Monday, October 27, 2014

Religion and Horror: Between Heaven, Hell, and Earth 


Part Three: A Sampling of Evil

By Anthony Servante


The Fall of Lucifer by Gustav Dore


In Religion and Horror Parts One and Two, we narrowed our definition of "evil" to three possibilities: one, free will, that man can choose to do evil; two, God creates evil, i.e., floods, earthquakes, mass murders, etc; and three, the supernatural, for if a God exists, then ungodly creatures must exist as well. 

And now we can turn to the works by our authors for this piece. We shall examine them for these three possibilities for Evil to exist. The authors and the works at hand include: John Milton, Paradise Lost; William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist;  Billie Sue Mosiman, Banished; Leigh M. Lane, Myths of Gods; Hank Schwaeble, Diabolical; Kat Yares, Vengeance is Mine, and Elizabeth Massie, Sineater.

We begin with Paradise Lost by John Milton.




Summary: Paradise Lost is an Epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-Century poet John Milton. The poem concerns the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: The temptation of Adam and Eve by the fall angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Wiki).


The Author:




Biography: 

John Milton (1608-1674) was an English poet who wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval. His poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self-determination. By 1654, Milton had become totally blind but remained active politically and continued to write by dictation (Wiki). 



The Critique:

Paradise Lost by John Milton explains the evil inherent and born of free will. The origins begin in Heaven. Lucifer is the most beautiful of God's angels, and he is vain about his appearance, believing that although he was created by God, he is free to follow his own path. 


But O how fall'n! how chang'd
From him, who in the happy Realms of Light [ 85 ]
Cloth'd with transcendent brightness didst out-shine
Myriads though bright (Paradise Lost).

This is the sign of his hubris. He was the Lord of Light, the "brightest" of all God's creations. With a heartful of pride, he chose to battle God and his creations for the throne on high with an army of angels numbering one third of Heaven's whole realm. But his revolution failed and he was consigned to "Tartarus" (Hell). Here, however, Satan (so named after his fall from Heaven) contemplates his choices and realizes he still possesses the "free will" that ordained his decision to revolt against his Creator:

All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome? 
                                                                                         (Paradise Lost).

With this freedom of choice, he convinces his fellow outcasts in Hell (Belial, Moloch, Mammon, and Beelzebub)to join him in the corruption of God's new creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to "make Evil of Good". Thus the inhabitants of Hell have found their purpose: to manipulate mankind away from God and toward Satan via free will.

Later we see Satan  manipulate Eve's vanity to choose a similar path from Eden as Lucifer chose his path from Heaven: 

"[F]air angelic Eve, Partake thou also! Happy though thou art,
Happier thou may'st be, worthier canst not be.
Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods
Thyself a goddess, not to Earth confined" (Paradise Lost).

Satan, in the form of a serpent, tricked Eve to eat from the forbidden fruit, for in this fruit comes the knowledge to recognize good and evil. Before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve innocently made love, but after the consumption of the fruit, the young couple committed lustful acts. The loveplay was the same, but without the knowledge of their love, it was an innocent act, and with the knowledge of self-awareness, it was a lustful act. For man to know the difference between innocence and experience provides man with the ability to choose between the two, yet without innocence, his only remaining choice will be experience. The title itself "Paradise Lost" may as well be rewritten "Innocence Lost". Thus Adam and Eve's act of love is followed by shame, and for them to desire further loveplay is now driven by lust, the intentional repetition of the experience of lovemaking. Just as Satan chose to make "Evil of Good", Adam and Eve made experience of innocence and were so cast from Eden. 

Paradise Lost tells the story of the origin of Evil on Earth. Here we see man’s free will breaking God’s rules and the punishment that follows. It also shows how one Angel, Lucifer, asserted his own free will to attempt the overthrow of God in Heaven. This rebellion led to Mankind's introduction to free choice and the consequences of choosing unwisely, that is, against the will of God. 

In our next book, we will see how this same knowledge and self-awareness can create a dualistic faith.


The Exorcist





Summary: 

The Exorcist is a 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty. The book details the demonic possession of twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil, the daughter of a famous actress, and the Jesuit psychiatrist priest who attempts to exorcise the demon. 

The Author:




Biography: 

William Peter Blatty is an American writer and filmmaker. The novel The Exorcist, written in 1971, is his most well-known novel; he also penned the subsequent screenplay version of the film, for which he won an Academy Award.

The Critique:

In The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, the author expands on the role of Satan and his minions to warp the faith and innocence of God's creation Mankind. The Evil in the novel derives from the possession of Regan by the demon Pazuzu. Keep in mind that Satan's plan continues to unfold as told in Paradise Lost. The Devil seeks to break of bonds of a one-parent family, further weakening its foundation by literally taking over the body of Regan MacNeil, an innocent girl who knows neither God or Satan, religious good or bad. “The demon's target is not the possessed; it is us the observers..everyone in this house. I think the point is to make us despair..to reject our humanity: to see ourselves as ultimately bestial, vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy.” William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist.  It is Satan's intent, via his servant Pazuzu, to corrupt the innocence of the girl, tear the MacNeil family asunder, and render the Catholic Church's intervention negligible.

Initially, Regan's mother, Chris MacNeil, reacts to her daughter's strange behavior rationally. She seeks medical assistance to treat her daughter's condition, but after hospital visits to specialists and countless invasive diagnosis, Chris approaches the Catholic Church who agrees to submit the possessed child to an exorcism. Chris has taken her first step toward God for help rather than man. “For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all; I think it finally is a matter of love.” William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist. And it was her love for her daughter that made her take that leap of faith, not the evil that possessed Regan.


She meets with Father Karras, a psychologist for the church, who treats priests in the mist of losing their faith. Ironically, Karras, too, is losing his faith as he blames God for the medical affliction that has taken his mother from him. “The burnished rays of the setting sun flamed glory on the clouds of the western sky before shattering in gold and vermilion dapples on the darkening waters of the river. Once Karras met God in this sight. Long ago. Like a lover forsaken, he still kept the rendezvous.” William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist. How can God allow such a disease to exist? Is this a God worth following? so Karras asks himself. As doubt begins to creep into his beliefs, Chris approaches him and tells him of her own daughter's affliction; Karras is sympathetic to her situation and recommends medical treatment. She tells the priest that it was a medical expert who recommended him. This plants a seed in his doubt-filled mind, for Regan's case parallels his mother's case, yet the doctors did not refer his own mother to the church. Thus he investigates.

Finally, after some false leads, an exorcism is approved by the church. Karras is still not sure what to believe, but that seed of faith is starting to grow. Father Merrin, the exorcist, is called in to perform the ritual with Karras to assist. Merrin notes the young priest's doubts and realizes he may be on his own for this ritual. He explains to Karras, "“Yet I think the demon's target is not the possessed; it is us . . . the observers . . . every person in this house. And I think---I think the point is to make us despair; to reject our own humanity, Damien: to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy.” William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist. It turns out that Merrin is no match for his old foe Pazuzu, for his heart gives out. Karras cannot complete the exorcism, but he can sacrifice himself to save the girl. He can do so now that his faith is renewed, the seed of faith finally blossomed after he has witnessed the trials of evil. “Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness... and perhaps even Satan - Satan, in spite of himself - somehow serves to work out the will of God.” William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist. The demon is cast out but at the cost of Karras's life. When confronted by pure evil, one does not choose good; one loses faith in goodness. This is key to understanding the intent of The Exorcist. In interviews, Blatty discusses the key goal of the story:

Gadflyonline:

On a threshold level, The Exorcist does not seem to be a horror movie. Rather, it asks the really big spiritual questions. Were you writing horror or something else entirely different?
WPB: I intended that the novel be an "apostolic" work, one that would either strengthen one's faith or lead one to it. 

How do you think the film addresses these issues (i.e., transcendency, the nature of people, the spiritual world)?
WPB: Only on the most basic level, i.e., if there are immaterial, intelligent forces of evil, this alone suggests the possibility of other such forces that are good. And since the demonic intelligence responds to the ritual used by the Jesuits, it appears that there is God.


So, who ultimately was affected by the demonic possession? What did Satan achieve with this act of evil? Blatty explains, “Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men's eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all.” The Exorcist. Note: this passage echoes the earlier quote in the novel: “The terror drifted over Georgetown like the sun over a blind man's eyes.” [My italics] The Exorcist. Here "the blind" are nonbelievers, the faithless whom Satan targets for corruption, for they exist between God and the Devil, between Heaven and Hell, and their choice has not yet been made. Remember, not having a choice is the same as not accepting God, therefore falling into Satan's domain of influence. That "exploding sun" that the blind man sees is that glimpse of the Devil's hand at work in the human realm, that act of evil that we attribute to a medical malady or a disregard for the law. It may be "the horror" of a murder, a car accident, or Ebola, an evil we move on from after hearing about it in the news, telling ourselves that life goes on, but, for Blatty, and the crux of his work THE EXORCIST, this "horror" is the "crucible of goodness", our chance to see that true Evil does exist, that there are no accidents, that Satan is here, and that alone is sufficient proof that God exists by virtue of the existence of evil. 





Banished




Summary:

When the Queen of the Fallen Angels came to earth again she took the dead body of a 10-year-old native girl on an island. It was the 1200s and life was primitive, but Angelique managed to rule the people for 200 years until Columbus arrived. Escaping her island home, the little angel with her malevolent intent, wandered through the world using humans to do her biding as her parents and guardians. Then she brought down Nisroc, an angel she trusted to be her partner and helpmate. The problem was, Nisroc wasn't like Angelique. Nisroc learned to love. And he had to flee from his life with the terrible child before he lost what soul he had left.

The Author:



Biography:

Author of more than 60 books on Amazon, I am a thriller, suspense, and horror novelist, a short fiction writer, and a lover of words. In a diary when I was thirteen years old I wrote, "I want to grow up to be a writer." It seems that was always my course. My books have been published since 1984 and two of them received an Edgar Award Nomination for best novel and a Bram Stoker Award Nomination for most superior novel. I have been a regular contributor to a myriad of anthologies and magazines, with more than 160 short stories published. My work has been in such diverse publications as Horror Show Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

News of my e-book publications can be found at: http://peculiarwriter.blogspot.com/
My Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/billie.s.mosiman
Find me on Twitter @billiemosiman

The Critique:

In "Banished" Billie Sue Mosiman echoes Milton's portrayal of evil as the workings of a fallen angel. Here the character Angelique represents the corrupter of goodness on Earth. Like Pazuzu in The Exorcist, this fallen angel possesses the bodies of God's creation, man. The character Nisroc, another of the fallen, represents the converse of corruption, as he is influenced by goodness even as his nature is to commit evil. This dualism of the corrupted as victim and assailant is the heart of Banished: Demons can make men do evil, but man can also make demons do good. 

Angelique, when we first meet her here, springs from the corruption of a sinful man. He is a witchdoctor, Mujai, who uses his supernatural skills to bring back to life a dead girl whom he lusts for. "He had brought a dead chicken back to life. A dead dog. And once, even a dead panther, just to see if he could. But a human being? He had not dared try. He was not even sure that the gods would allow him that kind of power" Banished. Here the "gods" reference is vague in that we do not know if the source of the witchdoctor's powers are benevolent or malevolent. We can safely assume it is evil in nature because only "God" can raise the dead (see Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, for one). But Mujai suffers from "hubris", tragic pride: he thinks aloud "This is my island, he boasted to himself. I am king here. I am a god here. No one can do what I have done and what I am about to do. I am afraid of nothing, nothing" Banished. As with the Adam and Eve with their forbidden knowledge, the witchdoctor knows of things godly but best left to the unknown gods, who may or not be evil.

Although Mujai performs the unnatural witchery on the dead girl, he understands the evil he does: "Somewhere in the center of him where his man spirit resided, he felt what he was doing was against all nature" Banished. Furthermore, the unholy potion he gives the girl alters the cellular levels that make her human: "Within an hour all the cells of the child’s body had been changed, replaced, even down into the marrow of her bones. Human cells still, yes, but the DNA had been tweaked into something beyond human and life now was not like any life existing on the planet earth" Banished. The line separating natural from supernatural has been crossed for a prideful and selfish purpose. This is the breeding ground for evil, and the path for Angelique to arrive. 

Thereafter, Angelique, the child raised from the dead, begins to dominate Mujai, and the witchdoctor grows to fear his unnatural creation: "What he had done was so against the law of nature that it had created a creature he did not want around him" Banished. He was misled by his own desire and ignored the warnings that told him that it was not his hand that initiated the rite which raised the dead child: "Suddenly, and without knowing how it happened, the witch doctor fell in love with the dead child. If he hadn’t known
better, he might have suspected he was under a spell not of his own making" Banished. But his lust and hubris got the best of him, and he unknowingly unleashed a demon on his island. 

Thus Mujai reasons, no, rationalizes, that it would be no "sin" to return the girl to death, that he would be balancing his evil act with a "good" one. He does not understand that his motives are still being influenced by his selfishness and fears of this "magical creature". But his attempt to murder the undead child is thwarted by the demon. Before the witchdoctor dies, he tries to find solace in the fact in death he will no longer live with fear for the girl, so "Let the living be party to her baneful corruption" Banished. Just as Adam and Eve unleashed "death" and "evil" on the world, Mujai's pride propels Angelique's evil influences on mankind. 

As Angelique represents the "evil" corruption of mankind, Nisroc is mimetic for mankind's influence on heaven's fallen angels. As we recall, the angels who sided with Lucifer to overthrow God in Heaven fell with him when the coup failed. God gave the fallen angels demonic names to match their serpentine forms, for they no longer wore the bright angelic white robes and wings but slithered in Hell's sulfur stenched fires. Lucifer now bore the name Satan. He planned his revenge on God by corrupting God's creation, mankind, and began his vengeance successfully by having Adam and Eve ousted from Eden. From the corrupt couple's seed grew the human population, bound by original sin, that is, the knowledge that good and evil exist side by side and they can choose one or the other by virtue of free will (the fruit of knowledge). Angelique, in this sense, is the corrupter of men, following Satan's scheme. It is with Nisroc that Bilie Sue Mosiman expands on the definition of "free will" with an ironic and clever inversion.

Our introduction to Nisroc is through Angelique's eyes; she says, "Nisroc, the most brilliant and at the same time the most pesky of all the fallen angels she had once ruled in the outer darkness" Banished. Note the use of the word "brilliant", meaning both intelligent and bright, the two words most associated with Lucifer, the Lord of Light. This description depicts a dualistic personality much as humans host both good and evil sides, but choose one. We learn that Nisroc possessed the body of Julius Caesar and had claim to rule the world, but his trust in Brutus and his cohorts cost him his life. Angelique banished Nisroc from the realm of men as punishment; she explains, "Not once since that time had the Angels of Darkness been in a position to influence the outcome of human destiny" Banished. Here we discern two things about Nisroc: one, he is capable of human trust (and therefore betrayed); and two, he does not possess the ambition that Angelique wields in whatever human form she inhabits. While Angelique lacks the will to choose (she acts purely upon evil), Nisroc seems to have a choice (even when it leads to betrayal--an act that Angelique would have seen coming, for she has absolutely no trust). 

Since Nisroc has the fortune (or misfortune, depending on our point of view) to have similar choices to man, he also has the faults that distinguish man (in the state of original sin) from the fallen angels: "Nisroc had been overcome by his lusts for the pleasures of life on earth and he had not been alert to danger. earth and he had not been alert to danger. He had ruined everything. With his position of power he could have thwarted all that God had created, but with his failure, the followers of the prophet Jesus had
proliferated and filled the nations with hope and belief" Banished.  Nisroc his human side over his demonic side and good came of it; although he did not willfully choose to do good, good transpired nonetheless. 

When Nisroc asks Angelique for forgiveness, seeking a second chance to rule in human form, she grows suspicious and rightly so; she explains, "None of The Fallen possessed conscience or empathy or remorse. It is what made them Angel and
above man. Yet here was an angel who displayed human emotion. She could not
decide if this was a horror or a blessing" Banished. Confused by his display of contriteness, Angelique does forgive him. Even as Nisroc is influenced by man, he in turn influences she who cannot be influenced; she considers her choice to forgive Nisroc: "It was she who held the power over all The Fallen; she who allowed each of them to take a human form. They were forbidden unless she gave permission. Yet it seemed that just now it was Nisroc who had been in command" Banished. The human "free will" has begun to escalate to angelic levels. 

Evil in Mosiman's Banished is not so easily defined because it is depicted in Angels rather than humans. Although the fallen angels represent man at the literary level, Mosiman makes sure that we don't get caught up in the mimetic trappings of the story and simply enjoy this complex tale of good and evil, where even lost souls have the chance to be saved. 


Myths of Gods





Summary:

Being God can be hell....

Take a critical look at religion through an infant God's eyes in this dark and disturbing science fantasy allegory that spans from the Big Bang to present day.





Biography:

Leigh M. Lane has been writing for over twenty years. She has ten published novels and twelve published short stories divided among different genre-specific pseudonyms. She is married to editor Thomas B. Lane, Jr. and currently resides in the hot and dusty outskirts of Sin City. Her traditional Gothic horror novel, FINDING POE, was a finalist in the 2013 EPIC Awards in horror.

Her other novels include WORLD-MART--a tribute to Orwell, Serling, and Vonnegut--and the dark allegorical tale, MYTHS OF GODS.

For more information about Leigh M. Lane and her writing, visit her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.




The Critique: 

Traditionally evil is represented by Satan and his demons and good by God and his angels, as we have seen in our previous critiques. In Myths of Gods by Leigh M. Lane, this representation is relegated to the gray area of religion. Good and evil actions are predicated by intentions that go astray. Good begets evil, evil, good. God Himself is seen as a instantaneous "awareness", full of curiosity and "excitement". In contrast to the "All-Knowing" God of the Bible, Lane's God is subject to the effects of time: "I always existed in the present, and the present was nothing more than a series of moments that were all soon to become bits of past, themselves. Strangely, however, although I was able to recollect previous thoughts, I was unable to foresee the future. I wondered, with great trepidation, how long time also had existed without my recognition. Time had made me grow restless, and time would continue . . ." Myth. We also see the Myth-God subject to emotions as it acknowledges "time": "I began to ponder this new concept with worry and dejection. If there had never been a beginning, then it had only stood to reason that there would also be no end. My emptiness soon became all-consuming, my restlessness slowly growing to the point of being unbearable" Myth. Through its suffering alone in time, the Myth-God creates space, matter, and, ultimately, Mankind (or a variation therein as this world is a metaphoric parallel to Earth). 

With the creation of humans, we seem to have our representatives for good and evil, as well as healer, destroyer, etc. Ms. Lane misleads us, however, for the plot is not as it appears. It is easy to be misled if one is familiar with the Bible, but we must recall: this is a parallel Earth and a parallel Deity. And since the rules do not follow scripture, we rely on the "supernatural" to gain perspective into the choices these humans make and the consequences of their decisions. For instance, "the Elders" (the religious leaders) represent organized religion rather than the teachings of God. To control the masses, these false priests are not averse to changing the wording of their scripture and do so often. The "five Prophets" represent the coming of Christ (and perhaps Satan), the solution to this oppressive church that rules mankind cruelly. A street philosopher warns the crowd of listeners that "God" is coming to unite man and deity: '“God will come to the people in the form of three boys and two girls,” the philosopher continued, already bracing for the attack [from the Elders' guards]. “Watch for them and heed their leadership!”' Myth. Little did the townsfolk realize that the prophets were already among them. 

The powers given by Myth-God to these prophets is telling in how we can determine Ms. Lane's use of good and evil. We have a mind reader, a healer, a time controller, a manipulator or matter, and a death figure. United, these five God-sent creations hold the power to deliver God to the people, but it is not the Elders who prevent the prophets from their task; it is themselves. Just as Myth-God cannot create perfection (in fact, He creates chaos when he seeks to deign order), the five prophets turn on one another so that their powers are never united as the Myth-God intended. Just as this Deity errs in in creations, so too do the prophets fail in the execution of their design. As such, the prophets do not choose evil; evil befalls them. They represent the Myth-God who inadvertently creates evil by making man, not by making the prophets. The Elders flourish from the failure of the prophets. Deemed "terrorists" by the Elders, the prophets are burned as blasphemers. Myth-God's experiment is out of control and He therefore freezes time, stopping evil from further flourishing but also preventing good from its completion in the sacrifice of the prophets.

Thus it is that Myth-God re-considers this failed attempt at perfection, at an "Eden", so to speak. Through His error, man wielded evil with a mightier hand because they had prophets ("terrorists") to sacrifice to keep the masses in line. And here Myth-God intervenes, stopping time to re-think the cost of chaos: 

"We thought about the good and bad we had experienced through the first experiment, and it occurred to us that corruption was just as necessary as beauty. Only through the appreciation of the immense contrast good and bad created were we able to evolve into what we now were. We decided that, despite the negative turns mankind continued to make, it would be a worthwhile effort to continue in our attempts to steer the people toward enlightened thought. All the while, we would try to learn what we could, from both the good and the bad experiences that came our way" Myth.


Note that Myth-God speaks in the plural singular pronoun "we" as He now incorporates the Prophets as part of himself, not as a separate creation. He accepts the blame for the inadvertent creation of good and evil, rationalizing that future experiment with mankind would be more successful by failure of the first experiment. But keep in mind that the first thought of the Myth-God as He becomes aware of "time" is that He cannot see the future. He only knows the "now". Yet He speaks of the future with optimism, and here we have our evil, our "Satan", a god willing to make more mistakes to reach perfection, at the cost of many more human lives. But here too we have "good", that is, His intent to perfect man. For in this Myth-Earth, good and evil must exist side by side, for it is the reaching for perfection that is godly, not its attainment, which is as fleeting as time. 



Diabolical:





Summary:

Someone is trying to open a portal to Hell, and some others will do anything to stop it

Or so they say.

Jake Hatcher, lying low in Southern California, isn't all that surprised when he's asked to jump back into the battle between salvation and damnation and stop those bent on raising the forces of darkness--it's just why and by whom that's unnerving. Especially when it's put to him as an offer he can't refuse.

A former nun named Vivian Fall believes that a Hellion has escaped the infernal regions and returned to earth on an unholy mission--to unleash the forces of damnation on an unsuspecting world. Only Hatcher has the experience to track such a being. Only Hatcher has dealt with those who likely to know what what's really going on. And only Hatcher can get close enough to it--because the Hellion happens to be his own brother.





Biography:

Hank Schwaeble is a thriller writer and attorney in Houston, Texas. His first novel,Damnable, is being published by Penguin/Putnam in September 2009 under their Jove imprint.

Hank's first short story, "Mugwumps," appeared in the anthology Alone on the Darkside in 2006. In 2007, he won a Bram Stoker Award for the anthology Five Strokes to Midnight, which he co-edited with Gary Braunbeck and which included three of his short stories. The book was highly regarded, winning two Bram Stoker Awards and a World Fantasy Award nomination.

A graduate of the University of Florida and Vanderbilt Law School, Hank is also a former Air Force officer and special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He was a distinguished graduate from the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, graduated first in his class from the Defense Language Institute's Japanese Language Course, and was an editor of the law review at Vanderbilt where he won four American Jurisprudence Awards.

Hank is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association. In addition to reading and writing, Hank enjoys keeping in shape and playing guitar. He is currently working on his next novel.


The Critique:

In "Diabolical", Hank Schwaeble strides the line between good and evil, never allowing the reader to know when our hero Jake Hatcher is confronting angels or demons. Although he continues the traditional Heaven versus Hell battle, Schwaeble adds enough twists and turns in the plot and character motivations to keep the reader off balance. This fence-striding development reflects the confusing nature of evil and brings to mind the Samuel Johnson saying, "Hell is paved with good intentions." And inversely, Heaven, too, is paved with bad intentions, for Lucifer, the Angel of Light, brought his war of pride to the home of the almighty. 

Basically, the story of Diabolical deals with a group who works toward opening the door to Hell. Jake Hatcher, the hero from "Damnable", continues his battle against the evil forces who threaten his family. Along the way he encounters all manner of hellish creatures and corrupted humans, but who is there to help him and who to hinder him. Perry, a pawn in Diabolical's evil plan, has no idea that he is sought after by powerful people. Even as he witnesses the evil creature, his mind refuses to accept its existence: "Things like this weren't real. His entire existence had been a testament to that, to the fact the material world was all there was, that reality was a tangible substance he could shape with his will. It was all a Game, nothing more. There was no such thing as the supernatural. No spirits, no ghosts, no demons. Certainly no Devil, and definitely no God" Diabolical. Previously to this encounter with the "demon", Perry believed his criminal activities were based on his own free will, his desire to utilize his corruption to kill (the "Game"), but now that he's in the presence of true evil, he questions whether or not he is part of a plan, for though he denies the Devil and God, he begins to doubt his own denial; he begins to believe in their existence. 

Later, Perry again contemplates the appearance of the "Devil" from behind the mirror. If he is not in control of the "Game", then he is a pawn in a larger evil scheme. Though it remains unsaid, he is thinking about Satan's scheme to corrupt man. Up until his meeting with the hellish presence, "There was no Hell in his reality" Diabolical. However, there was a "God"; He was that deity that provided him with his victims. Note how Perry's beliefs and motives parallel Satan's. As we saw in "The Exorcist", the acceptance of Satan mitigates the path to the acceptance of God. How can he continue to deny the Devil when he just met him? Yet with the same breath he continues to repeat: "It wasn't Satan [that he met]. There is no devil. There is no God" Diabolical. Perry is not denying both the evil and good deities with equal vehemence. 

The confusion between good and evil is also exemplified when Hatcher is beaten by a policeman, a symbol for law and order (God's rules or commandments) as opposed to chaos (lawlessness). He cannot fight back, for the justice system doesn't work that way: "The problem with fighting cops, Hatcher knew, was that you couldn't win in the end" Diabolical. Even defending yourself against a "dirty" cop opened legal doors that would only lead to jail time for Jake. He later figures that this encounter with the bad cop was part of that bigger plan involving his latest battle with evil. It isn't much of a spoiler to tell you Jake was right.

Schwaeble maintains the grey area between good and evil with the character Morris, another "puppet" of the evil plan in play to open the door to Hell. In church, Morris wonders: "[H]ow resounding a scream might be in such a place, feeding his imagination with fantasies of terrified shrieks bouncing off all the hard wood and marble" Diabolical. In a place meant for good, he harbors evil thoughts. He also wonders if a demon could enter such a place; he reasons that Satanic entities should be able to trespass such holy places: "The [church] was nothing but a building. Just because demons may actually exist, it didn't mean there had to be a God" Diabolical. The author imagines a world of pure evil that is not balanced with good, and without "good", such "evil" would be chaos, a world without holy rules, where monster and man can co-exist without repercussions. All acts would be rendered the same, and, therefore, meaningless. That's a scary grey area for even Jake Hatcher to tread. 

Hatcher seeks clues to the "Hell Gate" in an effort to save his kidnapped nephew. He enters a museum and finds "paintings of gods and devils", non-Christian deities, in addition to images of "Global Warming and Climate Change". Jake surmises: "Even people who didn't have religion had a religion" Diabolical. The assumption is logical in that he is seeking evidence to locate a Christian "myth" (Hell) in a place that teaches "non-Christian" myths. As readers, we know that in the book we have "demons", a nun who has lost her faith, and a hero who does not believe in God, yet we know that the cornerstone of the book is opening the door to "Hell". In that sense, God and Satan exist, whether or not we or the characters of the book believe in the mythology of Christianity's religious "truth". 

In Diabolical, we have a hero who confronts evil as a soldier confronts war. What is war but a series of battles and the gain or loss of territory. So, too, is evil, for Jake Hatcher. For him, it's not a question of belief; it's a matter of live to battle another day while saving as many lives as he can. That's as good as it gets for him.


Vengeance is Mine



Summary:

As the small, religious community ruled by the sadistic Brother Joseph Jones braces for a coming ice storm, a battered, beaten Macie Jones hovers between life and death. Cooter James, a former POW, discovers Macie’s freezing body and must make a decision: try to save the woman he has found or continue to ignore the happenings in the village below and maintain his hermit like existence.

His decision made, Macie lies comatose in Cooter’s cabin and discovers that she has opened the veil between the living and dead of the brutal, patriarchal community. Through her, the women and children that suffered before her have found a way to repay their own brand of vengeance on the men who treated them so brutally in the name of God.

In the dreamtime, Macie must make her own decision: help the women with their plans of revenge or try to prevent any further death and pain.




Biography:

Kat Yares has been writing fiction her entire adult life. She is an author, screenwriter, indie movie maker and amateur photographer. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous print publications and online. She was first accepted into the Horror Writers Association in 2001 and remains a member today.

Her fiction is primarily in the horror/thriller genres. Unlike many, she writes horror not to gross out or startle her readers, but to make them think. Most of her stories are mind games and deal with mans (or woman's) inhumanity to man (or woman).

Her novella, Vengeance Is Mine, while horror, still strikes a cord for many readers as they can see correlations between the story and what is happening in today's political climate.

Her two novels, Beneath the Tor and The XIII, are both fantasy and thriller and as several readers have written to her, are bound to send her to Hades after she passes.
Visit her blog (www.katyares.com) to find out more about her and the various Internet retail outlets where her books can be found.




The Critique: 

In Vengeance is Mine, Kat Yares paints evil as a rustic cult community where women are subservient to men. The leader of this religious group, Brother Joseph Jones, admits to himself that he is there only for the power he sways over the town, not for the biblical teachings he perverts to attain his own corrupt ends. Brother Joe, as the men are permitted to call him, chooses and approves of the wives for the men and punishes the women who do not meet the tenets of his teachings. He has left a long line of dead women and girls. Macie Jones, Brother Joe's daughter-in-law, has been meted a punishment that places her between life and death. Here she meets all the victims of Brother Joe and learns that these ghostly victims can use her nether existence to enter the realm of the living and seek vengeance on the men who followed Joe's sadistic ways.

In Vengeance, the evil villains and good heroes are drawn in black and white. There are no grey areas as we saw in Diabolical. Here, too, there are no gods and demons. Here, man is the evil-doer and Yares draws him clearly in Brother Joe and his followers. But the "good" characters are the victims, many who believe in Joe's manner of running the community. To turn on Joe is to turn on God; therefore, God metes out the punishment to the women for not living up to His standards. Pregnant with Joe Junior (JimmyJoe)'s child, Macie collapses during Brother Joe's sermon at the church. For this interruption, she would be shunned: "By enforced shunning, the woman would have no contact with anyone but her father. She would cease to exist as far as the people were concerned. It would be a great lesson to the other young women of what can happen if you do not please your husband" Vengeance is Mine. Macie's welfare is of no concern to Joe or the menfolk, and even the womenfolk are reluctant to assist the girl lest they, too, be punished. This reluctance marks the "evil" allowed to flourish by a lack to act. To quote Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." This saying echoes the thesis of Kat Yares' story.

Macie is carried off by her father, Tom, followed by Joe's wife, Erma. Joe concludes that "Macie had to have the power of the devil in her to make his own wife stray" Vengeance is Mine. His egotism and selfish notions of devils and gods prohibit Joe from seeing that he himself is creating the defiance of Tom and Erma. But in Brother Jones' mind, it is Macie who must be punished. Even after discovering the death of her baby, she blames herself: "Macie felt that even god was having his vengeance on them all for her failures" Vengeance is Mine. She is so ingrained with the teachings of Joe that she cannot tell the difference between good and evil. There is only punishment and reward. At the baby's funeral, the whispers of the womenfolk regarding Macie reflect their ignorance: '“God’s punishing her for her sins, that’s for sure”' Vengeance is Mine. The sermon is wooden. The death of the baby falls on the mother's lack of goodness.

Joe Junior abandons his wife in the snow near her father Tom's house. She never arrives. She collapses and waits for death. The "spirit" of his first child JJ appears, and Macie wonders if she is dreaming. Here the book transitions into the supernatural realm when the dead child answers: "Death’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing like they taught us in church. Ain’t no judgment day, ain’t no hell, or nothing like that" Vengeance is Mine. In a natural world, things live and die. That's the cycle. In a religious world, our body dies, but our spirit or soul moves on to Heaven or Hell depending on the faith or beliefs of the person. So, when JJ informs his mother that it is not a natural or religious world she is going to, that leaves only the supernatural world, the world between life and death. JJ says of this middle world: "Come on Mama, let go, I’ll help you get where I am. Where all your babies are [Macie had several miscarriages]. We've all been waiting for you” Vengeance is Mine. In short, this is a place where those who died unjustly reside as neither dead nor living.

A short note about the title of Yare's book before we proceed to the supernatural transition. Here is the complete saying: 

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.


It is God's place to take vengeance, not man's, nor angel or devil. Thus it is of portent that the supernatural "victims" of Brother Joe go against the word of God. The title of the book is ironic in that it is not God taking vengeance, but these supernatural creatures consigned to oblivion by Brother Jones' unjust punishment. With this in mind, let's move onto the transition.

Macie is neither dead or alive; she is between awareness and dream. She becomes the portal for Joe's victims to enter the natural world and kill the menfolk who stood by and did nothing as these womenfolk and miscarried children met death without justice. In other words, the supernatural vengeance of these creatures is just but unholy, meaning the wrath of man (or woman in this case), not God. 

Cooter James is the hermit who finds Macie's body. The supernatural creatures have her "spirit", for lack of a better word, for spirit implies "soul". Perhaps "essence" is a better word. Cooter nurses her back to health, though she remains in a comatose state because the supernatural creatures keep her so in order to enact their revenge. We watch the town disintegrate as the creatures rush to destroy it before Cooter can awaken Macie. So, is the vengeance "evil", we must ask. Is Cooter doing "good" by caring for Macie? For if she wakes, the creatures will not be avenged and the evil menfolk of the town will be saved. This is quite the dilemma Kat Yares has written for us. 

I suppose if we look at the other side of the ironic title, that Vengeance belongs to the Lord alone, then the supernatural creatures could be considered evil but innocent victims, if such a dichotomy could exist. And what of Macie? She does come to realize that she is being used, but a part of her is on the side of the victims, for she, too, is a victim. I can only say at this point that Ms. Yares comes up with a marvelous conclusion and a very satisfying denouement. As we have seen so far with our books, "evil" is not so clear cut as Milton laid out for us.  



Sineater






Summary:

According to legend, the sineater is a dark and mysterious figure of the night, condemned to live alone in the woods. He may come out only when a death in the community occurs. As the mourners turn their backs in fear, the sineater devours food from the chests of the dead, thereby absorbing the sins of the departed and freeing the soul to enter heaven. Yet in a small mountain town, the order has been broken. The sineater has a family of his own, even though they must avert their gaze on the rare occasions he visits them. With the violated taboo comes a rash of horrifying events. But does the evil emanate from the sineater, his family, or from an even darker force?


Biography:

Elizabeth Massie is an award-winning author of fourteen horror novels and collections, short horror fiction, licensed media tie-ins (Dark Shadows, The Tudors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more), mainstream fiction, poetry, and educational fiction and nonfiction. Her novella “Stephen” and novel Sineater both received a Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers of America. Thy Will Be Done, her 2010 novelization of the third season of Showtime’s original television series, The Tudors, won a Scribe Award from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

Recent works include stories in the anthologies/magazines Tales from Crystal Lake, Dark Discoveries #25, Shadow Masters, and Qualia Nous, the zombie novel Desper Hollow (Apex Books), and the historical horror novel, Hell Gate (DarkFuse). Currently, she is at work on a YA historical horror novel, The House at Wyndham Strand, a contemporary YA superhero novel, Silver Slut: You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me, and Night Benedictions, a collection of poems and meditations.

Elizabeth lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and shares life and abode with her husband, illustrator/artist Cortney Skinner. She can be reached through her website: www.elizabethmassie.com or through Facebook.





The Critique:

In Sineater by Elizabeth Massie, evil is represented by a pagan ritual and the people who follow it. The ritual here, of course, is sineating. It consists of a person who eats food off a corpse in order to absorb the sins of the dead. The food is laid out per custom and it is forbidden for the dead person's family and friends to look upon the sineater as he feasts lest the lookers glimpse all the sins the eater has absorbed over the years. In our story at hand, Avery Barker is the sineater who lives in the mountains of Virginia. He is shunned by the locals in the belief that even if he is looked upon when he is not eating, they will be witness to the very sins he has eaten away. 

Our first glimpse of Avery is after a birth. He was close at hand in case there was a death and his services were needed. Here we learn that Avery's wife is giving birth and that his two children and the mid-wife, Jewel, must watch the birth. Curry, the seven year old boy explains his role in the family and tells a bit about his father: "Curry's father's hands would be eternal y damned if Curry were not alive. Curry's father, Avery, is the sineater. Curry knows he was born to keep Avery from God's holy and terrible burning lake when he dies" Sineater.  Apparently, if the sineater dies without an heir, he is doomed to the "burning lake" (Hell). Note that it is not Satan's "lake", but God's, for God made the prison where the fallen angel Lucifer would spend eternity. Hell is but the anti-Heaven, an interesting analogy as a sineater frees sinners to enter Heaven, just as Jesus promises in the Bible: "“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" John 14:6. In this sense, the sineater provides a way around Jesus to the Father and Heaven. But Avery bears his own sin; he has married and has begot children. Curry's words now take on a different meaning regarding his father's means to avoid the lake of fire.

Another part of the ritual is to mark the children to protect them from the overflow of sins from the sineater, for the locals believe there is a limit to the amount of sins the eater can absorb before they burst free. But the cure is worse than the risk in the mind of young Burke who suffers protection by his aunt Missy: '"Think of God," and Aunt Missy presses the point [of the knife] to the smooth flesh of Burke's inner arm. "Think of the sineater and his evil. He is filled with more sin than can be held. He will rise up like the devil and chew us up. Think of…” And the point slices down and under the skin and Burke arcs backward, sucking air in surprise and exquisite pain' Sineater. Here the sin-filled Avery is described as "the devil", in contrast to the earlier connotation that he is Jesus-like. This is not a contradiction. It is a dichotomy or dualism. The sineater, in this pagan ritual, represents the old and new ways of Christianity. Thus the backwoods setting is important to reflect the paganism custom that's still currently being used while the young characters who dominate the story represent the inevitable change this custom will eventually undergo. (Note, too, that the story is told present tense, yet its subject matter is ancient). 

When we  first see the sineating ritual, we are told that the corpse is prepared in the manner of the "old testament", another reference to the friction between pagan and modern religion. With the sineater's role as both Jesus and Satan figure, the ritual comes under scrutiny under suspicious circumstances (later in the story, a series of deaths is blamed on the sineater). When the locals need the eater's services, however, he again becomes a blessed figure with results that are good. But he is a magnet for blame when evil is afoot. During the ritual, Missy stops the proceedings and declares: '"We’s at a crossroads," says Missy. "The time to be
watchful is here. The Lord has shown me the evil that has manifested itself among us... tonight must be the night of new beginnings. We must seek a new tradition. We cannot do as we have always done. The blister has grown to a head. The face on that head is the devil”' Sineater. Missy' "vision" causes her to  cancel the ritual, but the mourners proceed without Missy and place the food on the corpse, turning away from the ritualistic display as the sineater ominously makes his way to the cabin as Missy and her family rush away from the proceedings. 


The deaths and "accidents" that follow are blamed on the sineater. Massie here seems to be pointing a finger at the townsfolk for their fickle faith, not so much at Avery, who is merely a touchstone for the evil of the residents. Even as Joel recalls the mailman's maiming, he thinks:
"He tries to look beyond the scene, into the trees nearby, to see if there is a movement undetected before. To see if there is a man-shape in the shadow. To see if the sineater had indeed been hiding, watching, savoring the carnage" Sineater. Though he believes there is another cause for the accident, he can't help but imagine the common belief of the town people, that the sineater is behind the unexpected arrival of evil. Has his sins begun to spill over?


At this point, the children of the story begin an investigation into the horrors befalling the town, not only in an effort to find the real culprit, but to clear the sineater's alleged role in the misdeeds. Here we can contrast the older generation's stubborn belief that the old ways are to blame while utilizing them when it suits the residents with the younger generation's open-minded belief that there are other possible reasons for the terrible things happening in the town. We have old testament, new testament, pagan ritual and leaps of faith, all combined with the task of the young investigators. They must capture the sineater to truly correlate the old and the new. Joel explains: "Wayne wants to catch the sineater for his own justice [the old way, eye for an eye]. Dave understands that, but it cannot be. Joel needs to catch the sineater to come face-to-face with his own dark heredity. And Dave needs to catch the sineater so he can see, so he can understand, so he can clasp the very essence of human power... Human power, thinks Dave. And maybe even supernatural power at that" Sineater. With "understanding" comes acceptance of change, and with change comes the new. The old way merely perpetuates itself. 

As God's laws have been interpreted from generation to generation, they have sometimes been conveniently adjusted to match the times. At one time, we could take an eye for an eye, seek out own vengeance, but now we have trials and judges. Elizabeth Massie uses the metaphor of the sineater as a transition from the changing generation into the changed generation. A detailed and deliberate read, we are witness to how the same evil can be interpreted differently by two generations, but more so, we are greatly enlightened to see that even today's good may be tomorrow's evil. 


Final Thoughts:

In the straightforward biblical masterpiece Paradise Lost by John Milton, we saw the birth of Evil and the corruption of God's creation, Mankind. With free will, man was now subject to original sin but given the opportunity to still regain paradise. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is a study in opposites: if there's evil, then there's good (the existence of Satan proves there is a God). In Banished by Billie Sue Mosiman, we understood that corruption is a two-way street; just as Satan can corrupt man, man, too, can uncorrupt demons. Myths of Gods by Leigh M. Lane skewed the story of Genesis and the passion of the Christ from multiple characters representing various facets of biblical doctrine on evil. Hank Schwaeble, in Diabolical, made good and evil indistinguishable in an effort to show that many times the bad guy wears white and the good guy black and choosing between one or the other is not such an easy task. Kat Yares, in Vengeance is Mine, further muddies the water by depicting evil as a passive endeavor, and even the best of intentions can go awry. In the Sineater by Elizabeth Massie, evil is defined by old and new Christianity, with the sineater serving as a touchstone for two different belief systems, and that ultimately, evil is an evolutionary concept. 

I'd like to thank our authors for participating in our latest venture into the facets of Horror. Keep your eyes open for the Weird Western and Horror, and Bizarro and Horror, coming soon to the Servante of Darkness Blog. 


1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your extensive investigations into these books and the insights you offer. Thank you, too, for including Sineater among the novels.

    ReplyDelete