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.