Before jumping into this, I do want to thank Jon for hosting me and helping him celebrate his blog this week! It was a lot of fun to contribute something and join all the other book lovers here!
I am a relative newcomer when it comes to horror. I have primarily been a scifi or fantasy reader for most of my fiction life. I have since only just begun reading the genre as of three to four years ago. I dipped in years previously, reading the occasional classic from King. It wasn’t until I read Thomas Ligotti’s THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE and David Peak’s THE SPECTACLE OF THE VOID that I realized that horror actually had a lot for me to consider.
My road to horror is certainly not paved by old 80s slashers or a love of the ghoulish, though I’ve come to appreciate the latter of late. I grew up in a fairly conservative household, which meant that I naturally avoided, if not outright scorned, these things. So it wasn’t until my direct encounters with lovers of horror that I became curious about it. I did have to shed some preconceived notions as well as ill formed misconceptions of horror and its enthusiasts, but what a surprise love that I have for the genre now.
Yet, what I keep being struck by is the intersection that horror has with my own dearly held religion, Catholicism. I was raised in a faith-filled home, driven by my mother’s own pious tendencies. There was a kind of strange relationship I had to balance with horror, because of the various subversive aspects of the genre. At least, that is what I had first believed, but thinking on it for a while now, I think it is because of my faith that horror actually makes more sense to me than any other genre.
This isn’t to say that Catholicism doesn’t have a rich history with horror. From William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST to various tropes of the supernatural, cults, and the unseen, there has always been a strong, dare I say, religious undertone to the genre. Take this with a grain of salt, since as I said, I am a newcomer, but this is the source of my interest in horror as a subject.
The idea of fear and the unsettling aspects of human life are as prevalent in horror as they are in Catholicism. Horror is grounded in symbols and tropes that are made new by every writer that sets pen to paper. And like the genre, Catholicism has its own symbols in the sacraments that are repeated weekly by every member of the faith. These are the calling cards of both and they present their own similar rituals and deep faith in what they are.
The bodily experience that is perverted in say Clive Barker and others, also have strains in the experience of the martyrs. Look at some of the stories of the early saints: It has been told that St. Lucy scooped out her own eyes to deter a suitor, who admired them. St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, was flayed alive. When St. Agatha refused the local Roman Governor, he had her breasts torn off. This is not to ignore the focal point of Catholicism, Calvary and Christ’s crucifixion.
Maybe the strongest part to all of this, is the belief in something that is real. Most of horror is based upon things that were superstitions or terrible events taken to extremes. Some readers here may be quick to say that Catholicism is also based off of similar fables, of which my only response is, “Sure, if you say so.” Yet, when you sit down to read horror, especially a good horror, you give yourself over to a new reality, no matter how terrifying it might be. You live in that world for as long as the pages carry you.
Catholicism is also like this, but you carry it with you every day and every moment you are awake. Everything drips with the meaning of God and you have to choose to give yourself over to faith with every action you take. It is this tension between the two that I have found myself.
Despite the vast chasms in the subject matter at times, I cannot get away from these inherent qualities I have found in both horror and Catholicism. I’m thrilled that this is all still so new that these reflections will only grow deeper, but who’s to say if that will happen? I can’t say if the parallels drawn here will resonate with anyone or if these are just the scribblers of a novitiate, but it is my hope that maybe we can have a healthier and deeper conversation between horror and religion, wherever that might take us.
You can find Alexander on Twitter at @PylesOfBooks and on his website Pyles Of Books. Also be sure to check out his short story MILO, a science fiction tale that Gareth L. Powell described as “short, sharp and chilling”.