When Books Become the Enemy

My son is college age now, but there was a time many years ago when I thought he would never pick up another book. I read to my son from his toddler‘s years through the third grade to help him learn to love reading, but when he started refusing to read around the fifth grade, I had to take matters into my own hands.


During the summer between the fifth and sixth grades, my son refused to pick up another book. This was the same kid that brought home two books a week from the school library for years, and was so mad when the dog in The Legend of Stone Fox died, he wouldn’t pick up the book to finish it for three weeks.

A quick visit to my local library had me checking out an audio book of Lemony Snicket’s A Bad Beginning, narrated by Tim Curry. It was an instant hit, and renewed his interest in listening to another. So I picked up the second in the series which he gladly listened to. The third in the series wasn’t the audio book, but the print version. He devoured it in days and began asking me for more reading suggestions. Fortunately, I knew tons of good books he would like.

Thankfully he had a wonderful reading teacher in the sixth grade. She knew her stuff and how to keep her students reading by helping them find books that they were interested in. He was still an avid reader until the end of the ninth grade. True to form, our public school system pretty much killed his “reading for pleasure habits” by cramming classics down his throat in the middle of the tenth grade.


Having Problems Getting Someone to Read Beowulf? Try this.

Reading for enjoyment is very important. Sure our kids can read, but can they understand the context and analyze the message by breaking down the ideas in it. They may read to pick out facts, but do they understand what is being said? Analytical thinking is a skill that needs to be practiced daily. Our media- inundated culture genuinely requires us to be critical thinkers, if only out of self-defense to avoid being manipulated. Reading is a great way to develop and maintain critical thinking skills and help sharpen focus.

I have no qualms with reading classics, but there are a great many I don’t even like to read myself. So why should I make a child read something I would never pickup. Forcing “classics” on children can make them view reading as an enemy.

There are many literature teachers racking their brains to try to get their students to interact with classic literature, but the problem is that the classics can be far enough removed from our culture that they don’t engage many young readers. This is where stories marketed for Young Adults and Middle Grade students can at least help bridge those jumps to more challenging books. I want to take this one step farther; audio books can bridge the gap between not liking reading and learning to appreciate reading.



An audio book requires the use of different areas of the brain than reading plain text. Listening to the phrasing and grouping of a sentence being read is a great way to make the viewing of text friendlier by allowing a listener to associate the content of a book with a fun story. Even reading along with the book as the narrator reads is a time tested method for teaching reading skills.

I admit I will never like The Great Gatsby even though I was forced to read it. There are some classics that I have enjoyed and were a lot of fun to read. A fact I discovered when I found the audio book versions of them.

Some evening try listening to an audio book instead of renting a DVD. It’s really fun.

Next time: Graphic Novels as a strategy for the reluctant reader.

The Marvelous, Magnificent Machine


My name is Tim Akers and this blog is devoted to all the wonderfully strange and marvelous things that exist in heaven and earth. Welcome my Imagitorium.



open a book with streaming images


They’re everywhere! In cars, thermostats, microwaves, telephones, and especially people. I’m talking about computers, and are they ever cool.

Once upon a time this article was about that mysterious beige box sitting on a desk, but computers have become so much more. They can be in your DVR, car, cell phone, and even toys.

Have you ever thought about what your computer/phone/DVR/ or whatever does to make all those wonderful applications work? I could give you a long boring explanation with mega-this or giga-that, or we could play a game. How many of you vote for a game?

Take a flashlight, one you can turn off and on easily, and stand in a room. Don’t move, then have someone shut the lights off. Are you there? Great!

I want you to turn your flashlight on and then off. Ready, go. On, now off.

Easy right?

This time, turn your flashlight on and count “one.” When the light goes off count zero. Ready? Go.

Now, turn the flashlight on and off for ten minutes straight without stopping. Off. On. Off. On. Zero. One. Zero. One. Be sure you count how many times you turn the light off and on. Ready go. Done?

Turn the lights back on please – safety first. How many times did you turn the light off and on. Didn’t write it down? You weren’t allowed. You have to remember without writing it down. This is what a computer does.

Search for mail

Technically, a computer follows a list of commands to perform functions. Operating systems like Windows and OSX for Mac, are nothing but elaborate lists of instructions that tell your computer what to do. In order to do those commands, it still counts one’s and zero’s. Every time you are surfing the web or texting your friends, whatever device you’re using, all its doing is counting how many times the lights go on and off.

That doesn’t sound all that hard does it? The real amazing part is that is all the things a computer does when it’s counting. We have pictures, phone calls, television,math, videos, games,graphics, flying airplanes, and more. Computer technology exists because of math and a particular numbering system zeroes and ones.

We humans use Base Ten. A Base Ten system counts groups of tens. We count to  ten like this: zero,one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, one complete ten. It can also look like this: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. The next group of ten looks like this: 10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19. In a binary system, numbers are grouped in two’s or, 0 and 1.

In a binary system we count: 0,1. The next group of two’s are counted: 10,11. If we count further in base two, it would look like this: 0,1,01,10,11,100,101,111,1000,1001,1010,1011… and so on. Machine languages are based on binary numbers, or lights off and lights on.

Computers use other number systems too like hexidecimal, but that’s another blog.


Your brain is still cooler than a computer.

Your brain is still cooler than a computer.


According to How Stuff Works, the average human brain is capable of handling ten quadrillion instructions per second. Your desktop can manage one hundred million instructions per second (MIPS), or maybe double that. Want to see what those numbers look like?


100,000,000 = one hundred million

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 = ten quidrillion.

Your brain is still cooler than a computer.


I'm Tim Akers

See you next time!


You’re 15 – Things Are About to Become Very Dark.


Okay me, listen up, and listen real good. You’re fifteen and things will not be very good for you. I know Dad left us, and he will be in and out of our life for a while. The bad news, its about to get worse. Let me give it to you straight, for the next three year you are about to go through the darkest part of your entire life. You have no resources to get through this and nothing you have experienced has prepared you. There is good news. I’m living proof you’ll survive and flourish because you will ultimately make good choices. You will struggle with a lot of baggage for a good long time, so here is what you need to know to get on to the good things.





You and I both know how much you crave the affirmation of people, someone will create the term “affirmation junkie” in about thirty years. You’ll know they’re talking about you once you hear it. Compromising what your very bones know is true and correct will never accomplish anything good. So when you do what is right, and you know that it’s right, don’t second guess yourself and eat yourself alive with the “I should’a done…”  Even if you lose friends over it, don’t worry. The friends you lost weren’t much in the way of friends anyway.


uniqe 3d character standing out from the crowd





About your dad’s alcoholism, you need to find someone to talk about it with, and not your friends. You need someone who isn’t close to you, but someone you can say anything too and is mature enough to listen without giving advice. This needs to be someone other than Mom or your brothers and sister. It’s not that you can’t talk to your family about it, but they all suffer from the same blind spots you do.  For the record, not drinking alcohol will serve you well the rest of your life.


Three People Celebrating With A Glass Of Wine





Your dad will do a lot of stupid, selfish and mean things to you and Mom. It’s alright to be angry with him, but just remember, Mom is as much a part of the problem as Dad’s drinking problem. This will be hard for you to understand, and it will take a long time for you to figure it out. People can be really good at enabling bad behavior in others. It doesn’t make them evil or bad, it makes them human and blind to their own problems. Everything wasn’t all your Dad’s fault.


Two competitors pulling a rope






You worry too much about the opposite sex. I know about all junk music and movies push onto you, but learning how to be a good friend will make your life so much simpler. You should be inviting more people to come horseback riding with you instead of riding by yourself, especially because your sister’s horse doesn’t get enough exercise anymore. While your at it, you have a kind streak in you, cultivate it. Be someone people want to hang around for all the right reasons and make sure you spend all your time around people that make you a better person. Learn to be kind and you will find the best girls will consider you attractive.

Happy young friends dancing at disco




Spend as much time as you can with your horses. They will give you so much more than you’re capable of understanding right now. In fact, it will take almost all of your life to realize just how much they gave you. You will learn confidence, and they will help you to value responsibility for the things you need to be responsible for, and ignore things that you don’t need even need to concern yourself with. Best of all, they will teach you how to tell the difference. Once you get rid of them, you will miss them for the rest of your life.







You’ll go to Bible College and they will nearly talk you out of enjoying fiction, especially science-fiction and fantasy. Thanks to them it will be twenty years before you pick up any of the kind of fiction you enjoy. Those people were idiots, don’t listen to them. I understand that some people have stumbling blocks in their lives, and need to get rid of them. Just because some people stumble over fiction doesn’t mean you will. In fact, you will learn that it makes your relationship with Christ enjoyable. Be kind to the Pharisees and don’t argue with them. Just get on with your life.


digital visualization of a science fiction scene







The Curmudgeon’s Guide: Falling In Like With Poetry

Poetry Inspires!

Poetry Can Be Awesome.

When most people think of poetry, they think of sonnets. Now don’t leave, come on. Give a blogger a break.

A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line. Even I have to admit that sounds tedious, but there are some very impressive sonnets out there. Someone made a play where all the dialog is in sonnet format. Shakespeare’s  Love’s Labor’s Lost is completely written in sonnet format. Of course the acting becomes important to make the sonnets work. If you want to see the play in a very accessible manner I suggest the 2000 movie Love’s Labor’s Lost


Before We Go Any Further:

Remember these four things from my last post? You’ll need them!

  1. Poetry is intended to be read out loud.
  2. Poetry is useful to communicate wonderful things, and scary things too.
  3. Poetry can even look interesting on the page.
  4. Poetry isn’t frivolous and just for kids.

Poetic Forms

There’s all kinds of poetic forms. One of my favorites is the villanelle. What’s a villanelle?

Full Warning Disclaimer: This definition is the official one from Dictionary.com. I’m warning you in advance so you don’t scream. It won’t hurt you, it’s completely harmless. If you remain calm I will give you the definition for the rest of us humans afterwards.

A villanelle is a short poem of fixed form, written in tercets, usually five in number,followed by a final quatrain, all being based on two rhymes.

Businessman in helmet covering his ears over white background

That picture is you screaming,”Stop it! It makes my head hurt!” So just for you, here is an easier version to understand:

In a villanelle there are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines.

Here is an example (Don’t forget to read it out loud):

She spent her money with such perfect style
The clerks would gasp at each new thing she’d choose.
I couldn’t help myself: I had to smile

Or burst. Her slender purse was crocodile;
Her blouse was from Bendel’s, as were her shoes.
She spent her money with such perfect style!

I loved her so! She shopped–and all the while
My soul that bustling image would perfuse.
I couldn’t help myself: I had to smile

At her hand-knitted sweater from the Isle
Of Skye, an apres-skis of bold chartreuse.
She spent her money with such perfect style.

Enchanted by her, mile on weary mile
I tracked my darling down the avenues.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to smile

At how she never once surmised my guile.
My heart was hers–I’d nothing else to lose.
She spent her money with such perfect style
I couldn’t help myself. I had to smile.

–Tom Disch

You’ll notice I didn’t put the title with this, remember point number four. If you read this out loud, and I hope you did, did you notice how “song-like” it sounded? One of the most famous villanelles of all time is Auld Lang Syne, a drinking song for New Year’s Eve. If we didn’t have poetry, we wouldn’t have music lyrics. Since Love’s Labor’s Lost is nothing but one huge collection of sonnets, and sonnets can be sang, Kenneth Branagh made his 2000 movie version of Love’s Labor’s Lost like a 1930’s musical. It works too.

The Palindrome

Let me show you another form of poetry that anyone can do and takes no real skill, but it does take effort. I mentioned this once before in my last blog. It’s called a Palindrome.

A Palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward or forward. Allowances may be made for adjustments to capital letters, punctuation, and word dividers.

Let me tell you a little secret about poetry and forms, you can’t really break the rules and call it a particular form, like a sonnet or villanelle. The poetry police are extremely rigid, but here is proof that even in poetry you can bend the rules, if you know how to do it right.

This one breaks the rules in one small way. It doesn’t say the same thing backward as it does when you read it forwards. It says the precise opposite when you read it in reverse order. That is so cool.

Because that poem deserves a much prettier background:

Now, here is a quiz, go back and read the villanelle I posted. What do you think the title to is? Don’t cheat and google it, think about it and post your answer. Don’t forget, point number four from the recap: Poetry isn’t just for kids.

planning 2011, notebook and pen lying on the top (isolated on white background)


The Curmudgeon’s Guide To: Fallling in Like with Poetry


I have a confession. A terrible, dark, and…disturbing confession. I like…poetry. There, I said it. Don’t judge me.

Surprised young man looking at the camera over white background



Okay, so I’m playing up the melodrama here, but poetry once was a beloved form of pop culture, and a time tested institution. In our modern culture, poetry has fallen from grace, or has it? (That’s another blog post) Poetry is still around, but it isn’t the juggernaut it once was. Whatever ended the dominance of a lovely art form, personally, I blame the teachers. Most teachers in public schools (not all) dislike poetry, but I think it goes deeper than that.


It’s A Conspiracy!

Poetry has been the victim of a deep, dark, conspiracy. Yes, it’s true. Several generations ago a secret group of university teachers decided that poetry students weren’t serious enough about the art and it was up to them to make poetry a solemn and austere pursuit. So they sucked all the fun from the subject and decided to teach students that all good poetry has to have some cryptic message made from a secret code. Only those few astute enough to divine this message were fit to belong to the in-crowd, that sacred group of literary critics, college professors, literary agents (not all agents), and Facebook Trolls. The rest of us are only fit for daytime television and reality TV. I want to blow the lid of the conspiracy, expose the underbelly of this pernicious anti-poetry plot once and for all. Poetry is for everyone. So if I disappear after posting this, you will know what happened to me. It’s time to expose the lies.

Lie One: Poetry is boring

It’s true some poems are boring and painful to read. Stories can be the same way, but that’s often because of craft or technique. You need to understand one very important thing about 99.9% of all poetry, poems work best when read out loud. It’s why we find poetry so difficult to write, because we should be speaking as we create, not running lines silently through our heads. There are other things that make poetry difficult to write and painful to read, but that’s also another post.

You may ask, “Isn’t reading poetry out loud extra work? You have to think about words, ponder dual meanings, consider the nuances of meter and tempo, and then sort out the connected emotional connotations.”

Yep, that absolutely true, and it’s hard to do…until you speak it. When you read out loud you use different portions of your brain at one time. Your brain, if it’s healthy. will do all of that in a blink. The average brain is wired for it.

No one ever told you that poems were intended to be read out loud? Those insidious conspirators! Here is a personal favorite of mine, read by Benedict Cumberbatch. This poem always makes me appreciate the absolute wonder of human language and the brain’s capacity to perceive it. It’s also fun.


To be honest, Carroll’s Jabberwocky does a lot of fun things on many different levels, notice I said, “FUN”. Poetry should at least be fun. Not everyone likes to have fun in the same way, so not every poem has to be fun in the same way.

If a poem isn’t catching your fancy, try reading the poem out loud. Reading a poem silently is like singing a song without moving your lips.  Here ponder this:


Lie two: Poetry is absolutely useless.

Fact: If poetry is useless, you ain’t doing it right. It’s hard to have hit songs without words to sing, and guess what kind of words are in songs? Poetry!

Remember all those advertising jingles? “Lay’s potato chips, you can’t eat just one.” Most all the poets have gone to work for advertising agencies creating slogans. It’s not just songs or advertising either, other kinds of poetry have profound uses in other cultures. Let me draw your attention to the much maligned Haiku.

Remember your elementary school teacher making you write Haiku’s before you were able to count syllables? He\she gave you such weird poems too. Let me show you how much fun Haiku can be, and how much can be said with such few words. Of course, this really good example employs speaking poems out loud.

This marvelous example comes from those wonderful writers of the Last Airbender cartoon series.



Poetry isn’t for wimps, as you can see from Sokka’s example. See what happens when you read poetry out loud? You get cute girls giggling at you. you’re able tick a teacher off and she can’t do anything about, unless you break the form. Poetry isn’t just fun, it’s serious fun.

Lie Three: Poetry even looks boring.

Fact: Some poems could be, but not all. Remember the 99.9% of poems you need to read out loud? Here is the .1% you can read quietly. Ever hear of a concrete poem? It probably has other names too. Think of it as a marriage between words and shape. Sort of like the internet. A lot of people find this easier to write in this age of computers, but George Herbert was doing this back in the 17th century.

This is a famous one by George Herbert:



Everyone thought all those fancy logos with phrases was a new thing. It just go borrowed from poetry. Here’s a good example of new stuff from John Grandits. Click on the text below the graphic. (A new tab will open and a sound recording of the poem being read by its author will download. You will also see a modern concrete poem.)



Lie Five: Poetry is only for kids, it’s frivolous and meaningless.

Fact: It’s true kids love poetry because they’re experimenting with language and enjoy all the new sounds and words. In the beginning of poetry in western civilization, most all poetry was written for adults by adults, as much as I think poetry can be fun, it can also be serous in meaningful ways.  Here is a present day example by a veteran of the Iraq war, Brian Turner. He found that poetry helped him face horror, fear, uncertainty, and gave him hope. I recommend his complete book of the same name. Click on the link.

Here Bullet by Brian Turner.


Still don’t believe poetry can be entertaining, relevant, and exciting. Come back next post and I’ll share some more, if there is a next post. Some one has been skulking around the neighborhood this evening. Those scary teachers are at it again.

Remember when you had to endure that dreaded poetry section in English class? Share that one thing that turned you off to poetry? Go ahead and rant.  What might cause you to read poetry again?


Moralize much?

Moralize much?

If you really think about it, it’s not kids that buy books (at least most of the time it isn’t). Yes, I remember book ordering day when we purchased books from Scholastic, and then there were book fairs. The money didn’t come from me, it came from an adult, and I always had to give an account of the book I wanted to get.

I know Grandma or Grandpa can be “wheedled” into buying books at grandkid’s request, but all in all, it’s not kids buying the books. Keep in mind there is a good reason for that, kids don’t have money. (The exception to this is older high school age kids that have a job, but live at home). Since the money comes from parents, parents get to exercise veto power on any media that comes into their child’s possession, which is as it should be. And at school? That can be another matter.

In school, usually it’s the acquisition librarian or committee, filtering book purchases based on worldview and\or educational models. Most states also have core requirements for reading, so teachers’ hands can also be very much tied, but it’s still adults deciding what kids have access to. (For the record, I’m always trying to cut teachers some slack, because they are bound by curriculum and educational outcomes.)

Ethics? But this is fiction.

Ethics Sign Shows Values Ideology And Principles

The point is that anyone writing for children or young adults must pay close attention to the secondary audience–adults,  as much as the primary audience—young people. For writers to ignore this is to do so at their own peril.

Heaven Hell Computer Keys Shows Choice Between Good And Evil Online

Heaven Hell Computer Keys Shows Choice Between Good And Evil Online

This is where worldview comes into play. Fiction always has a worldview in mind, simply because it’s written by human beings. Not all writers believe the things their novels portray, but most writers worldview gets into their work at some level. The good novelist understands this and resists the urge to preach. The novelist tells stories with scenes and dialogue, but never preaches–at least the good ones don’t, at least in very subtle way. 

If you wish to create moral stories, and I hope you do, you need to master the art of the “slant theme”. What’s a slant theme? It is the secondary or tertiary theme that runs in the background while the primary theme is happening.  Let me give you an example. Let’s take on a relevant theme – texting and driving.

Tiffany was driving her friends to school when Tiffany gets a text. She answers back, but her eyes leave the road and in one terrible minute she runs over a pedestrian and kills him or her. We could make the pedestrian someone unlikable, or an unpopular kid. We could also make the victim a popular kid too.

Terrified, Tiffany and friends look around and see no witnesses. They drive off without telling anyone. Victim dies, Tiffany and friends swear a blood oath to keep the secret forever and everything will be fine. Fine, until the victim’s ghost comes back to haunt Tiffany.

Now there is this terrible secret, and a vengeful ghost creating havoc trying to get even. This isn’t about texting and driving, because what we want to focus on is Tiffany’s inner struggle with what’s right and wrong. What are her social obligations?  We can also watch friendships crumble beneath the weight of terrible secrets as guilt ravages the individuals. Then we watch the girls become hardened and calloused. This still isn’t about texting and driving. It’s about exploring what happens when we don’t treat people like we want to be treated. A completely moral story by the way. If you make it about texting and driving, you will lose your audience. Don’t like that idea?

Man Shocked And Speechless About Something

Man Shocked And Speechless About What He Just Read.

How about the vengeful ghost finds nerdy kid that was crushing on the victim in life. Ghost pressures nerdy kid into helping find justice. Nerdy kid helps the ghost to move on while helping Tiffany own up to what happened, but nerdy kid isn’t going to be judgmental  because nerdy kid knows how unfair life can be. Bad decisions made in in haste have devastating impacts for years. Now the reader can explore personal accountability from two different angles. Does nerdy kid owe ghost anything? We don’t answer that for our reader, we give them an outcome that allows them to figure out the answer for themselves.

Let’s add a few more tweaks, just for fun. Tiffany and friends find out that nerdy kid is on their trail. Since they’ve already killed someone, why not murder nerdy kid. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? Still don’t like?  Come up with your own.

Using a slant theme  allows you touch on relevant issues as secondary and tertiary themes without resorting to cramming a world view down your reader’s throat. I love books that allow me to think for myself and will not tell me what to think, but gives me the opportunity to think. Wouldn’t a kid like that kind of story too?

Let’s do our non-adult readers a favor, let’s not preach at them. You know what? Let’s do our adult readers a favor too. Instead, let’s spin marvelous stories with characters they can identify with and give them situations and plots that open their minds and hearts in ways that encourages critical thinking while having fun.

Oh, wait a minute. Yes, sometimes we like being preached at when we are the choir and the preacher is preaching something we believe in. By all means preach if you’re sure of your audience.

Now tell me which is more entertaining my story idea or the PSA video?

We the People

God Bless The United States of America.

God Bless The United States of America.


“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…” The U.S. Constitution

On July 4th we the citizens of The United States of America are celebrating our countries 239th anniversary. As countries go, we aren’t by any stretch of the imagination the oldest governed country in the world. There are actual populated cities on this earth that are far older. But for what we may lack in age and maturity, we certainly make-up with in brashness, can-do spirit, and audacity. Is that good? I don’t know, any perspective less than a hundred years old I immediately consider suspect at best.

Regardless of my nation’s sometimes bloody, sometimes noble, sometimes idiotic, sometimes unfair, and sometime brilliant past or present, I do love my home and nation – warts and all. Our US flag stands for a great deal, some bad, but so much more that is good.

Consider how many people from around the world would move to the US at the drop of a hat. Think of all our Latin American neighbors sneaking in against or laws and policies because they would rather live here than their own nations. I work at a University and meet many students from other nations who would rather stay here than go back to their own nations as their academic careers draw to a close. Many struggle to stay, some are not so successful.

No matter what people may think of the United States of America, it is for me the most wonderful place to live in the world. If you were born in a different place and take offense at my statement, I truly hope you love your home as much as I love mine. My wish for you is that you will work hard to make your nation a great and a wonderful place to live.  As for me, I will endeavor to help my home maintain our national identity as “one nation under God, indivisible with justice for all.”

Is our country perfect? What does perfect mean anyway? Is their room for improvement, absolutely.  But if we don’t learn to work together and face our difficulties with civility and respect, the alternative will always be bleak.


Name one thing you love about your home in the United States and one thing you would change for the better.


Man-Made Monsters from Man-Made Fears

7120198_f496The one thing that sets the modern horror genre above all other modern genre’s is the presence of the monster. Science Fiction and Fantasy have monsters too, but remember that Science Fiction Horror and Fantasy Horror are sub-genre’s of Horror.

As much as paranormal stories involve the supernatural, and can get by with the inferred presence of the supernatural, a horror story isn’t horror without a monster. Even better, the monster doesn’t always have to be supernatural. Some of the best  monsters are products of science or the act of nature striking back.

Mary Shelly set the bar high when she wrote Frankenstein, and her monster was completely man-made from the hubris of a scientist that wanted to be God. Victor even challenged the sanctity of the womb and look where it got him? The most compelling question a horror story can ask is “who really is the monster ” or “What makes a monster a monster.”

japanGrowing up on Air Force bases, the Saturday afternoon matinee was a staple for my brothers, sister, and me. One of the star attractions were the Japanese monsters. They were created by man’s careless nuclear experiments. Those monsters would be Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Monster Zero to name a few. Again, these movies are cautionary tales against hubris. They were also entertaining in a cheesy sort of way.

The modern monster is terrific for addressing those things we find different, or more specifically, the human fear of all things different. A more literary term for the monster is the Other.

If you’re not familiar with the term, think of it this way. there is US in a story. US is how the author infers the audience sees themselves. In a dystopia we may be the subjugated US. Since we all see ourselves as the underdog, its one of the attractions to dystopian novels. A good story can portray the oppressor as US and make us take hard looks at ourselves.

While it’s true the Other doesn’t have to be a monster and may take various forms in other genres. The monster is the best direct use of the concept of the Other. A good example? Think of King Kong. He is a natural creature, and in his environment, the ruler of all he sees. He is a serious competitor for us humans in the chain of life. Pull him out of the environment and make him like a zoo animal? What would that look like? What would that make us look like?

kongBecause the monster seems tailor-made for the role of Other, horror can take on a redeeming quality when it serves as an introspective genre. Well written monsters in well conceived stories become poignant vessels for asking ourselves important questions. This is why I find the negative attitude of the Christian writing community toward the horror genre confusing. Granted there is the attitude that if God is love, we shouldn’t focus on fear. This begs another question, “If you are saved, why are you afraid?” Not all horror has redeeming qualities, but a good horror story is self-illuminating.

Let’s get theological for a moment. If Romans 3:23 pronounces us all sinners, wouldn’t that make us all monsters? I think it is the bad habit of Christians to have of gradating level for judging sin. We often use a smaller measuring stick for looking at our own sins. When we look at the fruit of others, it often seems like the stick gets bigger. For many believers there is the small sins they commit and then there are medium and larger sins of Others. See how that works?

Under the law of Moses sin had such distinctions ascending levels of consequence. Under the New Covenant, the soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ez 18:4). God makes no such distinctions in terms of little sins or big sins. The horror story becomes fertile ground for asking us to do one of the most frightening things a believer can do, examine themselves.

Let me leave you with a quote from 2 Cor. 13:5 AV, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”  Now interchange that word reprobate, which in Greek means castaway, and insert the word monsters.


What do you think?





How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.


I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:


Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.

The Aesthetics of Genre: Horror

deep-sea-anglerfishWhen it comes to the genre of horror, many Christians have pronounced it ugly, sinful, nasty, and won’t give it the time of day. Others may enjoy the adrenalin rush of a good scare from the safe distance of a book or theater seat, but may not admit it to their church friends. Then there are individuals, like myself, that find the genre of horror useful.


I like to read things that make me better, challenge me in someway. Good horror, like good science fiction and fantasy, will do that for me.  That’s not to say that contemporary fiction or YA fiction doesn’t do that either, but good horror has a very special way of challenging a reader on deeper topics. Before you chastise me for not mentioning the Bible, remember that you will find all the known genres, including horror, in that Book of books.

People seldom equate being frightened as useful.Like I pointed out in my last blog entry, being afraid of the right things can be helpful. To me, good horror isn’t about inciting blind fear or terrifying an audience. There is horror like that, and I almost never waste my time on that. Good horror it’s about challenging fear in the right way. This is where aesthetics come in. All genres have aesthetics (linked to definition above), it is what happens when an author’s story collides with a readers expectations, imagination, and world view. These are a few that a great horror story will touch on for me.

  • What is beauty?
  • What makes something beautiful?
  • What is good?
  • What makes something bad?
  • What is evil?
  • What makes something or someone evil?
  • If something looks beautiful, is it automatically good?
  • Can God redeem Evil?
  • Should God redeem Evil?
  • Should those given to Evil be redeemed?
  • If something is ugly to me does that make me the monster?
  • What happens when a human tries to play God (you know mad scientists)?
  • What does it mean to be human?

As frightening as a horror story may appear on first blush, it is my response to it that always interests me. Some of the most frightening stores to me portray Evil as banal or everyday. A good example of this is the bureaucracy of Hell in Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.


There are several things I find useful in good horror, and it isn’t blood and gore or the fact that a story may give me nightmares for months. In fact, the shock and gore horror is something I rarely care for, much like jump scare scenes in movies. Such tactics are nothing more than a trick at your audience’s expense, tricking an audience is inexcusable.


All fiction has the ability to challenge and inform. What makes horror so different is it’s ability to challenge specifically the things we fear. When done right, even cause us to evaluate those fears and perhaps strengthen our humanity. For your viewing pleasure, here is a good example of something from a sub-genre of horror. Something that actually hits a little closer to home and current events. The type of horror I find useful (It’s in two parts).



Would you classify these videos as horror? Why or why not?


The next post I do is on the topic of sub-genres of Horror. You might be surprised as to what you find in them.