Stephen King was still a fairly new writer when I first read “Lawnmower Man” for an English class in high school. Carrie had been published by then, but I didn’t read any more Stephen King until after my academic job ended. (There is, for those who are curious, a correlation between that traumatic change and my interest in horror.) Like many, I suspect, I saw some of the movies before reading the King books behind them. With a writer as prolific as King there’s always the issue of where to start, and I’m often subject to the selections independent bookstore owners make. I seldom buy fiction through Amazon—I have to see the book for it to grab me (a kind of King thing to happen).
A used copy of Carrie recently came my way. Now, I’ve seen the movie (both versions) many times; it is discussed at some length in Holy Horror. I’d not read the novel until now. Obviously there are differences between book and movie, but as this was Stephen King’s debut novel it struck me just how central religion was to the fearful scenario he paints. That’s pretty clear in the film, I know, but it’s even more so in the novel. Carrie is made into a monster by religion. One could argue that she was born that way—telekinesis as a genetic marker is also a theme in the book, although absent from the films. Still, it is Carrie’s rejection by others, largely because of her religion, that leads her to use her powers to destroy Chamberlain, Maine.
In a strange way, Carrie is a coming-of-age story from a girl’s perspective. Strange because King is a man and some literary magazines won’t even accept stories written from the point-of-view of someone of the opposite gender. Men can’t know what women go through. Indeed, most of the male characters in the story are less than admirable, while some are downright wicked. The real question is whether religion saves from wickedness or causes it. There’s not much ambiguity here on the part of Mr. King. Holy Horror, although it deals with movies and not novels, makes the point that films based King don’t infrequently use religion as a source of horror. Long-time readers of this blog know that I frequently make the point that this genre, more so than most, relies on religion as an engine to drive it. And religion also has a role in repressing women. Coincidence? Ask Carrie.
Posted in American Religion, Books, Feminism, Literature, Memoirs, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Carrie, Feminism, Holy Horror, horror films, Stephen King, telekinesis
Demons are an embarrassment. The typical scholar of the historical Jesus can’t avoid the fact that one of Jesus’ main activities is exorcism. You can go the whole way through seminary not hearing about that aspect even as you become very well acquainted with the two-source hypothesis. That’s why I found Graham H. Twelftree’s Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus so refreshing. Here is someone willing to address the topic generally swept off the table. If the gospels are to be believed, then Jesus was an exorcist. And if he was an exorcist, that must imply a thing or two about demons, no matter how embarrassing. There’s a lot to this question, of course, and things are never as simple as they seem.
Many of those who look for the Jesus of history suggest that the Galilean sage simply accepted the framework of his era in which various diseases such as epilepsy were considered demonic. As he healed such people—also somewhat of an embarrassment since it implies the supernatural—he understood their maladies in the same way his contemporaries did. That tidy package, however, doesn’t sit well with narratives that assume a world full of demons. Things have changed since the first century, of course. After the Middle Ages demons fell out of favor. And yet, the gospels remain pretty much unchanged, trying to fit into a new worldview. This is the uncomfortable place in which those who seek the historical Jesus find themselves.
Twelftree approaches and analyses the text at its word. The casting out of demons was an eschatological (end-times) act. It was the beginning of the end for the evil spirits that torment this world. Of course, two thousand years have come and gone and, according to some, demons are still with us. The number of requested exorcisms has been on the rise. The end times have lasted a lot longer than anyone anticipated. It’s beginning to look like politicians can do what God seems reluctant to affect. Bringing about the end of the world is no matter of clearing the house of demons, but rather letting evil take the helm. If that’s a mixed metaphor, let’s just say demons are masters of confusion. Since medical science has given us a great deal of comfort and relief from suffering, we’re glad to let demons go as the explanation of diseases. But that doesn’t make things any easier for those looking at the first century when, as Twelfree demonstrates, Jesus was an exorcist.
Posted in Bible, Books, Monsters, Posts, Religious Violence, Science
Tagged demons, exorcism, Graham H. Twelftree, historical Jesus, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus, medical science, supernatural
Blood and vampires go together like October and, well, vampires. Although I don’t understand manga, I do know it’s extremely popular, and a friend has been lending me the volumes of Hellsing by Kouta Hirano. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read numbers 4 and 5. Hellsing sets up a world where the Catholic church destroys vampires, as does the English, Protestant organization Hellsing Organization. The latter, however, has as its secret weapon the vampire Alucard who, in nearly every number, gets dismembered in some bloody way before pulling himself back together to overcome the enemy. In the latest issues I’ve read the Catholics and Protestants have to cooperate against the threat of neo-Nazis (and this was before Trump was elected), who also employ werewolves. (It’s October, remember.)
Having been pondering the vampires of Maine, I decided to read the next in my own generation’s vampire hero, Barnabas Collins. I’ve been reading the Dark Shadows series by Marilyn Ross to try to find a lost piece of my childhood. There was a scene in one of these poorly written Gothic novels that made a strong impression on me that I finally re-encountered in Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin. Interestingly, in this installment Barnabas, the gentleman vampire, is cured of his curse while traveling back in time with Carolyn Stoddard. The story doesn’t explain how some of the characters from the twentieth century appear a hundred years earlier, but it does bring an early encounter of the vampire against the werewolf—an idea monster fans know from its many iterations such as Hellsing or, famously, Underworld.
You might think vampires and werewolves would get along. In both the Dark Shadows and Hellsing universes the personalities of both come through clearly. Both monsters have deep origins in folklore and people have believed in them since ancient times. Just because they’re not human, however, is no reason to suppose they’ll get along with each other. As soon as Universal discovered that monsters translated well to film the idea began to develop that monster versus monster would be a great spectacle. We had vampires and werewolves clashing on cheap budgets with fog machines. A new orthodoxy was created that the undead just don’t get along. It’s a idea that continued into the relatively bloodless Dark Shadows series, and on into the violent and gleefully bespattered Hellsing. And since it’s October nobody should be surprised.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Literature, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Barnabas, Dark Shadows, Hellsing, Kouta Hirano, Marilyn Ross, October, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin, Underworld, vampires