Let me relish this a moment.
Thanks. You still there? It’s not too often, you see, that I get to feel like I’m near the front of the crowd. I began writing Holy Horror when there were a small handful of books on the market concerning horror and the Bible. I wasn’t aware of Brandon R. Grafius’ work at the time, but it sure is gratifying to see that others have noticed the connection. Reading Phinehas, Watching Slashers: Horror Theory and Numbers 25 is pretty much what its title says. I’ll be having more to say on it in a different venue—don’t worry, I’ll let you know—so I’ll keep to the basics here. My spellcheck, and I’m sure not a few others, might have trouble identifying Phinehas.
In one of those weird, short, violent episodes for which the Good Book is justly famous, the story of Phinehas is clearly part of a larger, untold narrative. Like the sons of the gods marrying the daughters of men in Genesis 6. The grandson of Aaron, Phinehas was one of the hereditary priests of early Israel. The Israelites wandering for their 40 years in the wilderness were nearly as xenophobic as the Trump Administration. When one of the chosen people chose a foreign wife, Phinehas, full of zeal, grabbed a spear and skewered the couple. Tradition says in flagrante delicto. This act of violence stops a raging plague sent by the Almighty, so Phinehas looks like a hero in context. If you want to read the story the subtitle tells you where to find it. Or you could read Grafius’ excellent book.
Horror, which should be already obvious, enters the picture in the form of theory. Yes, there is such a thing as horror theory. Grafius uses it to analyze this story, along with other methods. This is what I’m relishing. I certainly wasn’t the first to notice the connection. Many years ago Phyllis Trible wrote Texts of Terror, noting how the Bible seems less holy (my expression, not hers) when read from the perspective of a woman. Indeed, many accounts that seem like standard issue narratives of God laying down the rules and humans disobeying tend to fall pretty heavily on females. And the punishments used are fit for horror films. Grafius focuses specifically on slashers, but one gets the sense that this book is just the start of something larger. This reader, at least, hopes that is the case.
Posted in Bible, Books, Feminism, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Brandon R. Grafius, Holy Horror, horror films, Phyllis Trible, Reading Phinehas, Texts of Terror, Watching Slashers: Horror Theory and Numbers 25
As summer wends its way slowly toward autumn my reading becomes more gothic. It feels as natural as the progression of the seasons, I suppose. While waiting for the turn I’d been holding onto Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Not having read any Zafón before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My copy had been blurbed by Stephen King, and I figured that was pretty high praise. I found the book through one of my web searches for the most gothic novels and this one takes a while, but I can see why it makes some of those lists. I wasn’t sure at first if it was intended to be comic or serious, but that combination is an imitation of life itself. We laugh, we cry, we shudder.
The story slowly builds, and I’ll address this further on Goodreads. What I want to consider here is the nature of place. Human beings—and I would argue animals as well—have a sense of place. Space becomes sacred through events both dramatic and quotidian. That’s why we make pilgrimages to places where our heroes lived. Just to be there. To think about it. To feel it. The Shadow of the Wind is a story of Barcelona during a time of war. There’s no escaping the moody sense of old Europe in this tale. In that sense religion is quite often casually mentioned. It’s part of place in a way many Americans overlook. The church bells I can hear everyday beg to differ, no matter how empty the pews may be. Zafón wants to share his gothic Barcelona with a story that leads to real shivers.
It would be a stretch to call this a horror novel, but it is in the sense that V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic is. It reminded me at several points of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (my copy of which was destroyed in a flooded garage). Many lives, I suspect, have quiet gothic elements to them. I know that mine does. While there may be a little supernatural at work in The Shadow of the Wind, most of the action is believable. This is the way people behave. The way they treat, and mistreat one another. While the days are still hot around here, the angle of the sun in the sky doesn’t lie. We’re fast approaching the equinox from which we’ll slide into the long nights of winter. And reading, the more gothic the better, will help us make it through no matter where we are.
Posted in Books, Literature, Memoirs, Posts
Tagged autumnal equinox, Barcelona, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Flowers in the Attic, Gothic fiction, sacred space, The Shadow of the Wind, The Woman in White, V. C. Andrews, Wilkie Collins
Research can be addictive. Those who know me are generally aware of how I can’t let ideas go. I suppose this is necessary for those who write books—concentrating on one subject for a long time is mentally taxing and can lead to early loss of interest. Those of us inclined to embrace this activity live for the thrill of uncovering new ideas and making connections that we’d overlooked. My work on Nightmares with the Bible is a case in point. Before submitting this book proposal I’d done a lot of reading on the subject of demons. This is a dark topic, but those of us who live in temperate zones spend quite a bit of time without daylight, so I might think of this as a kind of therapy. Or an excuse to do research.
Here’s often what happens: I’ll be writing along when suddenly a new question pops into my head. Why was this or that the case? The internet makes amateur research quite easy, but as someone raised on solid scholarly food, I need to check my sources. When a professor I would’ve headed to the library with interlibrary loan slips in my hand. These days I tend to turn to my own books and lament that I don’t have just the right one (there’s a reason, you see, that there are so many tomes in this house). I try to find workarounds and used copies. Perhaps I’ll pick up an adjunct class or two to be given library access again. Meanwhile, the idea, like an ear worm, is burrowing into my conscious mind. Until it’s time to go to work.
That great eight-hour stretch of day drains my energy. Indeed, many employers count on taking the best you have to offer and making it their own. What you do with “the rest of your time” is up to you. Thing is, research is a full-time job. Fortunately some of what I learn while on the clock will help me with my own research agenda. The overlap isn’t especially strong, but now and again something I read in a manuscript will sync with what I do in the pre-dawn hours before I commit myself to the time-clock. It’s a strange way to do research. Back at Nashotah House I’d use the summers to follow the clues laid before my mind and, as long as I went to chapel, it was considered part of my employment. Now it’s considered an avocation. I can’t help myself, though. Personal research is not part of the job description, but I’m an addict when it comes to learning new things.
It’s not that the delay is actually horrible. Horror movies, after all, come into their own with the darkening days of fall. Nevertheless it occurred to me that now August is about to exit stage left, some may be wondering where Holy Horror is. After all, the website originally said “August.” The truth is nobody really understands the mysteries of the publishing industry. Like so many human enterprises, it is larger than any single person can control or even comprehend. I work in publishing, but if I were to subdivide that I’d have to say I work in academic publishing. Further subdivided, non-textbook academic publishing. Even further, humanities non-textbook academic publishing. Even even further, religion—you get the picture. I only know the presses I know.
It suits me fine if Holy Horror gets an autumn release. I don’t know, however, when that might be. I haven’t seen the proofs yet, so it’s hard to guess. Appropriate in its own way for horror. The genre deals with the unexpected. Things happen that the protagonists didn’t see coming. In that respect, it’s quite a bit like life. My work on Nightmares with the Bible is well underway. When you don’t have an academic post your research style necessarily changes, but I’m pleased to find that books can still be written even with the prison walls of nine-to-five surrounding one. It may be a bit like Frankenstein’s monster (happy birthday, by the way!), but it will get there eventually.
Of my published books so far, Holy Horror was the most fun to write. It wasn’t intended as an academic book, but without an internet platform you won’t get an agent, so academic it is. It’s quite readable, believe me. I sometimes felt like Victor Frankenstein in the process. Pulling bits and pieces from here and there, sewing them together with personal experience and many hours watching movies in the dark, it was horrorshow, if you’ll pardon my Nadsat. We’re all droogs, here, right? I do hope Holy Horror gets published this year. Frankenstein hit the shelves two centuries ago in 1818. Horror has been maturing ever since. So, there’s been a delay. Frankenstein wasn’t stitched up in a day, as they say. And like that creature, once the creator is done with it, she or he loses control. It takes on a life of its own. We’ll have to wait to see what’s lurking in the darkening days ahead.
Posted in American Religion, Books, Higher Education, Memoirs, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged 1818, academic publishing, autumn, Frankenstein, Holy Horror, Monsters, Nightmares with the Bible, publishing industry, Victor Frankenstein
Humans tend to be visually oriented. Arresting images stop us cold, causing us to focus on what we’re seeing. As a tween I could be transported by large, lavishly illustrated, full-color books of other worlds. While these went the way of Bradbury, I still sometimes recollect scenes that stopped me in my young tracks, making my juvenile mind wonder, what if…? As an adult I realize “coffee table” books are heavy and a pain when you’re moving. Printed on specialized paper, they have more heft than your mass-market paperback, or even most academic tomes. Nevertheless, Gothic Dreams Cthulhu was a book that carried me, like a time-machine, back to my younger years. Unlike in those days, however, I read the text as well as lingered over the images. And I wondered about Cthulhu.
You see, I didn’t know about Lovecraft as a child. The only reading regularly done in my family was Bible-oriented. I discovered science fiction and gothic literature as a tween and, living in a small town, had no one to guide me in my choices. Rouseville (the town pictured in the background on this website) had no public library. My reading was left to my own, uninformed devices. I discovered Cthulhu through my long fascination with Dagon. I’d pitched Dagon as my dissertation topic, but settled on Asherah instead. While teaching religion at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I discovered Lovecraft, and Cthulhu, through Dagon.
Gordon Kerr, the author of Gothic Dreams Cthulhu, might be forgiven his hyperbole about H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was not a great writer—that’s not intended as any kind of slight, I hasten to add. Classically, however, he didn’t have the level of literary finesse of Edgar Allan Poe, for example. Still, Lovecraft created credible worlds. His was a life of imagination—one might almost say divinity. He was a creator. Cthulhu has become a cultural icon. With the magic of the internet bringing a writer still obscure to international attention, many people who never read horror fantasy nevertheless know who Cthulhu is. Or they think they do. As Kerr explains, the descriptions by Lovecraft himself are spare, thus the variety of ideas represented in the delicious artwork on every page of this book. As Lovecraft earns more academic attention, surely others will notice the religious potential of the Great Old Ones that were, in their time, gods. A guilty pleasure read, to be sure, Gothic Dreams Cthulhu fits well into this serious world of chaos we’ve created for ourselves.
Posted in Art, Books, Deities, Literature, Memoirs, Monsters, Posts, Religious Origins
Tagged Cthulhu, Dagon, Edgar Allan Poe, Gordon Kerr, Gothic Dreams Cthulhu, H P Lovecraft, Rouseville, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh