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Horror fiction has merit, but not for everyone


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

with it.

"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

and motifs.

"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

first place.