I’m Pretty Sure it was the Balrog
Once again it’s time for a blog post from one of my awesome friends at 47North. This month’s is Stant Litore, who writes the very impressive The Zombie Bible series. Take it away, Stant.
I’m Pretty Sure it was the Balrog
My novels are sold as horror and there is certainly a lot of horror in them. But in my heart, I’m also writing works of fantasy, massive alternate histories in which the dead walk and hunger and brave prophets, clerics, warriors, and everyday men and women have to stand against them and against the forces in their culture that make the hunger of the dead both possible and inevitable.
Fantasy and horror are siblings, you see. At their heart, both are about close encounters with something that is strange and new to us, something uncanny. Whenever we encounter something strange and different, something unexpected—whether that’s a person who’s different from us or a planet—we experience fear and wonder. And in the moments that follow, we allow one or the other of those to drive us.
Fantasy tends to focus on the experience of wonder, and horror tends to focus on the experience of fear, but of course, these aren’t mutually exclusive. In Middle Earth, the Pillars of the Kings and the near-immortal trees of Lothlorien are occasions for wonder, but there are also Balrogs and unquiet dead. And in Stephen King’s The Stand, there is a whole lot of creepy, but there are also moments of sheer wonder—when, for example, you encounter Mother Abigail in a Nebraska cornfield while you sleep.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what drew me to these genres in the first place. I figure it was the Balrog. I distinctly remember sitting on a second-grade bus with a paperback clutched in my sweating hands, heart pounding as Gandalf stood on that bridge facing a demon of fire and darkness. Man. That was some storytelling.
The same year, someone gave me a weathered little Bible as a gift, and I tore into it, reading in a fury and hunger that only the really young know. I read Genesis at a gulp. I was enraptured. Such moments of wonder and fear, fantasy and horror, all rolled together: an ark tossing on a flood, a man standing over his altar-bound son with a knife, and through it all, a desperate yearning for reconciliation, between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, humans and God, and between everyone who is separated, different, and alien to each other.
I think that’s where my passion for fantasy and horror began—with a Balrog and with a boy bound to an altar.
I love these genres, these siblings, fantasy and horror. They are important genres. They wrench us out of our cubicle lives for a while and seduce us into dark forests where we confront, larger than life, the very situation that we live out every day of our real lives: our encounter with something different, something that we might either wonder at, or shrink back from in fear.
In living that moment again and again, safely, in the pages of stories, we might—we might learn—to live that moment just a bit better. Because it’s so important: how we respond when we encounter something, someone, who seems alien to us. Do we pull away in dread? Or do we draw closer to discover more? Isn’t that decision what defines us?
I wrestle with that throughout The Zombie Bible. I’ve been wrestling with it since second grade. I am Stant Litore, and I am a devourer of stories. I’m pretty sure it was the Balrog and that bound boy that began it.
Thanks very much, Stant. You can learn more about Stant, by going to his website.
And find a copy of Strangers in the Land, here.