My parents taught that horror stories have no place in the Christian life. Halloween in my house was celebrated by turning out all the lights and pretending not to be home. Monsters are the devil’s thing and not something to celebrate.
Perhaps I’m inclined to agree, but monsters come in a great many different shapes. There are always the old classics like werewolves, zombies, and vampires. (Remember when vampires sucked the marrow from bones rather than from life?) Ghosts and spirit stories are thousands of years old. In fact, there is at least one ghost story in the Bible. (I Samuel 28:3-25 if you’d like to read it. It’s the earliest seance story I’m aware of.) In short, people have been writing down horror stories for as long as they’ve been afraid, and we’ve been afraid for a very long time.
We’ve had a lot to be afraid of, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had real monsters. Oh sure, there is still the occasional bear attack and some mountain lion attacks, but these are unspeakably rare. Even rarer if you’re in Indiana rather than Montana. Most of us will never see a bear in the wild, much less be attacked by one. We’ve conquered our real monsters.
Now we miss them.
There is this moment of relief when all our fears come to naught that is so strong as to be indistinguishable from authentic happiness. I once read that chimps laugh when they are startled and find that they were startled by nothing. Humans have figured out how to replicate that rush in a scary story or movie. Fear without danger.
So for a couple of hours, just every once in awhile we let some monster loose. Let it rampage through some unsuspecting teens on a TV screen or a costal village of Maine in the pages of a book. Something just as fictional as the monster.
It’s a good distraction because there are things out there that frighten me far more than monsters. Fears in real life don’t wrap up in a couple of hours. They don’t go away. They come without cathartic release. The things that scare me in real-life end with sorrow instead of relief.
There was a night, years ago, when I dreamed of a robbery instead of a monster. I said in that post that my new monsters were real. That’s true, but still unlikely. The monster in that post is possible but hypothetical. Lately, I’ve been afraid of the things that go wrong with the human mind. There are diseases that alter memory and change personality. That’s what I’m scared of now.
So, I’m going to turn on the TV and put on a monster — perhaps the demogorgon from Stranger Things. For the next hour, it’s all I need to think about. And for you, may all your nightmares be scary monster scary instead of grandma is sick scary.