Sunday, April 3, 2011

Exploring the Metaphysical Atmosphere in which Monsters Breed, the Wider Existential Ecosphere of Horror, Not Merely the Particular Monstrous Fauna

An obvious question: how is a Christian philosophy of horror distinct from a theology of monsters?

Well, as my project of developing a theology of monsters has progressed, I've realised that once I've explored the biblical groundwork—cataloguing the monsters of the Bible and how they fit into the overall design of divine revelation—I eventually wanted to move on into how monsters are used in various modern Christian writers of imaginative fiction (e.g. George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, R. A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, and others).

In thinking through this I remembered another Christian writer's wonderful early fable: G. K. Chesterton's 'The Taming of the Nightmare' (in the rare and excellent wee book of mostly fantasy stories by Chesterton called Daylight and Nightmare – highly recommended). The title alone of this story sums up a lot of what Chesterton is doing in his philosophy and art and it struck me that it says something significant too about a Christian philosophy of horror.

Christians don't merely deny, defy, or destroy horror, but seek to come to terms with it and ultimately bring it under the Lordship of Christ and thereby ride the horror, the nightmare. Horror finds its real function and power in service to the Creator/Redeemer. The Mare of the Night becomes a steed of holy terror and good horror that the Christian rides, not as a master, but as a respectful participant in God's wild pageant of creation.

But that's getting ahead of myself. I'll do a separate post dedicated to Chesterton's story. Another post reviewing that whole book. And yet another post trying to explore this theme across the body of Chesterton's work (see, for example, his essay in praise of Skeletons).

And, of course, that's just the beginning. I've got all of the aforementioned authors to go through as well! So to some degree this will be a Christian poetics of horror—a literary theory of 'art-horror' rooted in Christian theology. However, I think it inevitably involves other areas of philosophy such as metaphysics, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion and others.

So when these things are being discussed we are already standing on a root-work of theology and are now stepping out into building a philosophical superstructure on this foundation (see Colossians 2:8). Obviously this could be done strictly in terms of monsters, but here I want to largely explore the the metaphysical atmosphere in which monsters breed, the wider existential ecosphere of horror, not merely the particular monstrous fauna.

Though there will no doubt be significant overlap, monsters will mainly be dealt with at 'The God Who Loves Monsters' blog and more general horror will mainly be dealt with on this 'Ride the Nightmare' blog.

One example of this division of labour would be discussing the character Weston in C. S. Lewis's science fantasy novel, Perelandra. When dealing with Weston's discourse—surprisingly Lovecraftian in its espousal of a form of 'cosmic horror' (whether Lewis was familiar with Lovecraft or not)—I would blog about it here. When dealing with Weston as a specific sort of monster called The Un-Man, I would blog about it at The God Who Loves Monsters blog.

That this is all weirdly defiant of easy taxonomy and categorisation is only fitting to the monstrous and horrific nature of the subject matter.

Thanks for reading!