Insolent Ignorance

Last Saturday I rented a Denise Austen DVD from the library, and today I finally did its second workout: Yoga Sculpt. Basically you spend thirty minutes doing yoga exercises, only with a five-pound weight in each hand. This is why I need to post today. Tomorrow I might not be able to move my arms.

Independence Day is coming up, and my current reading is appropriate to it. Normally, when I read nonfiction it centers around modern events and people. Sometimes, however, I delve farther back. Right now I’m reading The Life of James Otis of Massachusetts, by William Tudor. James Otis is one of the most influential, least regarded leaders of the American Revolution. For example, when I mentioned his name you probably did not know who he was.

I’m just starting to learn. The biography I got from the library was published in 1823. It’s fascinating to read something written that long ago, to know how a man of that time thought and wrote. I’m only on Chapter Three, but already the author has paused twice to explain puritan customs to his readers. (He did not capitalize “puritan”.) Tudor and his audience were so much closer to the puritans than we are – yet even to them it was history.

In the Preface I found this comment: “When a well known foreign journal in all the triumph of insolent ignorance, asked, ‘Who Patrick Henry was?’ we only smiled at its impertinence.”

This is beautiful, and I’ll be remembering it for a long time – the triumph of insolent ignorance: Who is Patrick Henry?

CSFF Blog Tour: Standing Firm (and Jumping)

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

I had planned on writing about darkness in fiction once again, but after looking around the blog tour I decided to switch topics. Becky LuElla Miller and Thomas Clayton Booher both offered interesting thoughts about what, exactly, afflicted Sam Travis, his brother Tommy, and Captain Whiting. Booher wonders if there is an “insanity complex” passing through the family line; Becky debates the murky line – in fiction and reality – between mental disorders and demonic possession or influence.

I was intrigued by their commentary, in part because mental illness was never an explanation that occurred to me. Oh, those men were sick all right, but I assumed it was moral or spiritual. I didn’t buy for a second Sam’s fretting about losing his mind. As a rule in SF, the crazy person is the one who knows something everyone else doesn’t.

Having dismissed the insanity theory without waiting for much in the way of proof, I interpreted the story this way: Captain Whiting and the Travis brothers were caught in a pincer – the darkness without and the darkness within.

At multiple points in the story they attributed to the “darkness” desires, will, thoughts – in other words, sentience. The talk of the occult confirmed that there were demonic forces at work. That was the darkness without, driving its victims to fulfill its evil desires.

But though they were victims, they weren’t really innocent ones. What is it, after all, that allows us to be conquered by the darkness without? The darkness within.

Samuel Whiting is said to have “given himself” to the darkness, and I’d wager it was his despair and rage that led him to it. But Darkness Follows is not his story, so it’s hard to speak with certainty on his descent – and impossible to speak with certainty on Tommy’s. So I will concentrate on Sam.

He was “vulnerable”, we are told, and it’s easy to see why: unemployed, disabled, unsure about himself and his future. But by far his greatest vulnerability was in his faith, which had apparently wilted in hardship. “Stand firm in your faith,” Isaiah told the king, “or you will not stand at all.”

Sam was not standing firm in his faith, and it’s no wonder he was in danger of falling. Right at the beginning we are told that his faith is not strong, and throughout the story it’s almost nonexistent. If he ever prayed, I don’t remember it. As Sam struggled against the darkness he thought about his family, but he didn’t think about God. He never took into account what satisfying the darkness would mean – grieving God, disobeying Him, maybe even alienating Him. After all, a man can only serve one master, and if you’re serving the darkness you can’t be serving God.

Succumbing to the darkness is always a choice. As God warned Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

And as G. K. Chesterton put it:

Christendom has excelled in the narrative romance exactly because it has insisted on the theological free-will. It is a large matter and too much to one side of the road to be discussed adequately here; but this is the real objection to that torrent of modern talk about treating crime as disease, about making a prison merely a hygienic environment like a hospital, of healing sin by slow scientific methods. The fallacy of the whole thing is that evil is a matter of active choice whereas disease is not. If you say that you are going to cure a profligate as you cure an asthmatic, my cheap and obvious answer is, “Produce the people who want to be asthmatics as many people want to be profligates.” A man may lie still and be cured of a malady. But he must not lie still if he wants to be cured of a sin; on the contrary, he must get up and jump about violently. The whole point indeed is perfectly expressed in the very word which we use for a man in a hospital; “patient” is in the passive; “sinner” is in the active.

CSFF Blog Tour: Seeing in the Cave

Michael, who is 36, now often refers to gay life as a kind of cave … Had Michael been secretly unhappy as a gay man, and was he now projecting that onto all gay-identified people? I broached the question later that night at his small off-campus apartment, where we sat in his barren kitchen eating Oreo cookies. “Well, you can’t see how dark it is in a cave when you’re in it,” he said. Benoit Denizet-Lewis, “My Ex-Gay Friend,” The New York Times

There is a rising tide of support for “dark fiction” among Christian readers and writers. One of the most popular arguments in its favor goes like this: As Christians it is our duty to face the darkness and show the ghastliness of evil; in doing so we will help people understand the darkness of this fallen world and awaken them to a need and desire for redemption.

And this has worked for some people. They recognize the existence of evil and then, working backward, the existence of good. Sometimes they follow the trail all the way back to God. As C. S. Lewis said, we wouldn’t know our line was crooked unless somewhere there was a straight one.

What startles me is how blithely some “dark art” defendants pass from We need to face evil to Let’s break out the horror novels! It’s like having someone try to argue you into walking to the grocery store by irrefutably proving that you need milk. Well, okay. But why not take the car?

Exploring the darkness is not the only way to understand it – nor, for my money, the best way. If you want to know what darkness is, your best object of study is the light.

George MacDonald once said that only God knows and hates evil. I am sure beyond all doubt that God hates evil more than I do, more than any of us do. And it’s not because He has seen more of it – because He has, if I may dare the analogy, been reading horror while the rest of us have been reading prairie romance. The heart of it is not that God knows more than we do, although He does. It’s that He’s better than we are.

Only God fully knows evil because only He fully knows goodness. No one, Jesus said, is good except God alone – the everlasting burning with whom sinners cannot dwell. (Isaiah 33) The Bible shows us again and again God’s anger against sin, His implacable hatred of evil. The key to understanding it is His holiness.

Nothing more clearly exposes the nature of darkness than the light. When Isaiah saw a vision of God, he lamented, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!”

When Jesus showed His divine power in giving the fishermen a miraculous catch of fish, Peter pleaded with Him, “Go away from me, Lord; I am sinful man!”

When Job heard God proclaiming who He was, his confidence in his righteousness was finally broken and he confessed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

As C. S. Lewis wrote, “You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. … You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.”

If we know God, we will know ourselves. If we know what goodness is, we will know what evil is. The light will give definition to the darkness.

This is the safest, truest path to revelation. The backward path remains, and many people have followed it to the truth. The debate about darkness in fiction is worth having. But the indisputable point that darkness is a reality to be faced is not the end of the debate; it is the beginning.

CSFF Blog Tour: Darkness Follows

What is it that takes a sane, upstanding citizen and turns him into a menace? What makes him destroy his life and hurt everyone he loves? What makes a man a murderer?

The darkness.

Darkness follows Sam Travis’ family, and now it’s come for him. He struggles against it, but it is by no means certain that, stalked by shadows, he will be able to keep his eyes open to the light. It’s not certain that he will be able to hold on to it, a lifeline to keep him from drowning in the darkness.

If I had to sum up the soul of Darkness Follows, that would be it: the pull of darkness on the human heart and the pull of light. Mike Dellosso plays it chillingly, convincingly; the journey is incredible yet somehow you can believe it. There is a truth, and a profundity, that cannot be denied.

The characters are nicely real, the writing is fluid and artistic, and the plot took me in directions I wasn’t expecting. But despite its overall soundness, the story was somewhat marred by horror-enhancing stupidity. I’m no criminal mastermind, but if I were plotting the crime of the decade, I’d try to lay low. Hint: Refraining from unnecessary murders is a step in this direction.

So much for the good and the bad. Now for the ugly. Now let me tell you why I was relieved to be finished with this book. Darkness Follows is bloody, relentlessly depressing, and blighted with cruelty. The lurid stories of abuse and domestic violence were a swim through depravity I didn’t need. The violence was often gratuitous; some of it wasn’t even logical. And the macabre metaphors grew tiresome.

And the ending … Why is it that one man, grasping at the brightest star in his sky, was saved, and another man was killed reaching for just the same light? Why were those most guilty least punished?

Darkness Follows had its good qualities, but ultimately I did not enjoy it and cannot recommend it. Mike Dellosso is a good author, and after reading the notes in his book, I’m sure a good man, too. I regret passing a negative judgment, but this would not be an honest review otherwise.

So take it for what it’s worth. Below are links to the author’s website, his book’s Amazon page, and the rest of the blog tour. You’ll find the positive reviews of Darkness Follows there

I am intending to post twice more, addressing the issue of darkness in Christian fiction. It’s a sensitive topic, I know. But as my new credo goes, “As long as you are the wet blanket of the blog tour, you might as well throw in your hat to be the troublemaker, too.”

Darkness Follows on Amazon;

Mike Dellosso’s website;

and the rest of the blog tour:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Enemies of the Cross

Back in April CSFF toured The Strange Man, by Greg Mitchell. It’s the first book in The Coming Evil Trilogy, and according to the author, the second book is set to be released next February. He tells us:

What can you expect to find in this next installment? Secrets will be revealed–changing everything you know–and everyone will be forced to choose a side in the upcoming war between the last remaining “saints” of Greensboro and the forces of hell. There will be new characters, returning favorites, and even more gruesome monsters. The stakes are raised as the mystery of the Strange Man’s master plan unfolds.

To be honest, the “more gruesome monsters” bit makes me a bit squeamish. I found the Strange Man quite gruesome enough. But the rest of it sounds good, and I am definitely intending to read Enemies of the Cross. According to Greg Mitchell, an excerpt of the book could be up on his site as soon as Halloween, and he’s hoping to post a “tie-in short story” around Christmas. I’ll be looking for them.

For anyone who hasn’t read The Strange Man and wants to look into it, my review is here, complete with a batch of links to other bloggers who reviewed the book. You can also find reviews on Greg Mitchell’s site and on Amazon.