'There are things that go bump in the night. We're the ones who bump back.' (BPRD)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Theology of Darkness and Rise of the Guardians



I enjoyed watching Rise of the Guardians with my seven-year-old son today.  I wrote a review of it from a 'theology of monsters' and 'theology of darkness' point of view over on the Ride the Nightmare blog (click on the following link):

Is Darkness No Fun? Or - Sympathy for the Boogeyman (A Review of Rise of the Guardians)

(In other news:  I've finally had my first short story accepted for publication in Fungi weird fiction magazine.  The story is called 'The Floating Man: An Ambi-Comic Thanophany'.  Unfortunately that issue doesn't come out until August.  But hopefully it will be worth the wait since they're also going to reprint the little Intro to Lovecraft I wrote on the Ride the Nightmare blog and asked me to write a follow-up article to that.  Additionally, they asked me to write a piece on 'theology of darkness'.  The magazine's quite small and underground, but it's been around for twenty years and each issue usually includes reprints from classic authors of the genre like Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury, as well as contemporary masters like Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti.  So there's a chance I'll have my first published work sharing the pages with some names like that.  It's a start!)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creeping Up on a Theology of Darkness

This latest episode of my theology podcast begins to discuss a 'theology of darkness' and thus prowls nearer and nearer to a theology of monsters...

(You can follow the podcast on Facebook at Theophilus Theologue.)



'You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about.' (Psalm 104:20)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shuffling and Snuffling towards a Theology of Wildness

The theology podcast I'm doing is slowly and naturally working its way toward a Theology of Monsters.  Episode 3 talked about a Theology of Art/Beauty and Episode 4 (below) talks about a Theology of Wildness.  The claws, wings, fur, fangs, and so on in the animal imagery of the Bible begin to nudge us in the direction of the monstrous.  This one is broken into two chapters:  1) Arabesque vs. Extermination and 2) Animals Inside Us.  Below the player are several quotes used in this episode.  Enjoy.

(Also, you can follow the podcast on Facebook at Theophilus Theologue.)




'And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.'

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)



'Everywhere he went he picked up more tattoos.

He had stopped having lifeless ones like the anchors and crossed rifles. He had a tiger and a panther on each shoulder, a cobra coiled about a torch on his chest, hawks on his thighs, Elizabeth II and Philip over where his stomach and liver were respectively. He did not care much what the subject was so long as it was colorful; on his abdomen he had a few obscenities but only because that seemed the proper place for them. Parker would be satisfied with each tattoo about a month, then something about it that had attracted him would wear off. Whenever a decent-sized mirror was available, he would get in front of it and study his overall look. The effect was not of one intricate arabesque of colors but of something haphazard and botched. A huge dissatisfaction would come over him and he would go off and find another tattooist and have another space filled up. The front of Parker was almost completely covered but there were no tattoos on his back. He had no desire for one anywhere he could not readily see it himself. As the space on the front of him for tattoos decreased, his dissatisfaction grew and became general.

After one of his furloughs, he didn’t go back to the navy but remained away without official leave, drunk, in a rooming house in a city he did not know. His dissatisfaction, from being chronic and latent, had suddenly become acute and raged in him. It was as if the panther and the lion and the serpents and the eagles and the hawks had penetrated his skin and lived inside him in a raging warfare. The navy caught up with him, put him in the brig for nine months and then gave him a dishonorable discharge.'


-Flannery O'Connor, 'Parker's Back' (1965)


'The subject matter that we cannot finally evade, if we pursue a reflection on faith's understanding, is our incomparable Subject, the Living God, the insurmountably alive reality whom Moses heard, addressing him as "Yahweh."  Yahweh is a name - significantly, a personal noun, not an impersonal noun describing an object.  Yahweh is an encountering personal Subject who breaks through and circumscribes all our category systems'.

-Thomas C. Oden, The Living God (1987), Systematic Theology: Volume One

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Theophilus Theologue Episode 1

Here's a theology podcast I'm experimenting with doing.  This episode is not about monsters, but it does set up some groundwork for such considerations.  Feel free to comment here and let me know what you honestly think, so I can decide whether to go on with the podcast or not.

Friday, July 27, 2012

'Monster' Horror vs. 'Slasher' Horror


I've been attempting to write a pseudo-zombie novel and here are some remarks on writing in the horror genre in general that I posted on my Ride the Nightmare horror blog.  A big portion of it explores monsters in horror as distinct from 'slasher' stuff - so it's of relevance to this blog's theme.

A REPORT ON WRITING HORROR FICTION (click on this all-caps link to go to the article)

Sample:
'Monster' horror explores the human encounter with the truly mysterious - usually sinister and always dangerous, but that which is darkly and bizarrely extraordinary and inexplicable.  It imagines the hardly nameable stuff that lurks around in the deep, muddy dark of our dreams - really frightening and freakish possibilities that we 99% of the time don't even remember that we've ever contemplated, or that we have only ever intuited at a subconscious level that has never seen the light of day in our waking thoughts.  It's probably a realm many feel is better left ignored and buried.  But horror-merchants of this monstrous variety take a perverse delight in dragging it all out before our eyes to make us shudder and scream.  And hence we have monsters – exquisitely weird and horrifying physical and spiritual combinations of form and function calculated to make our skin crawl and our minds recoil. 

And yet, and yet... monsters also somehow calculated to pique our interest, to make us peep between our fingers for another morbidly curious glimpse.  Indeed, for many of us, after the initial chill and repugnance is gotten over, some of these monsters can become our occasional companions, hideous pals that give us a certain grotesquely piquant key of company that just can't be had elsewhere.  So monster horror isn’t just about the recoil – it’s also about curiosity and fascination with the Other.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

God's Good Monsters



Let's Get Back to It:

One of my original intentions in writing this blog was to slowly but surely put up the notes from a seminar on Theology of Monsters I delivered at Cornerstone Festival's Imaginarium in 2008.  The plan is to put them up section by section and add a few thoughts that may have developed since then.  Over the years, as this theology of monsters develops, I doubt I'll stick to this original outline.  But for now it still provides a way to attack the subject.  Looking back at the last blog post that was actually based on those original seminar notes, I'm realising it's been almost a year exactly!  Time to get back to that!  The following passage completes the thoughts on the section 'Part 2 - Monsters of Earth' and follows directly from the previous subsection about Job's monsters and theodicy:


A defense of Leviathan as a ‘good’ monster as well as representing Satan or evil at times: 

I want to say that while the many who suggest Leviathan (in Job 41 in particular) represents Satan and/or evil may be correct as far as it goes, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that, in these chapters in Job, God is using a natural part of his originally good creation as a metaphor for his purposes. In other words, I believe God made Leviathan and suchlike creatures as part of his pre-Fall ‘very good’ creation and as such they reflect and refract their Creator's glory. Indeed, for all we know Adam may have seen Behemoth in the Garden of Eden or thereabouts and perhaps that monstrous river beast was even one of the Named! Furthermore, if Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin and had gone on to explore, in sinlessness, God’s oceans and other bodies of water, I think they would have run into Leviathan and praised that King of Monster's MAKER. 

You see, I don’t think the curse that came on planet Earth due to mankind's Fall brought about monsters such as Leviathan.  Creational monsters didn't suddenly begin to appear as some malignant natural force in God’s world when Adam and Eve, in their freedom, distrusted God's love and wisdom and ate of the forbidden fruit in rebellion against his good and protective command. No.  That's not the biblical account or view.  What is cursed is not the ecosphere itself in terms of its sheer physicality, but rather all of the relationships in the ecosphere have become twisted away from their right and good path. So, in the case of monsters, we are now prone to be in a wrong relationship to Leviathan where we might become its victims - that is the kind of evil monstrosity that entered God's originally good creation at the Fall:  strains of monstrous disharmony in the environment, infecting every level - spiritual as well as physical.  Whereas before (and After!) the Fall we would know our limits and rejoice in our right relationship to the more terrifying elements of God’s creation. Maybe, in the new heavens and new earth that the Scriptures promise, humans will even, as C. S. Lewis imagined in his science fiction novel Perelandra, evolve into closer and closer and more and more harmonious collaboration with the animal kingdom. (Maybe we would've ridden the monsters!  Danced with the terrors!  Maybe we yet will!)


Not Safe, but Good:

The above thoughts show us that, as with Aslan in Narnia, 'good' does not always equal 'safe' or 'tidy' or 'domesticated' or 'tame'.  Indeed, sometimes 'good' can be 'terrifying' and 'wild'.  But if something is good, it can never be evil or wicked.  I have found that this above all is the toughest thing for people to understand when it comes to a theology of monsters.  For many (most?) people, the category 'monster' just is a category of pure evil and horrible wickedness.  But it looks like the Bible tries to expand our imaginative horizons to grasp that what is truly good and praiseworthy and just and glorious and holy and loving can indeed be at one and the same time Wild and Dangerous and Creepy and so on.  Not that its danger will truly in the end be genuinely harmful or destructive - that, of course, wouldn't count as good.  But what is good might well give us an actual fright or chill, perhaps even temporarily 'harm' some aspect of our person, but only because such a 'wound' is good for us in the long run and ultimately makes us more fully human and blessed - like surgery.  Perhaps that is a very dark mystery to some readers - but I think it is well worth contemplating and coming to terms with.

'For Beal, chaos-monsters [in Job] are not simply threats that intrude on God’s sacred order. Chaos-monsters are a sublime revelation of God’s creation. They constitute a “paradox of the monstrous,” that of fascination and repulsion, desire and dread… an aw(e)ful experience with the wholly other that involves a combination of fascination, terror, dread, and wonder.’ (That last thought being derived from Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum.)

As the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery puts it:  Job provides ‘a description of creation that is beyond human control but possesses a beauty all can recognize… [concluding with God’s monsters like Behemoth and Leviathan], ‘creatures not merely intended for human use, but positively dangerous and repulsive to them. God, however, rejoices in these creatures as worthy expressions of his creative power.’ Furthermore, they ‘summon awe and reverence… They help us imagine a fiercely unpredictable Creator'.


So, that's the 'monsters of earth'. How about 'monsters of heaven'? 

(This convenient bifurcation ['monsters of earth' and 'monsters of heaven'] was introduced to me by Charles Williams in his book He Came Down from Heaven, where he mentions something to the effect that 'the monsters of earth in Job are answered by the monsters of heaven in Ezekiel.'  To Ezekiel's monsters and co. we turn next!)


Monday, April 9, 2012

Yog-Blogsoth

Discovered another great blog of monster illustrations, this one themed totally on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft.  And featuring one of the best blog names I've ever encountered:  Yog-Blogsoth (hilarious if you know yer Lovecraft).  (The other one that gets my vote for best-ever blog title is 'Blogging a Dead Horse'.)

The style of illustration almost gives a 'Saturday Morning with Cthulhu and Friends!' vibe, which is amazing.  Somehow I have a feeling, though, that none of these are gonna whip off a rubber mask so Scooby Doo and Co. can say:  'Mr. Henderson?  It was the janitor all along and not a real monster!'

Here are some of my faves from Yog:
SPAWN OF CTHULHU

ASHMODAI

ANATHAS

GORGO

LIVING HILL

SHAPELESS LIVING THING



Friday, January 6, 2012

'Onward Christian Soldiers' & The Book of Werewolves!

This brought to you by the fine blog 'TheoFanastique': Sabine Baring-Gould: Hymns and Werewolves

The 19th century Anglican clergyman who wrote the hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers' also wrote The Book of Werewolves! Who knew? We few in the strange field of studies known as 'theology of monsters' are not the first! We apparently have our precedents in church history. Indeed, the last chapter of said Book of Werewolves (available as a free download on Amazon) is a Medieval sermon on werewolves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Still Monstrous!

Just an update to say there's PLENTY more to come. I've just been busy for a while at my R. A. Lafferty blog (The Ants of God Are Queer Fish) as I'm researching to write a chapter on him that will hopefully be included in a book of essays about his fiction by different people - coming out in the indefinite future. There is actually a huge amount of 'theology of monsters' in Lafferty. That's one of his main themes really. Here are a few characteristic examples:

'Regular people have sealed off the interior ocean that used to be in every man... They closed the ocean and ground up its monsters for fertilizer. That is why we so often enter into peoples' dreams. We take the place of the monsters they have lost.'

-Past Master (1968);

This remark is made by a character who is an alien telepathic 'oceanic man' that actually looks like a giant seal with meter-long 'slicers' coming out of its mouth.


"There is a holiness in a whole person or a whole world," the patrick Croll said. "The veriest monsters inside us may be sanctified. They were put there by Him who is 'Father of Monsters' also. What right have we to cut them out of us? Who are we to edit God? We cut strong things out of ourselves and suppress them, and the rocks and clouds will give birth to them again. We dry up our interior fountains and they gush out again, exteriorly and menacingly. We cannot live without monsters' blood coursing through us. Only to the whole person is life worth living and death worth dying. Here in Fourth Mansions we must be whole or we must be nothing."



You can pretty easily see how this is directly related to a theology of monsters. I'm very excited about it. Lafferty will definitely be a large and central element of this monstrous theology in the end.

I wrote a long two-part review of Lafferty's fantasy novel East of Laughter: part 1 is more to do with describing the atmosphere of the novel and its style. In part 2 I get more directly into some territory that affects theology of monsters - basically that Christ and his Church are a sort of 'safe-house' for sanctified and redeemed beings from mythology (satyrs, fauns, giants, goblins, etc.).

This is an important aspect of a theology of monsters, because it is always asking the question whether monsters are to be preserved or destroyed. I think a biblical view will embrace a bit of both, depending on the nature of the monsters and various circumstances. Leviathan himself in the Bible is in one way a 'plaything' of the Creator that's here for 'frolic' and also to humble proud humans - but in another way he represents humanity's satanic enemy and will be decisively crushed by God the Good Warrior.

In Lafferty you see both of these themes: in his science fiction novel Past Master, for example, a 'Devil-Hydra' monster fish is slain very gruesomely and joyously (reminding one of a weirder and wilder version of the Hnakra hunt in C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet). Furthermore, there is a much more sinister and ultimate monster in that story that must be outwitted and defied: the 'Ouden monster', which translates as the Nothingness Monster. And here we get into Lovecraftian territory and things get really interesting. But this same novel, of course, contains the quote above where a monstrous created being himself tells us that monsters are basically good for our hearts and if we try to cut them out of us, we'll find they return to haunt us and scare us into being fully human again.


Well, these are deep waters, but I hope we are at least having beginning grasps of what all this could mean. There's much more to be said and it will be said in due time! (Feel free to chime in with your views!)