Few things are better, on a cold dank October grey day towards November, than to pull out a spooky book by the gloomy window, expecting the scrape of holly on the pane and Heathcliff’s vindictive pallor.
I don’t enjoy Wuthering Heights or any of the Brontes' stuff: too much atmosphere and soap opera, too little story. I know I should do the literary thing and prefer those volumes, but I’m drawn more to simpler and more Christian tales like those of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Harry Potter (yes, Christian).
And then there’s Russell Kirk. His Ancestral Shadows is something one should immediately procure for this month’s non-professional reading. There are stories in this volume, handily bound and introduced by Vigan Guroian, that will spritz you with frissons of frabjous joy (for that spookiness of the jabberwocky is the rollercoaster scare-happiness that reacquaints us all with the exhilaration of being real men and women, for once).
Moreover, there is that weird book of Kirk’s called, glumly, Old House of Fear. Lady Fortune has smiled on you: I had to read this little tome in the form of another library discard (culled from some horrible bureaucracy called “The Amphitheater Library,” which believed in vandalizing texts with arcane rubber stampings and that peculiar septuagenarian librarian pencil-scratching which periodically commented on the volume’s absence of circulation). It was sheathed in a bubonic mix of bread mold and Milk of Magnesia, and mottled with stylized maple leaves for some unknown mystical purpose. Thank God the cover lay unseen when the book was open, though its neighbors on my shelf have filed a number of aesthetic complaints.
You are fortunate in that you can order, online, a new paperback edition by Eerdmans. Don’t bother going to Borders and Barnes and Nobles. They ban such books, censoring them from popular regard.
Despite the sickening cover of my copy, the text remains Kirk’s, and on page 189 he proceeds to lecture us on diabology, or how men can grow down to be like demons.
On what G. K. meant when Father Brown said that good men can remain the same, but bad men must get worse
Both [the bad guys] must have been reared and educated well enough … They might have commenced, like others, full of humanitarian sentimentality. And then, perhaps, demon ideology, with its imperatives and its inexorable dogmas, its sobersided caricature of religion, had swept them on to horrors. Ideological fanaticism had made of Jackman [the main bad guy] the goat-man, mastered by lust: but not the lust for women’s bodies. Jackman’s was the libido dominandi, the tormented seeking after power that ceases not until death. And in the flame of that lust for power, Jackman and Royall would be burnt up, today or next week or next month: they were at the end of their devil’s bargain, and the fiend would claim his own.
Now, in this oppressive silent moment, the conviction came to Logan [the good guy] that these two artists of disintegration were more frightened than he … Because frightened, Jackman and Royall were the more dangerous; but also their brains were stagnant with dread.
Fear … is the normal condition of man, after all. Quiet ages and safe lands are the rare exceptions in history. Nowadays the tides of disorder were gnawing at whatever security and justice still stood in the world, quite as the swell round Carnglass [the island where the story takes place] sought to bring down that heap of gray stones to the mindless anonymity of the ocean. With growing speed, the brooding spectre of terror, almost palpable in Carnglass, was enveloping the world. This island was the microcosm of modern existence …
For all their effort to behave as if they were still masters of the island, a tautness almost hysterical had crept into Jackman and Royall, and their voices were strained. What for years they had dealt out to others, now waited for them; and they had forgotten the meaning of mercy. There was no justice to which they could appeal. By fear they had lived: and now the fear which they and their sort had carried throughout the world was claiming them also. Having murdered order, these two at last were cast into the outer darkness.
Underline two phrases here: “artists of disintegration,” and “having murdered order, these were cast into outer darkness.”
The pimply idiocy of modern scare literature is predicated on the simple fact that most of it isn’t about evil at all – at least, not diabolical evil. The “fear” in modern horror has only to do with grotesquerie, not what demonism really is. That’s the chief difference between Christian literature, and the ilk that surrounds it: the former calls the villain for what it is, the latter runs away from it, while, at the same time, eroticizing its effects for the entertainment of children.
"Erotic horror" is a rubric that covers offscourings like "Resident Evil" and "Saw" (a favorite of too many 12-year-olds), as you would expect. But the category also includes the awkward prancings of spandexed single-mother divas, and the leerings of airbrushed mannequins: these, too, fall under the pall of dehumanized erotics and horrors. After all, just what is the "Living Dead"?
Only Christian theology prized out in art and literature still remembers what evil is. I understand that there is much that is called Christian that is neither art nor literature, and certainly cannot be called theological. And it is just as likely that there is much that is good stuff that is Christian without looking that way, or even knowing that it is.
There must be evil talked about for art to be art, simply because evil is all around and must be dealt with on the journey home. That is the simple morale of the Odyssey. It is the heroism of Jesus Christ.
Finally, this last "diabological" thought: I am not at all afraid of haunted houses or spooky spaces ... but I am afraid of the real and grievous hauntings: minds possessed and homes defiled. Then, in those places, when my own bravery fails, I hold on to the Christological courage which the Cross becomes, which makes us more than conquerors.