Members of CGU Fall 2005 Seminar Rel 414

"Bible, Horror, and Fantasy"

On Thursday, February 2, 2006, six students from the Fall 2005 Seminar, "The Bible, Horror, and Fantasy," shared their work with the ISS at our first Brown Bag Lunch Discussion of the semester. In coordination with the agenda of the Institute, the students interrogated the social-psychological functions of the genres "horror" and "fantasy" and the category "scripture", especially their roles in meaning-seeking and power negotiation. They began with a multimedia presentation featuring images from films, fiction, television, and theatre that represent the genres of horror and fantasy. Sound from Michael Jackson's song "Thriller" and voice narration of a speech by the monster of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein added to the drama of the montage.

Ian Fowles' project focused on C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters and its mixed function as horror, fantasy, scripture, and Christian midrash. He raised questions about Lewis' own terror at the experience of placing himself as the Other, in this case, by writing about the world from the perspective of demons. Lewis' disavowal of knowing how the demon correspondence came into his possession also picks up on a strategic theme in horror, fantasy and scripture: the assertion of mystical origins to achieve an aura of significance.

David Williams concentrated on the use of horror, fantasy, and scripture in Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' Left Behind series of novels. Religiously based fantasy is used to "shock and scare us from the modern world" while at the same time revealing an anxiety about conservative evangelical identity. Characters like Nicolae Carpathia and Rayford Steele illustrate that those on the border of conservative evangelical identity suffer punishment, while the Antichrist exposes the arbitrariness of constructed difference.

Sara Frykenberg analyzed Anne Rice's short story and novel, Interview with the Vampire. Rice presents traditional horror creatures whose contaminated presence generally holds a "regulatory force of scripture." Yet Rice subverts the typical plotline that fixates on killing vampires and experiments with letting them live. She plays with their perceived Otherness, allowing her to explore how readers identify with vampires and even create subcultures to venerate them. The vampire as a symbol of personal and social formation also demonstrates what is at stake in the production of scriptures.

Melody Cruz explored the evolution of the figure of Satan as found in Blatty's The Exorcist and as deployed in Bob Larson's Freedom of Faith Ministries. For Cruz, Satan is a chaos monster that reflects social identity, a force that lurks in everyday life and needs to be controlled. Those who offer apparent control, such as exorcist Bob Larson, assume a certain authority in the proof of their ability to expel the monstrous other, often as a means of social and financial profit. In these cases, we see that the monster figure helps establish and maintain social authority, which is central to scripturalizing practices.

Kenzie Grubitz's project placed Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics in conversation with the biblical stories of the Tower of Babel, Noah's sons, and Pentecost. In Cosmicomics and the Bible, God is the Other, both "asking for and forbidding understanding." While the Babel story signifies the impossibility of language's clarity, Pentecost hints at the opposite, laying the groundwork for canonical reading. While fantasy can endanger scriptural authority, it can also set up ways for scripture to remain the central controller of meaning.

Christian Kim's project considered Toni Morrison's Beloved and raised questions about the transformation of literary texts into scripture. He described both Morrison and the author of Luke-Acts as intentionally borrowing from previous literature with scriptural functionality (the New Testament and the Aeneid respectively) to scripturalize their own texts. He examined how the authors of Beloved and the New Testament relied on elements of fear, fantasy, and horror in order to cohere communities dealing with traumatic pasts and uncertain futures.

Questions for consideration:
Why do people persist in inventing narratives and creatures that require the suspension of disbelief? Are we capable of comprehending ourselves and others without creating such narratives and creatures?

How can societies progress if their monsters don't ever conclusively die?

Though often originating in some religious or religiously referential context, how are constructions of "the monster," "fantasy," and "horror" used once they become part of the canon of popular culture?

Can scriptures be seen as a subcategory of a broader "fantasy/horror" framework for approaching the world?

How do constructions of the "fantastic," the "horrible," and the "scriptural" work together in the creation and maintenance of social power and authority within given communities?

If monsters represent the transgression of social boundaries, do they broaden those boundaries or reinforce them? Or are they capable of doing both?

How are "horror", "fantasy", and "scripture" complicit in (and critical of) colonialist projects?

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