Look At My Monocle And Top Hat (The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe)

       Poe is one of the classier horror author, and when it comes to Poe there's probably two pieces that come to mind "Quoth the Raven," and "Tell-Tale Heart." I want to take a look at "The Tell-Tale Heart," because it deals with so many questions of human nature.
 Tell-Tale Heart
       The horror genre is generally split into two categories: the pre-destined, and the free willed. The predestined is where some cosmic force steps into nature, and since it's horror terrorizes the occupancy. Free-willed horror is horror that people do to each other. The serial killer stories that Dean Kootnz created like "Darkness Under the Sun," and "Intensity," but the Godfather of all these stories is Poe. It implies that the real werewolf is much closer than we think. The real werewolf is inside.
       The story starts with the question, "Am I mad?" The question re-appears throughout the work. In the story the main character murders the man he lives with, for what appears to be no reason at all.
       The inference seems to be that we have to believe he's insane. Evil for evil's sake is so alien to our reasoning that maybe we have to believe he's insane, maybe even for our own sanity.
       Even so, he seems to indicate his own insanity by saying: "The disease has sharpened my senses." In either case he kills him, and buries him in the floorboards. The police come, he hears the sound of what he thinks is the old man's beating heart, and confesses to the police in the hopes that the awful noise will stop.
       It's fairly clear that the heart doesn't belong to the old man in all reality: him being dead, and all that jazz. It would seem that the heart is truly his own: giving  guilt a sort of phenomena in nature. Because, only he can hear it, and the haunting beating noise starts right after he kills the old man.
       The point is on human nature, and evil. The point on nature is that the human heart was made for good. It starts to malfunction, and rebel against its possessor's will when it has done evil. The point on evil is that, if you boil evil down to what it is it's madness, nothing more.
       There's one last question: How many steps are we away from this. When will the reasons for evil simply dissolve, and when will evil get back to its true nature? When will it become evil for evil's sake?  

Thing From the Other (The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft)

No one has influenced the modern world of horror more than H.P. Lovecraft, other than maybe Poe himself. Neil Gaiman once said that once said that Lovecraft built the stage on which all modern horror is played, and Stephen King echoes his sentiments.

                Lovecraft created a grand mythos, in which each story has a certain cast of cosmic monsters. The mission of most of his works is to attack Empiricism: the belief that there is nothing outside matter, and anything real and objective can be observed through the senses.

                Lovecraft gives off the essence of this most clearly in another work called ‘The Tomb.’ “It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence, those isolated phenomena, seen, felt only by the psychologically sensitive, which lie outside the common experience… the prosaic materialism condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight that penetrate the veil of obvious empiricism.” All this means is that when the supernatural is portrayed: it is dismissed as madness.

                He blames empiricism for this spirit of intellectual superiority, and punishes them by giving his unbelieving characters gruesome ends. Although, to be fair, most Lovecraft characters meet an awful end, regardless.

                In his story “The Colour Out of Space,” he continues his cynical attitude toward materialism. It starts with a beginning similar to Dracula: a modern man coming into a myth ridden culture. Unlike Dracula, he finds no reason for myths to exist, because the culture is so Puritan.

                The main bulk of the story is the telling of how, a meteor from outer space, touched down into a field making it desolate. The rock is branded with colors from colors off of the human color wheel. “It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside, and as such endowed with outside properties, and obedient to outside laws.”

                Two different professors look at the rock: only to find that no chemical will break it down. What’s left of the rock continues to ravage the land, terrify animals, and turning people insane. One character tries to send their troubles to “The Gazette,” and is given nothing but ridicule. The underlying point is that humanity can’t seem to own up to the big parts of reality.

                Schliermacher, one of the liberal, German theologians said that Religion is the feeling of the infinite inside the finite. I think he’s wrong, but only slightly if we change the context. The supernatural is, or can be the infinite inside the finite, and Lovecraft’s work certainly carries the other-worldly coming into this.

                Christianity would certainly agree with Lovecraft that things from beyond nature step into nature, and interact with it. They do, however, differ at one key point. Lovecraft’s creatures are at best ambivalent to the plight of human nature.  So, the question becomes: is the real other-worldly ambivalent.

                The answer is no. why do I say that? Is there any purpose in ambivalence? No, however, in the real world we seem to have a sense of purpose that goes far beyond our own lives. We have a sense of the way things ought to be.

                If this world were without purpose, I don’t think we would know it, or understand what purpose was. In a world without light there would be no creatures with eyes.

                Like the rock in Lovecraft’s story: purpose comes from beyond, and like that rock its nature is totally different from the place it landed in. What’s different is that one destroys and the other gives power.        


My Productivity is Unproductive (Insidious)

       I love a good ghost story, and a good demon possesion thriller. So, Insidious was a really good crossover between both those plotlines.
In the story, when a family moves to a new house their son goes into a coma, and the mother sees strange spectors throughout the house. They move; hoping to be rid of the spectors and on some levels the coma. When they move they only find that the coma, and the ghosts are still present. So, the father’s mom reccomends the psychic, and when the psychic comes she explains that the boy has the ability to leave his body. This is attracting unwanted potential occupance like ghosts, spectors, and demons.
In a somewhat odd twist the empiricist and rationalist father learns that he too can leave his body, and he must do so in order to redeem his son. He does this, but at a cost.
      On a whole I enjoyed the film. It’s suspenseful and imaginative. However, there’s no clear philisophical message like the Buddism of “Avatar,” or the blatent naturalism of “Jurrasic Park.” It’s simple and clear job is to simply thrill you. Does this mean it’s not worht our time? Is it enough for a piece of media simply to entertain us? At least when it comes to the genre of horror, I think it is.
       Let’s take a look at the genre of horror from a historical standpoint. When was it popular? You would expect during a time of less social turmoil. We’ll you’d be as wrong as I was when I made that assumption. Horror is popular when there is some sort of massive social upheaval. Stephen King talks some about this phenomina in his book “Danse Macabre,” but why is this? When I go to a horror movie I find a world with troubles far greater than my own. What do I feel at the end? I feel relief. It puts my own life into perspective.
       Fiction should seek to entertain then teach. A greater man than me once said that, and he’s right. I hardly remember anything from my science textbooks, but I remember every book from Mr. Jenkins literature class. Why: because, it entertained me, and I ended up learning in the process.
My third point is for artists, and especially artists with a message. Being entertained is a way of being swept away, and how can you hope to sweep someone away unless you yourself have been swept away. So, read, watch, and absorb your art, and above all be swept away.
        Going back to Insidious; watch it. Determine what you think. If you like it; great. If you don’t that’s fine too. It’s about finding out what sweeps you away.

On Fiction, Fantasy, and Fear, a Christian challenge on why fiction is key to the world around us

At sixteen years old, I read a Stephen King book called ‘Misery.’ It’s a story about a writer that gets kidnapped by his biggest fan: who happens to be insane. The book, which I downloaded as an audio file, onto my iPod was, in a word, amazing. You could tell that King was writing about something personal. He had such valuable insights to the human psyche that really simply amazed me, but when I mentioned to my Christian friends that I read Stephen King, of all things, I was met with critical looks. One statement seemed to be predominate: “I just don’t like dark stuff.” This seemed more like a cop-out than anything else, and  I still think so. If it was simply a matter of taste you wouldn’t be giving me that look you give to the kid that tries to justify cutting himself. The dark part of reality is important. It exists after all, and if God placed us on an earth that has evil in it: then he must have meant us to learn something from it. 
I read a book called ‘The Crucible‘ for literature a few years ago. It’s a book about the salem witch trials in which mob mentality totally takes over. Everyone starts suspecting other members in the town of being witches. This leads the town into chaos, and the town acts unjustly in many cases. This is an interesting story on it’s own, but whats really interesting is that it was written during the red scare. This should, pardon the pun, scare us a little: the fact that maybe the days of mob rule aren’t so far behind us after all. We create some horrors to try to deal with the real ones, but eventually the made up ones come to represent the real ones. They mean something to us because we’ve dealt with something on a smaller scale. The problems in  books are both bigger and smaller. They’re bigger, generally, because  they’re dealing with life,and death situations. They’re smaller because it’s not your life the author is dealing with. It’s important to read dark books sometimes because it gives a place to articulate our common problems without suffering the radical consequences of certain actions.
The books under the ‘Harry Potter’ title have brought much distain among Christians. This didn’t strike me as odd until I examined the books themselves more closely. The books bore no real marks of the Wicca religion. All that was similar to the students at Hogwarts was that some were called witches. What was I sensing then? I think after afew years I have figured it out. Christians have a tendency to push away radically anything that could possibly make them doubt, and if you thought that a certain worldview would make you doubt then the natural Christian reaction would be to shove it away. The problem with this is that it is self defeating. You prove you are already doubting by shoving away something that could prove to be more reasonable, in such a person’s mind at least. 2 Corinthians 10:4 “We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” This being the case we do out Christian duty a disservice if we do not weigh with  patience and intelligence the world views of our day.
I hate to generalize, but I feel I have to do it here. For the most part Christian fiction is bad. There are a few outliers: Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee are the mentionable ones. The stories and the characters seem flat. The bad guys aren’t that bad, and the good guys are inhumanely good. They seem to be woefully ignorant of the way the “real world,” works. So, my challenge to Christian authors and Christian readers is this: if we have the best understanding of reality then why don’t we write the best fiction? After all, fiction is supposed to reflect reality.
  • note If you have read this far, then, I thank you. If you see any mistakes in my points, and logic tell me. I have no problem being wrong. -Joshua Mingo, Woodbridge Virginia 2012

To See Is To Believe (1408 by Stephen King)

      I debated for a while on what to start this project out with. I knew I wanted a Stephen King piece mainly because he’s one of the more modern authors I like, and I wanted something that was easier to handle. So, with resilience my paperback copy of “Stephen King Goes To the Movies,” stared back at me.  I decided on his short story “1408.” It’s a story about a writer who pens books on supposedly haunted locations. He believes in himself, and some of his works. The works he’s known for, however, he isn’t exactly proud of. 
      The hotel manger desperately tries to stop him from staying in the haunted room, 1408. The writer decides that the manager is simply trying to scare him off, and the writer all but shoves his way into the room. Both the book are fairly consistent up to this point.  Of course, there would have to be case because the story, in my paperback copy was only about 56 pages, but the movie was a about an hour and a half. The main difference was the way the room seems to work. In the book it seems to work like a portal: allowing unspeakable almost Lovecraftian horrors of the infinite into the finite. While in the movie, once you enter the room; the room is all that exists. In the book the room seems to simply break you down, turning you into a broken down copy of yourself. While in the movie it shows the main character flashbacks into the most painful moments of his life.       
     The other difference is that in the book the main character abandons rationality more readily while in the movie he keeps attempting to come up with reasons why the horrors came in.  In fact the very ending is different. In the book he barely makes it out, on fire, but he makes it out alive. In the final scene he’s a ghost still trapped in room 1408.  The movie is true to the book, however. Why do I say that, when I just explained how different the plots are? I say that because the points that both convey are essentially the same.  Horror movies and books have a prevailing theme of supernatural, or  abnormal stirring under the guise of ordinary life. The theme shows up in some of King's other works. "Fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists."-"It," 
The theme of 1408 goes a little deeper. The books most prominent theme is about belief. When the main charecter is talking to the hotel manager. The manager tells him about his main crutch "There are no ghosts in room 1408, and never have been... In an old house, or abandoned castle keep, your unbelief may serve you as protection. In room 1408 it will render you more vulnerable." What would be the reason for this? The reason would be that your dealing with an objective threat, unlike in the castle where your threats are in your own imagination. At the end of the book the manager is being questioned about the sustained burns of the main charecter, and he answers "He believed to much in nothing." The idea that a person is judged by their unbelief seems to be present in both this, and Christianity. It used to puzzle me why faith in the sense of belief could be considered a virtue. How could simply accepting a statement on reason be considered moral?
What I didn't take into account was the human mind. The human mind won't neccesarily, once it has taken somthing as true, go on acting as if it is true. Take a boy learning to swim. He has seen tons of people swim without plumiting to the bottom. His reason knows perfectly well, but what he must do is keep on acting, and trusting in that reason and foresight. This is what's known as the virtue of faith. (Paraphrase of C.S. Lewis Chapter 11 book three of "Mere Christianity)
 I think that if we learn to objectively look at the media we absorb we'll find peices we actually agree with, and peices we don't. If we can do that we can learn more about our world. We can see our blindspots, and reach out to show people like ourselves, and not like ourselves. If yo're a christian tehn you believe you ahve the full roadmap to reality. So why stop exploring?