Stephen King's Religious Stories
I was putting my daughter in bed awhile ago and as I was pulling the blanket up over her, she said, "Daddy, tell me a scary story." Ah, the scary story. Children love the scary story -- the suspense, excitement, the thrill of being scared in an environment that is at the same time safe and comfortable (kind of like Burger King -- the fat content in the Whopper is terrifying, and yet eating it makes me feel all warm and cozy).
But many adults love scary stories too. This is a fact that Stephen King knows well and it has made him quite a bit of money. During the summer of my nineteenth year, I read "IT," after which I refused to go near a storm drain for the next six months. My friend Brant, who read the book at the same time, discovered that chance encounters with balloons tended to ruin his day ever after.
Recently, I finished reading a Stephen King novel titled "The Wolves of the Calla." It is the fifth book in a seven book series called "The Dark Tower." It got me thinking again about why people are drawn to fantasy stories that have an edge of the horrific to them.
Andrew Greeley, Roman Catholic priest, Professor of Sociology, and author of the book God in Popular Culture, has a theory. He suggests that fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories are ultimately religious stories. Now the pairing of Stephen King with religion to many might make about as much sense as a union between Janet Jackson and Paul Tagliabue. Stephen King's stories are populated with zombies, vampires, demonic cars, and child-eating clowns. But notice he does not say "Christian" stories. By "religious" he means stories that are all about meaning and hope. As if to test his theory, Greeley once attended a literary guild cocktail party in New York and Stephen King happened to be present. According to his book, Greeley approached King and questioned him about his writings. The conversation went like this:
GREELEY: You’re writing religious stories.
KING: Of course I am. Most people don’t believe me, but that’s exactly what I’m doing.
GREELEY: Anyone who writes about hope is writing about religion.
According to Greeley, some of the features that mark these as religious stories are the emphasis on hope, the achievement of salvation through suffering, and the dualism of good versus evil.
In The Dark Tower series, which is a mingling of the fantasy, horror, and western genres, a group of gunslingers journey across several worlds in a quest to save the Dark Tower, which represents the nexus of all worlds and reality, from the clutches of the evil Crimson King. It is an apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil for the salvation or destruction of the world. "Wolves of the Calla" is indeed a story about hope and so, according to Greeley at least, it is a religious story. This battle between hope and hopelessness is perhaps best revealed in the following exchange between Walter, an agent of the Crimson King, and Callahan, one of the protagonists of the story:
"No one's above ka, false priest," the man in black spits at him. "And the room at the top of the Tower is empty. I know it is."
Although Callahan is not entirely sure what the man is talking about, his response is quick and sure. "You're wrong. There is a God. He waits and sees all from His high place."
It is not my intention to recommend these novels. If you are not a fan of horror or fantasy novels, you probably will not take to them. But they serve as another reminder that just as with the violent and frankly terrifying parable that Jesus tells in Luke 19 in line with the expectation of his kingdom (check out verses 22-27) or Revelation's violent visions of demonic entities, religious stories may come in surprising packages.