fiction is about as marginalized in the Mormon book market as science
fiction is by many literature buffs — so far out in the margins it's
practically off the page.
And that's too bad for LDS authors and readers who like to tell and
read horror stories that have moral motifs, according to a panel of
five authors at the "Life, the Universe and Everything" symposium at
BYU on Thursday.
"'Mormons and horror,' that just sounds like an oxymoron," said author Lee Allred, who moderated the discussion.
The reasons horror literature is put on the back burner have a lot to do
with the genre as a whole being misunderstood, said Dan Wells, author of
the book "I'm Not A Serial Killer," which has been released in Europe
and will make its debut in the United States soon. Horror isn't limited to
slasher films and gore, Wells said. At its core, horror literature is
about morality and rising above.
"It is an inherently moral genre because it is confronting and
overcoming evil," Wells said. "It is where we confront and deal with
evil, and I do think it connects with our culture much more than we
think it does."
Eric Swedin, an author and professor at Weber State University, said,
"In that sense, I think that horror is a wonderful place for Mormons to
be reading, for Mormons to be writing and interacting and bringing that
unique LDS perspective to horror fiction."
One of the reasons members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might have an aversion to horror fiction
is because members try to focus on positive things and ignore dark
things, even if they're sometimes real.
"There is an attitude in Mormonism that we only talk about happy things," Swedin said.
When Wells got the idea for his novel and told his wife, she wasn't quite sure how it would fit with the 13th Article of Faith.
"I told my wife, 'I'm going to write a book about a serial killer,'
and she told me 'Is that really virtuous, lovely, of good report?'" he
said to laughs from the audience.
And yet many aspects of the Bible and the Book of Mormon are
violent, and, in a way, horrible, he said, yet members don't take issue
"We don't want to talk about that bad stuff, which is weird, because we read the Bible," Wells said.
__IMAGE1__One of the biggest hurdles for Mormons reading horror fiction is
that many take things literally, so if they read about some
supernatural event, they think of how it would be solved according to
their own rules. If a Mormon reader reads in horror fiction about a
character who is possessed with a demon, they might expect it to be
handled within the context of the church, which is limiting for writers
trying to appeal to Mormon audiences.
"If what we believe (about the gospel) is true, then these kind of
things we should be able to take care of with prayer and priesthood
authority. And so in a horror novel in which there's a haunted house
... you do a blessing on the house and the story is over," said author
Eric James Stone.
That literal approach is likely to make many people classify all horror
fiction as bad because if it doesn't conform to the way things are
handled in the church, it must be contrary to the church, Swedin said.
Readers can't get past the gore to really appreciate the deeper themes
"It's difficult, I think, for many members to read a horror story in
which the vampire is a metaphor for something crucial that's happening
in our world right now," said Michael Collings, a professor emeritus at
Pepperdine University. "Instead they would read it as simply a literal
entertainment, and miss entirely the fact that there's something really
going on in that story, and it becomes just a story about blood. And it
does not have, for many LDS readers at least, any redeeming social
One might think that because Mormons believe in things of a
supernatural, or other worlds, they would embrace these things in
fiction, and yet many don't, either because they think spirits are
things are too sacred to discuss, or because they can't reconcile that
fact that spirits in horror fiction are almost always bad.
"We do literally believe in ghosts ... but what we also believe is
there are certain things — spirits being among them — that are too
sacred to talk about," Wells said.
What's more, Mormons believe that spiritual things are positive,
and it's hard for them to suspend that understanding while reading a
novel about a person being possessed with a demon or a house being
"In the LDS Church, when you encounter spirits, the expectation is that it will be a faith-affirming experience," said Swedin.
"Horror depicts supernatural things as bad," Wells said. "You can't overcome them."
Ultimately, horror fiction is about the emotional ride it gives its
readers, and while it may not be for everyone, there is a cathartic
merit to for those who do.
"You go through hell in order to recover from hell. That's the
purpose of it. You have to go through something bad so that then you
can feel better afterward. That's how the catharsis works," Wells
said. "A lot of people just don't want to go through that hell in the