Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Horror/thriller author A.K. Preston has just released a new book, The Gevaudan Project. Today, he's stopping by to tell us a bit about his writer's journey into the dark world of horror in search of the Light.

My Approach to the Horror Genre 

When I started writing, I actually didn’t think of The Gevaudan Project as a horror novel. At the time, I even avoided that particular term as an embarrassing buzzword. Let’s face it – the horror genre has gained an overwhelmingly negative connotation within Christian circles. At first glance, the critics seem to have Scripture on their side. After all, aren’t we instructed to think upon “whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report (Philippians 4:8)” and told “it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret (Ephesians 5:12”?

The best starting in any biblical debate is to answer Scripture with Scripture. Other places in the Bible make use of quite graphic and – dare I say it – horrific imagery: 

And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. (Zechariah 14:12)

Elsewhere, in books like Revelation, we read almost Lovecraftian descriptions of bizarre, mutant beasts, humanoid locusts rising out of the Underworld, rivers and seas of blood, and unvarnished portrayals of wickedness (the “Great Whore”, for example, is an explicitly sexual image). Novelist Brian Godawa explores this at length in his article The Book of Revelation is an Epic Horror Fantasy.

The fact that this vivid imagery appears in the very same Scripture containing the verses on purity should give pause to any rigid dogmatism regarding what is and is not “acceptable” for a Christian writer, especially when considering an entire literary genre. Does that mean that no guidelines apply whatsoever? Not at all. I believe the way to reconcile this seeming contradiction is to honestly portray evil in a way that neither fetishizes or glorifies it. What would this look like? I can only explain my own approach, which does not contain any hard and fast “rules” or even offer a basis for them.

I’ve read at least one article, available here in full, stating that the horror genre began in late 19th century Europe, produced from the existential dread of an Old World culture that had lost its belief in a higher power guaranteeing moral order. It then came comparatively late to American culture, where it remained an awkward “alien” element for quite some time – all of the original Universal Studios horror films were based on European source material and featured European settings. The stated reason for this is that, unlike Europe, American culture has a strong optimistic bias rooted in its continued religiosity. An inherent belief in moral order causes outrage rather than fear toward the events typically occurring in horror stories.

There was a time when I might have agreed with that viewpoint in full, but I’ve since found it vastly over-simplified and in many cases completely inaccurate. The fact is, hopelessness and/or godlessness is not an essential element of the horror genre. One classic horror author I’ve recently discovered is William Hope Hodgson. His book The Night Land, published in 1912, anticipates the “cosmic horror” made famous by authors such as H.P. Lovecraft – but it contains nothing of Lovecraft’s nihilistic philosophy. It is, in fact, one of the most epic and profoundly moving stories I have ever read – It vividly portrays Divine Providence and the endurance of the human spirit in a far-future world where the sun has literally died and otherworldly monsters walk the earth. Bram Stoker’s Dracula usually receives much the same criticism that many Christians (fairly and unfairly) level against the modern vampire genre it spawned – but Stoker’s original story is a powerful tale of good vs. evil, almost all of it based on explicitly Christian elements. The vampire archetype itself vividly illustrates the nature of the Devil – a powerful, seductive figure that steadily drains the life from victims that become his slaves for eternity. 

The aforementioned view nevertheless illustrates a salient point that has shaped my own writing: evil should not just be feared – it has to be called out and opposed. There are many ways of doing this, some more Scripturally-based than others. Fear is passive – outrage is active.

My novel, The Gevaudan Project, is a monster story – yet I consider the truly chilling element to be not the monster itself but the motivations of its human creators. The real (or potentially real), in my view, is far more frightening than the imaginary. We have far more to fear from serial killers, terrorists, and mass murderers than vampires, werewolves, or zombies. In truth, literary monsters are just externalized representations of human evil:

There is a generation whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.” (Proverbs 30:14)

The reason the modern horror genre has such a bad name in Christian circles is that many of its current authors have jettisoned any truly thematic storytelling and blown its graphic elements out of all proportion. Dean Koontz, I believe, says it best: “I don’t find slashing and blood flying everywhere to be scary. I just find it repulsive.” The old masters of the genre would have agreed with this statement – Stoker, Hodgson, Blackwood, and Lovecraft all evoke far more imagery than they actually describe, and their stories are arguably the more powerful for it.

Ultimately, the way we imagine evil shapes how we imagine good. The function of darkness is to make the light shine even brighter, both in fiction and in the larger cosmic drama of Creation. This, I believe is why God allows Satan to exist, if but for a limited time. One of the most powerful illustrations I have ever seen of this occurs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, where Eru (God) addresses the fallen angel Melkor (Lucifer):

And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” 

In the end, this is the task I see for any Christian writer portraying darkness: to show it truthfully for what it is – and remember that the light will come again. 


1 comment:

  1. I'm the one who first introduced Alex to 'The Night Land.' Glad to see he decided to check it out for himself!