Infernal Reading for a Smoldering Summer

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As the summer heat bares down, it is only appropriate to compile a blog featuring books that are hot as Hell. In my opinion, within the horror genre, hellfire and damnation is as hot as one can get.

When seeking infernal literature, I mostly search for classics. Otherwise, I try to find books that provide original concepts. Although there are many hellacious titles to select, it is a devil trying to pick the perfect scare. Still, I was able to narrow my list down to three unforgettable evils.

Featured below are some of my favorite novels within the demonic subgenre. Ones that have breathed new life into the eternal battle of good and evil. Normally, I try to feature books of a lesser popularity. Yet, I couldn’t compose this blog without honoring the classic that opened Hell’s gates.

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“The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty is the satanic subgenre’s granddaddy. Over the years, it has gained a solid fandom among Satanists and Christians alike. Reason being is because of its unrelenting approach between good vs. evil. Due to its intense nature, there is no doubt this classic belongs in the horror genre. Nevertheless, because of its glamorization of good conquering evil, it ascends the horror fandom.

The infamous tale of possession is simple. A Jesuit priest, Father Merrin, uncovers a relic symbolizing the demon, Pazuzu. Upon the recovery, a young girl named Regan starts displaying paranormal phenomena. Regan’s atheist mother, Chris, turns to Father Karras for help. Of course, her asking for his help is after all medical and psychological assistance fail.

Once Father Karras examines Regan, he approaches the local bishop for her exorcism. Yet, the bishop deems Father Karras as unqualified due to him being a heretic. In his place, Father Merrin becomes appointed to the case. So that Father Karras learns from the experience, he becomes Father Merrin’s assistant. Together, the men experience horrors that test their spirituality, mental wellbeing, and physical strength.

Book wise, the novel presents a greater depth compared to the movie. Blatty’s approach and description in storytelling is direct and impactful. By his “less is more” structure, he ushers the reader’s imagination into the devil’s den, otherwise known as Regan’s bedroom. Once here, Blatty exceeds the grotesque and strikes deeper with philosophy, psychology, and spirituality.

From a psychological perspective, the book delves deeper than other likeminded novels. Its most vital question asks, can different walks of life unify for a greater purpose? Due to its character interactions and philosophical differences, the answer is yes. As a heretic, an atheist, and a faith strong priest come together to save Regan, the story indicates humanity can bond under tragedy.

Combining philosophy and spirituality, one may be surprised how “The Exorcist” was conjured. While Blatty attended Georgetown University, he learned about a modern-day exorcism. This is what set the stage for his fictional novel. But, shock wasn’t his only goal. With this breakout success, his goal was to bring people closer to God. To achieve this, Blatty used shock value to comment on how God can use adversity to his favor. An example of this tactic receives verification in dialogue. A specific passage states, “His awful Grace.” This suggests that God will use catastrophes to bring nonbelievers to him.

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“Mister B. Gone” by Clive Barker might not be as well-known as “The Exorcist.” Still, this novel shares the concept of demonic possession, but with a twist. In an interview with Craig Ferguson, Barker revealed his inspiration for this cult classic. Speaking in rhetoric, Barker asked, “If a demon can possess a little girl, why can’t it possess a book?”

Written in first person, this novel focuses on a lesser demon named Jakabok Botch, who lives in Hell. If that isn’t bad enough, he suffers child abuse from his irate father. Having become frustrated with his enslaved lifestyle, and his family, Jakabok escapes Hell. Upon doing so, he finds himself in the fourteenth century.

As Jackabok believes he is free at last, he comes to realize Earth is almost as bad as Hell. Not long after a corrupt priest captures him, Jackabok uses his first opportunity to escape. Acting upon his primal instincts, Jackabok runs amuck. Determined to become liberated, he does whatever necessary to survive and inflict pain.

Despite how Jakabok remains unredeemable throughout, he somehow gains sympathy from his readers. Perhaps it’s because the reader grows to know him as a personal conversationalist? Or maybe it’s his sense of dark humor and glee that accompanies his mischief? No matter what answer one decides on, this unique book redefines the genre.

Out of all of the books I have read, this is the first that has influenced my sympathy for a devil. Also, this is the first book I have read that breaks the fourth wall. In its first-person perspective, Barker tricks the senses. Because of its unique style, when one picks up “Mister B. Gone,” the book doesn’t feel like a book at all. Rather, it feels like one is experiencing a personal chat with the demon itself.

From beginning to end, Jakabok speaks directly to the reader. In repetition, he pauses storytelling. With panicked dialogue, he asks that the book in which he is speaking through be burned. Of course, we, as readers, disobey his pleas. As one progresses forward, Jakabok begins spouting off threats. He promises us harm if we don’t do what he says. This style of tantrum from a literary character can entice humor within the reader. Upon doubting him, Jakabok proves his existence. He achieves this by temporarily eliminating every other word of a sentence.

“Mister B. Gone” isn’t just a book, it is a literary work of art. One that allows the reader to interact through creative wordplay. Aside from this experience, one can take a message of simplicity away from the text. Someway, somehow, everyone is a slave to something, or someone, even if that something is a book.

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“Horns” by Joe Hill presents a new concept that could become comedic. But, in this novel, there isn’t a single sentence that doesn’t stir dread. With Hill’s prior two books, I had already become an invested minion. After reading this novel, Hill has indefinitely captured my soul.

“Horns” opens with the protagonist, Ig, awakening with a hangover. Although being drunk isn’t in his character, last night was an exception. His reason for this unusual binge is because someone murdered his girlfriend, Merrin. Adding to his stress, he is a suspect of foul play due to a public argument he and Merrin shared prior to her death.

Recalling last night’s drunken stupor, Ig remembers vandalizing the town before passing out. The rest is a blur. After he stirs from sleep, Ig realizes not only does he have a hangover, he also has sprouted devil horns.

Throughout his attempts for help, Ig discovers the horns have granted him superpowers. Every person he now comes in contact with starts confessing their darkest secrets. If he touches someone, he receives a glimpse of their sins. His most powerful weapon is how he can make people surrender to their forbidden desires. The downfall is he can’t force anyone to act against their will.

Once embracing his new powers, Ig determines the horns haven’t cursed him. To his amazement, they have gifted him with the ability to solve Merrin’s murder. With pitchfork in hand, and red devil suit ready, Ig begins hunting Merrin’s murderer.

Besides the deep character development and original plot, “Horns” is full of metaphors. The color red reoccurs throughout in cherries, cherry bombs, and red hair. All of which symbolizes virginal loss. There are deep hints that the treehouse Ig and Merrin shared is the Tree of Life. Baptism symbolism receives depiction twice in this book. One is by the river where Ig suffers a childhood injury. Another form of baptism is fire and how it cleanses.

Excluding metaphors, the text provides interesting philosophies. Briefly, Ig speculates that the devil and women have always caused fear in God. The reason for including women in his thoughts is because like God, women can also create. Due to God’s fear of women, this is why he refused to spare Merrin during her assault and murder. At one point, Ig assumes that God no longer appreciates his creations. Opposing God, Ig considers the devil loves all humans despite their flaws.

No matter the thought process when entering “Horns,” or leaving it, Hill causes one to question the fibers of good and evil. He poses scenarios that cause one to ponder if the line between the two is nothing but a blur. By finishing “Horns,” it is the reader who decides what is morally just.

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With these books, one is certain to have an experience during their read. By plot and style, these titles break apart comfort zones. By presenting philosophical, spiritual, and psychological topics, readers can engage debate long after completion. Regardless, if one receives a message or not from these novels, one is sure to be entertained during the hellfire temperatures of summer.

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