Darkness Follows, Day 3: Is Christian Horror Gaining Ground?

CSFF Blog Tour

I’m keenly interested in the trends of the Christian speculative fiction market, and over the last few years, I’ve noticed a slow, steady growth in the genre of supernatural suspense/horror. The fact that three out of the last four CSFF tour selections have fallen into this category only served to heighten my sense of a change in the market.

So what is horror exactly? Mike Dellosso, author of Darkness Follows, defines it this way “horror has to have some supernatural aspect (varying degrees) that pits good against evil, light against darkness. It has to invoke some fear in the reader and more times than not carries that ‘creepy’ factor. Horror does not have to be suspenseful (though it often is), does not have to be fast-paced, and does not have to be thrilling. ‘Christian’ horror (again, for me) employs all these things and carries with it a certain redemptive storyline that shines the light of hope and love in the darkest of places (which is often the human heart).”

The description of Darkness Follows alone makes clear Mike’s intent to present both the reality of darkness and the love of a Father strong enough to overcome it, and he elaborates further: “I don’t write horror just to scare people (though admittedly that’s an added bonus), I write it to show people the contrast between light and darkness, good and evil. To show them that evil does exist but there is a Power more powerful than evil, a Light that can banish any darkness, and that in the midst of utter darkness there is still hope.”

Based on this definition of horror and how it relates to a Biblical worldview, it is easier to address the question of its presence and its growth. There will always be those opposed to the idea of any Christian speculative fiction, let alone horror. There will always be some (myself included) who can appreciate what Christian horror writers desire to accomplish in their novels and still have no desire to read stories that aim to induce fear. Nevertheless, there appears to be a growing audience that wants to read these stories, and a response to this demand. For those who are fans, the increase probably seems far too small, but I see a distinct change.

Ten years ago, I would have been hard pressed to come up with a title in this category, except perhaps some of Frank Perretti’s work. Now it doesn’t take much thought to come up with a list of names, and I don’t even read the genre. Over the last several years, Mike Dellosso, Mike Duran, Eric Wilson, Travis Thatcher, Melanie Wells, Ted Dekker, and a number of others have written in this genre. Their works are often termed supernatural suspense, which most writers seem to agree is only a euphemism for horror–one that doesn’t bring to mind stories of meaningless darkness and gore.

Since we’re on tour for Mike’s book, it seems fitting to share his perspective on the growth of this genre, as he expressed in an interview at Where the Map Ends:

“I think the whole group of speculative subgenres is gaining some traction, some more quickly than others.

I’d like to think ‘chillers’/supernatural suspense/thrillers is growing in popularity and I’m seeing some signs of that in comments my own readers make. Sci-Fi and Fantasy should garner more interest in the Christian market because they are ripe for carrying powerful messages.

I’d like to see those genres more widely accepted and marketed. There might be some old stereotypes that need to be broken before that can happen, though. I know with horror there’s always that stereotype that scary stories have to be chock-full of gore and guts and crude language. But that’s not true and there’s a few of us out there trying hard to break down those assumptions.”

It seems to me that their efforts are beginning to meet with some success. Like many of the other Christian speculative genres, horror may still be a small segment of the market, but there are signs to indicate its expansion.

If you’re a fan of Christian horror, it seems you have something to celebrate. And even if you don’t enjoy the genre, it reflects a greater openness in the Christian market to speculative fiction…and that’s good news for all of us speculative writers.

Do you agree? Disagree?

Comments

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    June 22, 2011 - 3:28 pm · Reply

    I absolutely agree that the expansion of horror into the Christian market reflects a more open attitude toward speculative fiction. However, I see the market as a small niche, so I fear that these books aren’t going to sell well (and publishers will yet again conclude that “fantasy” doesn’t sell to Christians).

    I think horror is a small niche of the Christian market because it’s all about darkness, with the light coming in at the end. For those who experienced dark lives before coming to Christ, this journey may not be one they want to take (especially in their leisure reading). For some, like me who find the darkness abhorrent, the journey seems antithetical to the victory we have in Christ.

    Yes, darkness is part of life as we know it with the Prince of Darkness roaming about seeking whom he may devour. So showing darkness in fiction seems inevitable. But I prefer stories that show light along the way, that offer hope and help in the struggle. Not dark stories that get darker until shattered by the light in the end.

    But that’s me. Others see this differently.

    What I wonder about is why Christian publishers seem more inclined to publish horror than epic fantasy. Hmmm.

    Becky

    • Sarah Sawyer
      June 22, 2011 - 5:30 pm · Reply

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix, Becky! I think we’re mostly in agreement, though I hope that publishers don’t find another reason to believe that fantasy doesn’t work in the Christian market. While I’ve observed the horror trend with interest, I’m squarely with you when it comes to reading preference. Evil exists and horrifying things happen, but I don’t enjoy stories that focus on the descent into the abyss. Fantasy also portrays battle between good and evil, but it does so with far less emphasis on the darkness, which I prefer.

      However, every Christian horror writer I’ve ever heard express their aim in writing, shares that they ultimately want to point to the redemption and power of Christ. And it seems that some people not only enjoy horror stories, but find that they present truth in a meaningful way. I don’t understand it, and there are times I don’t agree with the mindset or the way it is handled, but I don’t want to discount the experiences of fellow writers/readers, nor their very real expression of faith. For me, Christian horror does the opposite of edify, but as I mentioned in the post, I appreciate the goal of these writers, and the fact that (based on the response of their readers) they are meeting that goal.

      One of the reasons I relied so heavily on Mike’s quotes was that I wanted potential readers to get a feel of where he was coming from as a writer and use discernment in making their own decision about whether the book would be a good choice for them or not. I made the decision for myself before the tour, but I know many people have different tastes/opinions than I do.

      Like you, I have wondered many times why Christian publishers appear more open to horror than epic fantasy. I have some theories, but none that are conclusive. Maybe that’s a post for the future. 🙂

  • Scathe meic Beorh
    January 15, 2013 - 11:14 pm · Reply

    When we talk about horror written by Christians, we should never forget the masters looked up to by everyone: Charles Dickens, Arthur Machen, Bram Stoker… not to mention John of Patmos and certain chapters from both Peter and Paul’s epistles–not to forget all of the contes cruels (‘cruel tales’) found in the Old Testament.

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