Horror In God's Country
by Brian Plante
I was browsing in a used book store this past weekend. A woman came in with a grocery bag full of paperbacks to turn in. She told the clerk that she couldn't read them anymore because she had just become a Christian. They were horror books.
Religion is a big thing here in the Charlotte area. It seems like there's a church on every block. Even the strip malls have storefront churches, and one congregation meets in a local movie theater. People say grace in MacDonalds. The main highway from the airport into the city is the Billy Graham Parkway. Nuff said.
I didn't ask that woman in the book store why she thought being a Christian meant she couldn't read horror books anymore. Twelve years of Catholic school has left me a bit cynical about organized religion and I'm not about to get into an argument with a born-again convert here in the Bible Belt. But it made me think.
Do we, as writers of horror fiction, contribute to the moral decay of our society? Serial killers, demons, murder, torture, pain, suffering and the embodiment of evil are our stock in trade. Sure, I can understand why the morally upstanding might not like horror. It's not everyone's cup of tea. That's why there are lots of different kinds of books in the bookstore.
But to say you can't read horror because you're Christian seems to me like saying you can't eat pizza because you're French. This is fiction we're talking about. Escapist fiction at that. It's not supposed to be taken as anything more than just plain fun. Some horror writers may take themselves a bit seriously and try to put profound insights and moral messages into a story, but if it's not entertaining first, I'm not interested as a reader. I read horror so I can kill a few hours scaring myself on a mental roller coaster ride to escape the boredom of everyday life. Why can't someone read Stephen King on Saturday, and the Bible on Sunday?
When I was a kid, Saturday morning cartoons were perhaps a bit more violent than they are now. Today they don't drop nearly as many anvils on people's heads as they used to. Having watched those cartoons hasn't once made me want to drop an anvil on anyone's head. Well, sometimes I may have wanted to, but I never actually did it. Even as a kid I knew the difference between real life and TV violence. When did people lose this ability to tell the difference between real life and make-believe?
Unfortunately, a few people can't tell that difference. Some people listen to gangsta rap and believe it's cool to be a criminal. Some people see a movie about witches and demons and think those are neat things to emulate. Heavy metal music about suicide sends a few unstable kids over the edge. There's probably a few psychos out there who read a story about a serial killer and decide that's what they want to be. We can't help that. Those people will always find something to feed their aberrations.
The sad fact that some people can't handle these things shouldn't ruin it for the vast majority of people who can. Some people can't be trusted to manage their credit cards intelligently, but does that mean we all should be denied credit? Maybe all fiction with violent content should carry a warning label, "Hey kids, don't try this at home." Maybe all weird tales should say, "Events depicted in this story are not intended to foster belief in the supernatural." I think most adults can handle the worst I can dish out as a writer. Those that can't handle it shouldn't control what's available to those who can. And those with high morals that can't understand why good people would want to read such trash shouldn't sit in judgment of those who enjoy horror. Lighten up, folks. It's just entertainment.
Of course, as a writer of horror fiction, I have to think this way, don't I? I'm sure pornographers rationalize their business with similar arguments. But after all, if I agreed that horror was an evil thing that people shouldn't be allowed to read, why, I'd have to write something else. Like, say, science fiction.
Copyright © 1996 Brian Plante, first appeared in The New Jersey Graveline , October 1996. Count=5443
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