Thursday, June 7, 2018

Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre: A Review

Author Mike Duran is not one to shy away from exploring controversy. As an avid reader of his Facebook posts, Mike also has his own blog and he is well equipped to address the issues closest to his heart. Yesterday, I completed one of Mike’s rare nonfiction books, Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre, a lengthy analysis of a genre rejected off-hand by most Christians as being a legitimate expression of artistic creativity. Nonetheless, there is a growing cadre of Christian authors who are tackling horror in its many forms including myself and the book was a breath of fresh air compared to the criticism so often leveled at people of faith who read or write in the horror field. 

Mike’s five chapters cover a number of topics starting with religious themes within horror as well as horror themes within religion. Jumping to an exploration of evangelical Christian culture and its relationship to literary and cinematic horror, Mike ends his book with an apologetic explaining his definition of Christian horror and then tackles in the final chapter several popular objections to what some consider the oxymoron: Christian horror. Along the way, he explores the work and philosophies of Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Dean Koontz, and others like Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. 

The result is a satisfying apologetic for those of us who write in the horror genre, but also written with a maturity to understand that there are pitfalls and dangers for the Christian artist regardless of their chosen field.

The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui: Myth or Monster: A Review

First published in 1970 and then republished with a new Foreward in 1989, Affleck Gray’s The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui: Myth or Monster is an exploration of the supposed entity that haunts Scotland’s second highest peak in the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland. 

The late Affleck Gray is certainly qualified to discuss the subject. A mountaineer, a historian, an author, and a former forester and landscape consultant, Gray was born in the shadows of the mountain range and has wandered its crags and ridges starting when he was twelve years of age. 

Starting his book with an encounter with the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui by Professor Norman Collie in 1891, we are asked if the entity is a real creature, a ghost, or the result of the human mind overstressed from exertion, high altitude, and solitude interpreting natural phenomenon as a visit from some guardian of the Scottish highlands. 

Examining report after report of supernatural encounters with the entity, sometimes seen, sometimes only heard, the reader is taken on a tour of the lonely peaks and introduced to the typography and wildlife of the Cairngorm range. Odd natural phenomena such as optical illusions are explored and Gray leaves no stone unturned in his quest for answers, even exploring the theories of those who try to interpret the Big Grey Man as a member of fairie or even an extraterrestrial visitor. 

In the end, Gray reveals his own thoughts that the encounters are merely misinterpretations of natural occurrences, but the experiences he relates from other climbers make one wonder if there may actually be something else roaming the slopes and peak of Ben MacDhui. 

In spite of Gray’s more materialistic explanation, too many climbers, too many witnesses leave the reader wondering just how much Affleck Gray’s skepticism may be based more on his lack of an encounter with the Big Grey Man than the numerous eye witness reports. It’s left up to the reader to make his or her own decision.

Friday, June 1, 2018

In Search of the Creators to Be Published

From "current work" to "completed work."

Today I received some badly needed good news from editor Fred Patten:
Dear Alan; 
Hello again. I am happy to say that your story, "In Search of the Creators", has been selected to appear in Exploring New Places, to be published by FurPlanet Productions in time to go on sale at the Anthrocon 2018 convention in Pittsburgh on July 5-8. It will be on sale through the FurPlanet online catalogue, on Amazon, and other places after that.
I wrote back:
Totally delighted. Thank you for the good news. I wish you success on the anthology. As always, it's a pleasure to be part of the team.
This will be the third or fourth anthology edited by Fred Patten I have had the pleasure of being part of. It is always an honor. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Do You Keep A Reading List?

On August 5th, 2010, I made a decision to read a million books before I die. As I was as of that writing 55 years old, I suspect this is a goal I will die reaching.

Today I finished book #276, The God Who Walks Besides Us, by David Roper. That means that in the last 2,856 days when I started this project, I read an average of one book every 10 days.

That actually is remarkably low from my more youthful rate of one book every six days.

I keep my list hidden on an old blog, but it is no longer public as I came under sharp criticism in the choice of my reading material. None of it is questionable as life is too short to waste on garbage, but as a writer I read a lot of genre material and there are people who believe the writing and reading of fiction is nothing more than a waste of time. I ignore them, but I keep my reading list to myself.

Anyway, do any of you keep a list of books you've read? Movies maybe? I'm curious as to your progress, not to compare as we are all different, but just curious.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Pagoda: A Dark Fantasy of 340 Words

The Pagoda
by Alan Loewen

The dream has been the same for the last thirty years. I stand on a windswept cliff overlooking a grim, wind-blasted valley choked with ice and snow. I can see the rocky path on which I stand weaving its way to a far ridge where stands a dark and ruined pagoda, terrible in its size and aspect.

The sky is dark with scudding clouds gravid with sleet and snow. A bitter wind whips my cloak around me. Surrounded by sharp snow-blasted mountains, their summits disappearing into the cloud-covered heavens, I am chilled to the bone and nauseous from the altitude.

Despite the distance, the size of the pagoda takes my breath away. Though it stands far across the valley, I still have to tilt my head to glimpse the pagoda’s summit where it touches the clouds. My mind cannot conceive the labor that has gone into its construction, a feat that humbles the Pyramids of Gaza or the Colossus.

The elements have not been kind. It is impossible to tell if the pagoda has ever been any other color than its present stain of dark corruption.

Yet, the pagoda does not hint at a genesis from any human mind. Some other intelligence, vast and unknowable, created its foundations and reared its walls for I am aware I am not alone in this blighted landscape. I am being observed by something within the structure, an intelligence I instinctively recognize as alien and aberrant, hostile to my existence, yet uncaring in its power.

It is when the full awareness of what lies within is directed toward me that I awake in my room, terror clogging the scream in my throat.

It has been this way for thirty years, every night, standing and viewing the pagoda from a distance, but last night I awoke with a shriek of terror, freed after three decades.

Before I woke, for the first time, though I fought the impulse with all my strength, I took my first step down the path.

(Pagoda illustration © to Will Reierson)

Note: If you're interested, you can see my published works here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Tales of Inspector Legrasse, by H. P. Lovecraft and C. J. Henderson: A Critique

In 1928, Weird Tales magazine published H. P. Lovecraft’s most well-known short story, The Call of Cthulhu, that featured as a minor character a New Orleans police official, John Raymond Legrasse

In 2005, horror writer C. J. Henderson released a collection of six short stories revolving around the continuing adventures of the police inspector. Together, The Tales of Inspector Legrasse form a braided novel, each story illuminating Legrasse’s struggle to maintain both his sanity and purpose as he works with others to thwart the imminent destruction of the world. 

The collection starts off with Lovecraft’s seminal work, The Call of Cthulhu, when in 1908 Legrasse asks attendees of an anthropological society meeting to identify a statuette of unidentifiable greenish-black stone. The description is that of the famous Old One, Cthulhu:

The figure, which was finally passed slowly from man to man for close and careful study, was between seven and eight inches in height, and of exquisitely artistic workmanship. It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters. The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down towards the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the backs of huge fore-paws which clasped the croucher's elevated knees. The aspect of the whole was abnormally lifelike, and the more subtly fearful because its source was so totally unknown. Its vast, awesome, and incalculable age was unmistakable; yet not one link did it show with any known type of art belonging to civilization's youth—or indeed to any other time. 
In the second story in the collection, Patiently Waiting, Inspector Legrasse returns to New Orleans to discover the ritual he and his men interrupted some months earlier was a preliminary to a final rite that will truly destroy the world. The rest of the stories continue Legrasse’s adventures along with compatriots he has picked up in his journeys until their research eventually leads them to a wind-swept glacier in the Himalayas where they have their final conflict with those who would bring Cthulhu back into the world. 

The stories are very well written with the exception of the third story of the collection, To Cast Out Fear. Though Henderson introduces two important characters (one very reminiscent of Doctor Strange), the message of the piece on how love can undermine the plans of the Old Ones as they do not understand it seems saccharin and very much out of place, a philosophy once stated is never referred to ever again even though it appears to be a potent weapon. In spite of that literary hiccup, the collection is a masterpiece of Henderson’s writing where he takes a minor character of Lovecraft's fiction and makes it his own.

You Are Invited to a Public Reading

Drawn by Aimi of AimiArts
On Thursday, May 3rd at 6:45 pm, I will be doing a public reading of The Inugami for critique at West Shore Evangelical Free Church at 1345 Williams Grove Rd, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055. Admission is free and open to observers. The actual reading takes place around 8 pm with the first 85 minutes a business meeting.

Story Excerpt

That afternoon, Kelly returned to her apartment to find Shadō practicing with her sheathed sword in the living room. The Inugami had moved the furniture back against the walls and had dressed herself in the clothing that was in the buried box of her former master.

Shadō had bound her chest with a large strip of cloth. Dimly, Kelly remembered it was called a sarashi worn by Japanese swordfighters of both sexes. The only other articles of clothing were a floor-length skirt with slits up both sides almost to the waist and a heavy sash that served as a belt. A slit in the back of the skirt allowed the Inugami’s white-furred tail to move freely. Kelly watched with growing respect as Shadō practiced her elaborate kata, a complex series of movements, making the sheathed katana hiss through the air.

Shadō made three elaborate moves before sliding the sheathed sword into her belt then turned to face Kelly and bowed low. “Welcome home, master,” Shadō said. “How may I serve?”

Kelly shook her head. “You are not my servant,” she said firmly. “We are equals.”

The Inugami looked up, her eyes betraying her emotion. “In the world of the onmyōji order and balance must be maintained even within the chaos of magic: student and teacher, servant and master. Without order, we surrender to complete chaos and in chaos there is only destruction. I am no longer hidden and my presence is felt in worlds seen and unseen. We will have visitors and some will come to challenge.”

Kelly swallowed and placed her backpack on the dining table next to the ancient book of the Daoist sorcerers. It lay open to the page describing the paces of Yu, a shamanic dance that traced the nine stars of the Big Dipper to capture its supernatural strength.

“The world has changed, Shadō,” Kelly said. “The onmyōji belong to the past. They must stay there.”

Shadō sighed with obvious consternation. “You see an Inugami before you. You are aware of the presence of kitsune.” The Inugami came and knelt before Kelly. “The world has not changed. A part of it has simply been hidden and now it bursts forth. Soon you will see other marvels and some will not be friendly. You must prepare.”