I don’t read horror novels. I don’t watch horror movies. I don’t go to spook alleys or haunted houses. Want to know why? Because I’m chicken. That’s right—I’m a big, yellow chicken. I jump at noises even when I know what made them and I get the willies from fake spiders even when I know they’re fake. That’s just how I am. But I know this about myself and I’m all right with making my chicken-ness public.
Many LDS readers shy away from reading horror novels because they feel that the horror genre taps into the powers of the supernatural. They worry that by reading these novels, they will invite a spirit of darkness into their homes. In truth, this is a real concern, and we have been counseled by our leaders to avoid certain types of media. If you do a search for “media” on lds.org, this is the first statement that pops up:
“Whatever media we read, watch, or listen to has an effect on us. Church members are counseled to choose only entertainment and media that are uplifting. Wholesome entertainment promotes good thoughts and righteous choices and allows participants to enjoy themselves without losing the Spirit of the Lord.” http://www.lds.org/topics/media?lang=eng
On the other hand, some of today’s best horror is being written by LDS authors. And you know what—they aren’t freaky. They’re actually some of the best people I know. This seemed a bit of a disconnect to me—active, faithful Latter-day Saints writing stuff that would send me shivering under my bedcovers? How could that be?
In an effort to better understand, I decided to be brazen and ask some hard questions of three horror novelists who are also my friends—Jeffrey S. Savage, Michaelbrent Collings, and Andrea Pearson. They were very open with me about their feelings regarding the horror genre and the LDS viewpoint.
I asked Jeff Savage, author of Dark Memories, “A lot of Mormons equate horror novels with inviting the evil one. What is your response to this?”
Jeff replied, “I think this is a bit like saying romance novels invite people to be unfaithful, or that mystery novels encourage people to kill. Horror is a genre, just like mystery, romance, thriller, and doctrinal. And like those genres, there are uplifting stories and there are stories that invite a different spirit. The thing about most other genres is that evil is usually limited to a serial killer, a kidnapper, a bad boyfriend, etc. In horror, evil can take many more shapes. Again, this can be a bad thing if it invites the wrong spirit, but it can also be a hugely uplifting thing. In a mystery novel, I can have a bad guy killing people, but my good guy is limited to a detective, a police officer, or a hero of some sort. In horror, the side of good can actually be the power of God because it’s one of the few genres where evil and good are present in their most pure forms.”
I know that the fantasy genre is so popular with LDS readers because it’s a fictionalized depiction of the ultimate battle between good and evil, but I’d never thought about horror showing those powers in “their pure forms,” as Jeff put it. I mentioned this to him, and he replied, “In horror, we get to see wonderful stories where good triumphs over evil. While there are stories that end with darkness and bitterness, most horror stories are redemptive. We see light triumph over darkness, good struggle against evil and win. We learn that while there are bad things out there that are very strong, good can triumph over them. The world is filled with monsters, and most of them walk on two legs. But when we turn those monsters into ghosts, or vampires, or demons, or whatever we want, we are still teaching the message that they can be defeated by honor, virtue, and love.”
Looking at it through that lens, then, is that the goal of the horror genre? What is the goal, and how does the author know when it’s been reached? Jeff replied, “I think that the primary goal of any novel should be to entertain the reader. If an author fails to do that, nothing else matters. Second, a novel can teach, inspire, educate, or pose questions the reader must answer for themselves. I don’t think horror is any different in that way. In anything I write, I want to pull you in with a great story and finish by giving you something to ponder after the pages have been closed.”
That sounds insightful and remarkably uncreepy.
I next posed the question, “What made horror, as a genre, appeal to you as something you would like to write?”
Michaelbrent Collings, Amazon bestselling author of The Loon and may others, replied, “I started writing horror because I was familiar with it. My father (Dr. Michael R. Collings) was an English professor at Pepperdine University, and one of the first academics to champion horror as a valuable, literate genre. He wrote dozens of books on genre work, so almost every night when I went to bed I could hear typing or screaming coming from his office as he either wrote about horror or watched a horror movie. That being said, I stayed with horror because I find it has the potential to be the most ennobling and uplifting of any genre. I think that horror is one of the only genres that allows the position that God exists, not merely as an ancillary statement, but as plot-critical: If there is a demon possessing a child, then only God can save the child. If the devil has come to claim you, then surely the hope you have comes from God.”
Jeff said, “(Horror is) the freedom to present good and evil in their purest forms.