;-)

      Becky

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: Walking The Tight RopeMy Profile

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Karin Neary says:

      I don’t like horror either. I won’t read it or watch it. Stuff like that gives me nightmares. I also don’t like rollercoasters…hmm.

      I also agree with Becky, and appreciate her comments “from the other side of the fence”. 

      Karin  

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  19. Let’s pretend I don’t (mostly) accept the Biblically based defense of horror. I do (to an extent). But this thought occurred to me earlier.

    Me: I don’t much like horror as a separate genre.

    Horror defender: But the Bible contains horror.

    Me: Exactly. The Bible contains horror. It is not altogether or majority horror.

    Thoughts?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Stephen, I touched on this at the end of my first comment:

      I might as well add–the idea that the Bible is a horror story is … a slanted view at best. Yes, the historical parts don’t cover up the fact that people died. Lots of people. But horror? There’s no mystery why they died, nothing lurking in the weeds waiting to grab them, nothing sinister luring them against their will. Rather, they died because they were doing exactly what they wanted to do in abject rebellion against God. That might be horrific, but I don’t find it to be comparable to contemporary horror.

      I thought afterward that I should have included a word about the books of prophecy too. Certainly there are warnings from God that should have induced fear in those who first heard those words–and by extension, any of us who are in the same condition.

      But being in relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ changes my perspective on those things. I don’t fear God’s wrath or retribution because Christ already took on God’s judgment against me, so I don’t read those passages as “horror,” though I suppose someone without Christ might see it that way.

      Becky

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: Walking The Tight RopeMy Profile

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  20. I am with some of the other posters in that I don’t condemn horror as a genre, and I don’t condemn Christians for reading horror, but I am not interested in reading it, myself.  I will occasionally watch old thrillers (like Alfred Hitchcock films…do those count as horror?) but it’s not my preferred genre.  I’m not interested in being majorly freaked out, creeped out, or horrified for my entertainment.  *shrug*  I also don’t think it is good to overly engross oneself in thinking about horrifying things.  Everything in moderation!  :)

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Only Psycho would count as horror.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • *whew* speaking of Alfred Hitchcock, I refer back to Jill’s comment that sometimes, and perhaps often, a work can be filled with demonic presence and not seem to be horrifying at all. I find this to be the case with much of Hitchcock’s work.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • A demonic presence, really? Only Psycho is considered horror. The rest of his works are suspense/thrillers. Can you explain yourself further?

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
        • I am speaking mainly of Hitchcock’s short film adaptations. Again, we’re talking about true subtlety here; a spirit behind a work, not the work itself. Someone on this thread pointed out that two writers can write about murder, and one can be truly disturbing while the other can be illuminating. It’s all about what spirit is inspiring the work, not necessarily what is being put forth as the story.

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
          • Christian says:

            Ah, true. So by ‘spirit’ of the story do you mean the character of the story or that Hitchcock was involved in occult practices and that you could discern the fallen were at work there? Thanks.

            Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  21. You’re preaching to the choir director here, Mike.
    Excellent sermon.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  22. I am reminded of the tagline for the Lost Genre Guild’s group anthology from a few years back: When forced to the edge of darkness, there’s only one way back – embrace the light. 

    I enjoy the dark side of Doctor Who and the Borg stuff in Trek, and more. I like world-smashing apocalyptic fiction and supernatural face-offs.

    I do NOT like the darkness prevalent in many current movies. Too often it comes off as hopeless, and disturbing just for the sake of it.

    So we see it is a matter of strong personal taste.  However, I run an imprint that claims to be the only one dedicated solely to Christian horror (Splashdown Darkwater) and I get very excited about stories that delve into the dark side in a way I can stand behind. Again, personal preference.

    But what is “horror”? It can surely overlap with supernatural, paranormal, thriller, suspense, but is not identical to any of these. I guess I prefer to use these other terms when talking about a specific book, because horror is a term that can be off-putting where the others are more correct.

    The books we publish at Darkwater are generally supernatural, dark fantasy or dark sci-fi, or some combination. And those are definitions I can live with and genres I enjoy very much. Horror may be applied as a blanket term, but I don’t consider it precise enough to use very often.

    And consider, you’re talking to someone who was psychologically traumatised by Batman :P 

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Grace, I think you make a good point by saying that horror “overlap[s] with supernatural, paranormal, thriller, suspense, but is not identical to any of these.” Many novels / films which are not coined “horror” contain horrific elements.  “Lord of the Rings” contains many horrific elements. Lewis’ “Til We Have Faces” contains a scene that bothered me for weeks. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” both novel and film, could be classified as horror. So I tend to see the genre as SO much bigger than just splatter or craven fear-mongering.

      And I really appreciate the work you’re doing with Splashdown Darkwater. Godspeed to you and your endeavors!

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  23. Excellent post, as always, Mike. You know where I stand. All I have to say, is this:

    Horror is a genre. It has it’s pluses and minuses. It also boasts those who labor in the craft with an eye to raising it to an art form, and those who appeal to base sensibilities. And, I’m gonna also say that as far as reading it and liking it, some folks are just “wired” a certain way.

    In other words: even given all the philosophical – and yes, spiritual – reasons why love and labor in and support the horror genre, I also just love stories with people fighting monsters and ghost hunting and ghoulies and all sorts of creepy crawlie weirdness from beyond the pale. If it’s weird, I want to read it. So, horror. And,there are times when I need lighter, more positive fare. That’s usually when I indulge in a Dean Koontz binge.

    Me, I’m steering clear of Amish Romance and anything written by Nicholas Sparks. To me, that’s true horror (tongue in cheek, of course. Sorta.)

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  24. This has come up several times in the comments — the idea that Christians SHOULD read horror. I actually had a paragraph in my original post addressing this, but removed it because the piece was becoming too long. I opened this post with these words: “I have met many avid readers, particularly Christian readers, who refuse to read in the horror genre.” The key phrase is “avid readers” — people who love to read, they enjoy the act of reading, the discipline, the rewards. By way of example, I used to refuse to read romance but took the challenge to review “Redeeming Love” on my blog. It was a fun experience and helped me realize I shouldn’t be so close-minded to reading other genres. Sure, I might prefer one genre over another. But categorically saying “I don’t do __________________ ” just seems wrong-headed. For more of my thoughts on this subject, see my post What Genres Do You Refuse To Read (and Why You Shouldn’t Refuse to Read Them).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  25. Mike,
    As always you have written a thought-provoking post. 
    Ironically, I just started reading Stephen King’s Bag of Bones last night.  I had not never read a Stephen King novel before and it has been on my reading bucket list to do before I’m outta here.  LOL!!
    For some reason, I don’t know why I didn’t want to read Horror novels.  Maybe I was like Becky and I didn’t want to have my mind flooded with those bad images.  But, the Book of Revelation has some horrifying images as well.  So I guess we have to be consistent…if our theology deals with it.
    Interesting topic.
    Marion

    Here’s the rest of my reading bucket list: http://kammbia1.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/wisdom-of-marion-2-17-what-is-your-reading-bucket-list/

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  26. [...] Great film by William Castle, by the way. I love a good comedy about ghosts. Using that as a lighthearted intro into a heavier subject, I want to talk  about the spirit, willing or not, behind works of art, whether these be written, filmed, painted, et cetera. Recently there has been an enlightening discussion about how the Horror genre and Christianity work together (or, according to some, do not work together at all). This thread can be found here. [...]

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  27. As a writer in the same genre I have to applaud Mike for tackling the topic. It’s not an easy one, but it is important nonetheless. In writing Christian horror, we are saddled with some of the excesses of works in the secular horror field, and that tends to color how our work is perceived. And while it is not an honest evaluation since each body of work should stand on its own merits, it is the reality in which we find ourselves.
    To that end, Kessie made a very telling comment in her post: “As long as you call it “thriller”, I’ll totally read it. As soon as you call it ‘horror’, I think ‘splatter’ and run the other way.” Kessie, I’m with you. I started out writing secular horror in the early 80s and when the spatterpunk craze was at it’s peak, I packed it in and moved on to other things. As Dean Koontz told me once, “…any fourteen year old with a word processor can write it.” a number of big name writers had to rebuild their careers after getting caught up in the splatter, and some never recovered.
    But that’s not even the biggest casualty from such fallout. The biggest casualty has been the knee-jerk reaction of many Christians to the word horror. I have a slightly different take on horror.
    It’s not really a genre.
    It’s an emotion. Just like fear, joy, love, sorrow, apprehension, and hundreds of others. and in any good “horror”novel (Christian or otherwise) if the writer is any good at all, you (and the characters) will experience an array of emotions. when Rosemary’s Baby made its debut, there was no horror genre. The same with The Exorcist. But when horror based novels began to sell, marketing departments in the publishing world created a niche. Hence…horror as a genre.
    The bottom line is, since we now have this genre, the work is simply a canvas for showing some aspect of the Christian faith. Redemption, salvation, love, sacrifice, grace, renewal, and any other aspect of the life which follows Christ. Do we use monsters? Yes. Haunted Houses? Yes. The ninth gate of Hell? Yes.
    Are they the point?
    No.
    Someone recently told me they wouldn’t read my book because they “didn’t want that kind of stuff” in their head. 
    They didn’t want a story of sacrifice, redemption, reclamation, and the ultimate power of Christ in their head? Go figure.
    Bravo Mike.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  28. Karin Neary says:

    I realize that my following comment may be like lighting a match in a powder room, but here goes…

    Christian Horror seems like an oxymoron to me. There. POOF.

    I agree we are called to not ignore difficult or fearful issues, but what horror does is focus too much on the macabre, frightening, gross aspects of the issues. You can deal with the issues effectively without dwelling on the gory details and fear factor.  

    Karin   
        
        

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • “You can deal with the issues effectively without dwelling on the gory details and fear factor.”
      It depends upon what “issues” you’re dealing with. One of my sons works in the emergency room of a local hospital. It’s impossible to avoid “the gory details” there. But most people are happy closing their eyes to such realities. We don’t want to gaze upon the realities of homelessness, car accidents, drug overdoses, and domestic abuse. Likewise, reading only sanitized fiction shelters us against some of the “emergency rooms” of culture. When Scripture speaks of hell, it indulges “gory details.” So why can’t we? How can Christians ever write about the “emergency rooms” of life without the “gory details”?

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • Karin Neary says:

        “How can Christians ever write about the “emergency rooms” of life without the “gory details”?”- Mike
         
         Easily, in my opinion. I think it all comes down to focus, and how you choose to describe it. I suppose even the word “gory” is subjective. What I find gory you might think tame. But, you can evoke powerful emotions and communicate the depravity of an “emergency room” situation without focusing on EVERY “squirt of blood”.

        “We don’t want to gaze upon the realities of homelessness, car accidents, drug overdoses, and domestic abuse. ” -Mike

        In and of themselves, these issues have nothing to do with horror in my opinion. I don’t even know why your bringing them up. Horror is turning any issue, even one so innocuous as a senoir prom or a child’s doll, into something that focuses excessively on evil and all its disturbing details.

        You can deal with all the evil of these “issues” without dealing with the “horror” of these issues. Horrific details are not necessary to demonstrate the evilness or direness of a situation or issue.

        In fact, I just finished reading Karen Hancock’s “Legend of the Guardian-King” series where the issue of rape was addressed. You did not live through the act, but you walked with the character through the depression and turmoil of emotions that followed and how it affected those around her. If the details of the act had been played out in a scene then I would consider that “horror”, but they were not necessary to demonstrate the evilness of such a situation and its effects.  

        Karin   
         
         
         

           
           
          

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
        • Karin, inherent in your comment is the notion that NOT showing gore is the Christian thing to do. Is it? If so, why? You might try getting that past King David who decapitated Goliath and displayed that fat noggin in celebratory fashion. Huzzah! And can you imagine the clean-up necessary after Noah’s Flood? Yuck! “The Passion of the Christ” was rated R for good reason. Although the actual crucifixion was probably NC-17. You wrote, “…you can evoke powerful emotions and communicate the depravity of an ‘emergency room’ situation without focusing on EVERY ‘squirt of blood’.” Well, I agree with this. Unless you’re arguing that we should NEVER show ANY blood or depravity, which is what I hear you saying. I have no problem with G rated Christianity, as long as we’re not trying to make it the standard for all Christian writers and readers.

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Mike, I honestly don’t believe that those who are standing so strong against Horror here are even reading all of the comments before commenting themselves. If they were, they would be giving room for ‘the idea of the holy’ as well as for all of the other insightful views found in this thread. But you know, this is so indicative of Christianity at large, and is one of the reasons why unbelievers so readily label us as pseudo-intellectual snobs (at best!) instead of calling us gods as they called Paul on the Isle of Malta. No, the oxymoron we should all look closer at is the ‘Christian Fear’ displayed by those who claim they study their Bibles… all of which include the ‘Dark Horror’ book of Revelation.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  29. Horror is my favorite genre to read as a Christian.  Horror, more often than not, is the ugly, evil side of reality.  It is this evil side of reality that great stories of redemption are spawned.  I learn more from horror writers like King, McCammon, Lovecraft, Bradbury and others because they scour the human soul in the midst of horrific surroundings. I love that. 

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  30. Robert McCammon is one of my favorite writers.  And he’s the type who transcends the horror genre – Boy’s Life and The Five are simply fabulous.  And for all those who don’t like gore (and I’m not trying to argue anyone into being a horror fan. I think you kinda are, or aren’t), please check out Ramsey Campbell, T. M. Wright, and most especially Charles L. Grant.  “Quiet horror” was such a revelation when I discovered it.
    Again, I have no desire to “convert” anyone. People like what they like.  But if you’re interested in horror and want to sidestep gratuitous violence and gore, “quiet horror” is based on atmosphere, mood, tension, and what the authors DON’T show you.  Which can be far more powerful, IMHO…

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Nice insight Kevin. and thanks for bringing up Charlie Grant. He was my mentor and friend for over 20 years, and you’re exactly right. He could do more with light and shadows than most writers can do with a flock of vampires and a truckload  of Zombies. Man, I still miss him.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  31. Well, I’m late to the party, but I’ll jump in here–especially since Becky was kind enough to plug me!! :)
    Obviously, as a horror writer, I love the monster stuff. Always have–even before I ever watched a scary movie. As kids we’d gravitate towards the flashlight and tell spooky stories at sleepovers and I loved every minute of it. But the ironic thing that I’m always telling people is that I actually DON’T like to be scared. I like safety and comfort and knowing that, at the end of the day, everything’s going to work itself out. So why do I like scary movies/books?
    Because they’re NOT scary. Car crashes are scary. Losing your child (even for a second, that feels like days) in Wal-Mart is scary. Finding out that you have a strange lump and you’re waiting for a call from the doctor…that is scary.
    I’ll take werewolves, guys in hockey masks, and tentacled beasts from beyond the realm of human understanding any day. Man, that stuff is fun! I write “horror” to ESCAPE horror. I write it to conquer my fears, to provide a rush of exhilaration with the promise that everything’s going to work out. Not always for my characters (because they have a habit of dying in the epic battle of good and evil), but for my Readers. You can read my books and share in my heroes’ fight against unspeakable horrors and I promise you that you’ll be safe. Nothing will jump out from the shadows at you. No one is really waiting for you around the corner. You’re perfectly safe. I invite people to come into my world of fantasy, face your greatest fears, but know that you’re going to be okay. Then take that boldness back with you into the real world. As a Christian, I believe I have perfect security in Christ, but I forget that. Sometimes it takes a good horror story to remind me that there’s a greater Author than me in control of the story of my life and, though things look dire now, it’s all going to be all right.
    I find incredible beauty in “horror”. Horror is so much more than the “blood and guts” that most people accuse it of celebrating. It’s even more than just about “inciting fear”. It’s about darkness, but not in the way people often think. It’s about conquering darkness. And that battle doesn’t necessarily work out in the stories themselves–because they don’t always have happy endings. And they shouldn’t. Some stories need to end on a sour note–some of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone proved that. But it’s in our PARTICIPATION of these stories that we discover the real power in “horror stories”. It provides an outlet. Not to celebrate fear and cruelty and death, but to stand bold in the face of it! To me, that absolutely goes hand in hand with the Bible. We have to show discernment and guard ourselves where we’re weak, absolutely. And, for some, that means completely avoiding “horror” in every form. My own mother has a hard time reading my books, so I get that. But I see great power in the horror tale–power for the author and for the Reader to work together to name our monsters and to face them head-on, unflinching, and making it through that dark tunnel together and into the light.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Well said, Greg :).

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • My own mother has a hard time reading my books, so I get that.
      I’ve been very lucky to sell several nonfiction pieces to Guideposts and anthologies published by Bethany House and Tyndale. And of course, my mother-in-law loves  those, all she ever asks is, “When are you going to write another  NICE story?”
      Sigh………

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  32. Here’s something interesting from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.Several things to consider, first:

    1. it’s from Stephen King – who’s not necessarily a Christian.  But better versed in horror than all of us, and he often writes in Christian/moralist themes

    2. again, not an argument that Christians should read horror, just an argument for it’s worth as a genre

    3. it’s about horror movies, but still bears lots of weight for the genre itself

    4. horror is a HUGE genre. IMHO, the widest one of them all. To all those who’ve argued stridently against gore, bloodshed, degradation, nihilism – the horror genre is not defined by those terms. I’m a horror fan, but I can very easily be discerning and avoid stories dealing in those themes.

    That being said:

    “Here is the final truth about horror movies (or fiction): They do not love death,  as some have suggested: they love life. They do not celebrate deformity but by dwelling on deformity, they sing of health and energy. By showing us the miseries of the damned,  they help us to rediscover the smaller (but never petty) joys of our own lives. They are the barber’s leeches of the psyche, drawing not bad blood but anxiety…for  little while, anyway.

    The horror film (novel/story) sings in a children’s voice: “Here is the end.” Yet the ultimate subtext that underlies all good horror films (and novels/stories) is: But not yet. Not this time. Because in the final sense, the horror movie (novel/story) is the celebration of those who feel they can examine death because it does not yet live in their own hearts.”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  33. [...] stories. I also stopped by a fascinating discussion hosted by guest blogger Mike Duran at the Speculative Faith blog, where I commented back and forth with Kat Heckenbach about how to end Horror stories. This led to [...]

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  34. [...] recently read a lengthy discussion on the subject of Christian horror fiction. Reading the give-and-take in the comments, I concluded I had nothing to [...]

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  35. Jane Jeanor says:

    Honestly speaking I don’t like horror because they will make me imagine many ill things. I don’t agree with your argument about Christianity and horror. We ought not to yoke ourselves to unbelievers neither are we to put ourselves in compromising situations that make us prone to sin. I like your command of the Bible though you should use it to make people more aware of the Kingdom of God.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  36. Kat, I was glad to see you expand your thought towards accepting bad endings, because after your first two paragraphs, I thought to ask if it was then the Christian Horror writer’s duty to have redemption in the end. I would say no, though I just tried a happy ending on a recent short story because I asked myself what the point was of having it end in chaos. I don’t think you have to be Christian to want redemption in the end, but sometimes I wonder if I am disconnecting the reader from the main character if I have that character choose what they wouldn’t. It’s almost like what we do when we disassociate ourselves from people that make decisions that annoy us.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  37. Thanks, Tim. I guess what I really mean is that the story shouldn’t glorify the evil, or show it as the “winner.” The ending of a story can still be dark, but ought to be done in a way that doesn’t come across as the character not overcoming the evil as a positive thing. 

    Tosca Lee’s Demon: A Memoir comes to mind. ***SPOILERS, BIG TIME*** The ending is left ambiguous–there is as much chance that Clay dies in lonely misery as there is that he finally sees the path to salvation. An ending like that makes the reader think. 

    One short story I wrote (published by an online magazine no longer around, so I can’t give a link) has a very bitter end. But it’s meant to show that MC made the wrong choice. I’ve also written a couple of horror shorts with ambiguous endings. And one that was just down-right mean, but written in fun. Er, yeah. That one wasn’t exactly a Christian horror, though ;).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  38. I’m not really sure what “ought to be done in a way that doesn’t come across as the character not overcoming the evil as a positive thing” means. I wonder if writers can really show whether the ending is good or bad, and if doing this is excellent writing or not. What would be an example of showing a character giving into evil as a good thing, and how would it be done to show it is bad, without preaching?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  39. I know,  that was kind of a mess of a sentence. And I’m not sure if any movies or books have ever actually done what I mean. Which is to have the protagonist give into evil in the end and, I don’t know, be happy about it. If it’s done in such a way that the audience/reader is made to suddenly see evil as a good thing. 

    I think slasher movies are kind of like that, though in the fact that the bad guy keeps coming back and the movie fans seem happy about that. Like they are rooting for him or something, like it’s just so cool to see all the ways Freddy or Jason dismember people. Bleh. That may not be the movie-makers’ faults, but it disturbs me.

    Tim, can I send you the one short story I wrote and let you see if it’s something you think “preaches” in the end, even though the protag ends up “losing”?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  40. Man, I’m getting ideas for a new spooky character, metrologically speaking.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0