Back in August I received a book to review for Relegere, the new online journal for Studies in Religion and Reception. The volume I received was The Lure of the Dark Side: Satan and Western Demonology in Popular Culture, edited by Christopher Partridge and Eric Christianson. I found this assignment to be a felicitous one for many reasons: the book was very interesting, the topic is intriguing, the authors are scholars who take popular culture to be worth serious study, and it exposes the roots of many perceptions of Satan and the demonic in western society today. While I cannot present the whole review here – I would encourage interested readers to explore the appropriate issue of Relegere when it is published – I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention a few of the highlights here.
First of all, the book is a collection of essays that cover the media of music, film, and literature. Many of my students like to point out the propensity of death metal bands for choosing ancient Near Eastern gods and themes for their band names and songs. The first two essays in this book explore black metal and its self-proclaimed Satanic intent. What is interesting here is that what many black metal bands declare as their “religion” does not, in fact, fit with mainline Satanism at all. This aspect of the book is worth reading just to see how religious ideas, both unholy and holy, easily become distorted when transformed into an artistic medium. By far my favorite essays, however, were those that analyzed horror films according to religious themes and concepts. It was refreshing to see serious scholars discussing vampires without flinching, noting how they are part of the same fabric from which religion is cut.
One of the recurrent criticisms of academic writing is that it generally reaches only academic audiences. Certainly at the prices common at academic presses the average layperson would need to be exceptionally motivated to pay out the cost to read what are admittedly generally dry and technical books. Equinox has fortunately released an affordable paperback version of this volume, making the price less of an issue. The content is, for the most part, readily accessible to the general reader. The cover is a tad lurid; when I took it along to the DMV to renew my driver’s license I felt a bit self-conscious in the waiting room. Beyond that, this was a rare academic book that should find a wide readership. For me, the bibliographies and filmographies demonstrated my own deficiencies in keeping up with popular culture. I would recommend it for those with a sturdy constitution who want to know the correct way to dispatch a vampire in the twenty-first century.
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