Today’s guest-post is courtesy of the ever-entertaining Greg Mitchell, whose site you can visit HERE. I encourage you to do so, because he’s a fairly interesting fellow.
Today, Greg’ll be talking about the forthcoming final book in his ‘Coming Evil’ trilogy, Dark Hour, which you can read more about HERE, as well as the intersectionality of the Christian faith and the Horror genre.
If all goes according to schedule, early 2013 will see the release of my latest fright novel Dark Hour, the concluding chapter of my The Coming Evil Trilogy, begun with The Strange Man and Enemies of the Cross (available online and in book-stores now!). It’s a work I began back in 1998/9 and has been a passion of mine ever since.
For the uninitiated, The Coming Evil Trilogy tells the story of Greensboro, a small out-of-the-way place that has fallen on hard times. The growing apathy that the townspeople possess has, in fact, invited a malicious figure known only as “the Strange Man”—a demonic being that derives simple joy out of sowing suffering wherever he goes. Only a small group of ordinary folks have begun to suspect that something is wrong, and it may already be too late. The Strange Man’s enigmatic and ominous Master is returning to the Earth, even as the town falls into madness and men turn into mindless shambling beasts. In order for the small band of devil smashers to fight back the growing waves of horror that are descending upon their home, they will have to overcome their own grievances against each other and lay hold of something that’s on short supply in Greensboro—faith.
Dark Hour—and the entire trilogy—is a love letter to my two passions: monster movies and the reality of faith. I first conceived The Coming Evil Trilogy as a bold experiment: I wanted to write a “Christian Horror” novel.
I’ve gone on at great lengths on my blog about why I think that matters of faith are intricately bound up in horror—and have been since the very beginning of the genre. Even harkening back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we’re talking about the danger of Man playing God. How can we tell such a story if we do not, at least for the context of the story, ascribe to God a right to create and govern life? And it’s impossible to separate the Christian overtones and iconography from Dracula. Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde is practically an essay on the warring natures of man—the holy and the profane—that the apostle Paul talked about in the epistles.
For my part, I made a profession of faith as a young child. We lived next door to an older couple who were foreign missionaries, on leave in the States. These people lived their faith every day, spending most of their lives in countries where practicing Christianity is against the law. This couple faced kidnapping, and saw their friends abducted and killed in the Middle East. They had gone without, living in remote African villages. They had suffered for their faith, but their joy was unmistakable. Sadly, as they returned to America, they were often dismayed at the careless attitude of Americanized Christianity. For this family, faith wasn’t something they adopted for Sunday morning in certain social circles—it was real. It was gritty and scary and life or death. Even as a kid, I sensed that passion, that reality of faith. I wanted to trust God like that, to make the world a better place, to fight for something worthwhile.
Growing alongside that spiritual awakening was a love for monsters. I was drawn to the horror section at my local video store, to marvel at the cover art of a thousand thrilling monster movies. Once I learned how to program the VCR as a kid, I would record A Nightmare On Elm Street movies when they played late on Friday night on WLMT-23 out of Memphis and wake up early Saturday morning to watch them before my parents woke up. It was a magical time as I faced down my fears—with the help of the fast forward button if things got too scary. I felt a deep kinship with the protagonists in scary movies, while also being entertained by the outrageous practical effects of the ‘80s monster movie scene.
Watching these monster movies through the lens of faith afforded an interesting perspective. Horror movies talked about God. They questioned religion and non-belief. They made arguments for or against Christianity. While I didn’t (and still don’t) always agree with the conclusions these movies make about God, it was still a lively discourse that no other form of entertainment offered. Looking back, I don’t even think the churches I grew up in provided such an atmosphere. The horror genre allowed me the freedom to explore faith, in my own heart. It caused me to ask questions—it even pushed me to seek out the Bible all the more. To understand what the Bible actually says as opposed to what Hollywood often believes it says. Through horror, I’ve been exposed to the different worldviews of the writers involved, and their philosophies have challenged me to solidify my own worldview and stand by it. If anything, horror movies have made me a stronger Christian.
But try finding a horror novel in a Christian bookstore.
As a teenager in the late ‘90s, I assaulted my ears with Stone Temple Pilots, Bush, and Nirvana, much to the chagrin of my parents, my youth pastor, my church, etc. I was often encouraged to find some “Christian alternative” to such music. I remember one local Christian trinket store had an actual honest-to-goodness “comparison chart”: “Hey, kids! You like that rock band Bush? Then try this Christian alternative!” And I tried. I really did. But I was always disappointed because the bands they offered in return were NOTHING like Bush or my other favorite bands. They felt like cheap counterfeits. In fact, that sadly seemed to be the case with a lot of “Christian entertainment” I encountered back then, be it music, books, or movies. They seemed to be just a watered-down alternative, and missed that spark that made the originals so powerful.
As a horror fan—and a Christian—I was dismayed. But in 1998, I wanted to change that with The Coming Evil Trilogy. I didn’t want to write a “Christian alternative” to horror. I wanted to write horror, inspired by my lasting love of John Carpenter, The Monster Squad, Stephen King, Lost Boys, Spielberg, Ghostbusters, Lovecraft, Fright Night—and everything that captured my imagination as a child. I wanted to bring Fangoria to the Christian market. Yet, in writing that horror novel, I wanted to talk openly about matters of faith. About decency and goodness. About maintaining hope in a world that seems to slip further into uncertainty and chaos each day. I wanted to explore a faith that is living and active—life-sustaining. I wanted to write about love and forgiveness and mercy and charity. About the difficulties of living and loving in the face of unspeakable horrors outside the realm of human understanding. About humanity and how we respond to the infinite.
I’ve done that with The Coming Evil Trilogy. I have poured my heart and soul into this final instalment I began writing this series as a young man, fresh out of high school with little idea what I wanted to do with my life or who I wanted to become. I’ve stumbled as a writer, I’ve learned more about my craft, I’ve been humbled, I’ve grown up. Now I’m a husband and a father. A better storyteller. A man of faith. It’s been a long journey, and I’m certainly not finished yet.
Dark Hour—the culmination of that “Christian Horror” experiment I began as an idealistic young man—is the story of my life, up to this point. It’s a magnum opus that I hope even my grandchildren will re-discover one day after I’m dead and gone, and know their grandfather a little deeper. Understand the things I cared about and then ask themselves the tough questions about God and their place in the universe. Those are good questions that I think everyone should ask. They’re questions that are often terrifying as we might discover that the answers demand something of us. But we have to push through the fear, walk through that dark tunnel, and face those monsters, until we finally come into the light and find peace and joy. That’s the only way to get any of the worthwhile things in life. That’s what the Bible teaches.
And it’s a valuable lesson I first learned from horror.