People hate the Devil. No really. It’s a huge debate in horror, and it’s one I’ve had to listen to and weigh in on for the past few years as I’ve finished up two religious horror projects, both inside and outside of graduate school. And I get it. The appeal of a character who is only bad and therefore has a pretty stereotypical game plan when it comes to the desecration of morality can be at best boring. I mean if the Devil exists, then God has to as well, right? And if God exists, the Devil will always be the lesser of the two. So what’s the point?
The Devil, at least for me, isn’t a man in a red suit who runs around with horns and a pointy stick — hello innuendo! — stabbing people and stealing souls. It’s a little bit more complex than that, and I’ll be the first to say, and to say loudly, that I love working with the Devil. He’s one of my favorite characters to write in genre because he represents chaos, confusion, lust, absence. The Devil makes you question everything you know and everything you believe, and if someone asked me to define horror — which they often do — that’s the description I give them. Horror doesn’t push boundaries, it questions what the boundary is and why it’s where it’s at to begin with.
Growing up Catholic, I’ve always had this if-you-fuck-up-you’re-going-to-Hell kind of fear. Because of that, the idea or representation of the Devil has always been what’s scared me the most. I’m not knocking Catholicism, but I’m also not going to deny that the element of fear and guilt is a huge part of the religion. That in itself is fascinating to me as a writer. Why should I fear my God? Why should I live in a fashion where I’m constantly under judgment? Where I’m terrified to do something or try something because, even if my intentions are good, it might result in my body being tortured and tormented for the rest of eternity?
That devotion, that fear, that way of living life is why the idea of cults, sacrifice, and the Devil takes me by the throat and keeps me up at night. People are willing to do things, terrible, terrible things, in the name of God, or the name of Satan, because they think it will save or purify their souls. Kill a child? Murder your family? Rape, pillage, plunder?
The Devil isn’t just a man, he’s an idea, he’s a concept. If you misbehave, you’re sinful. If you like sex, you’re devilish. The concept of darkness, of finding it, cultivating it, accepting it, and spreading it, sings my song, baby. I like a character who questions my innocence, my morals, my humanity. When I write evil, I’m writing the physical representation of seduction in every form. Give me sex, greed, envy, and wrath. I want your pride, your gluttony, your sloth. And I’ll write your malice, your fear, and your confession, but I won’t do it with darkness.
I’ll do it with light.
That’s why I’m a big fan of Fox’s new television series, Lucifer.
Based on characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Carey, and Mike Dringenberg, viewers get to watch their favorite fallen angel struggle with his humanity, his sense of punishment, and his anger towards his father. See, what I think people get wrong about the Devil in terms of writing horror is that they think he’s all bad. Did I just get sympathetic? Hell fucking yeah! If you have a character that is all darkness, then just like we discussed above, what’s the point of writing him/her? For instance, my favorite part of the show is when Lucifer starts handing out punishments because he wants to see justice for the good guys. In other words, Lucifer only punishes bad guys; he doesn’t encourage them to be bad, he just makes them pay for their sins once they’ve been committed, which means he’s not the one to blame when shit hits the fan.
I like to remind myself, over and over again, that Lucifer was once an angel. Sure, the Bible states that he fell, but at one point, he was nothing more, or nothing less, than God’s winged cheerleader. So there’s a past there. There’s a story. People get feisty when the Bible is looked at as a piece of literature and not as a holy text, but when all is said and done, it’s a book, and it’s a book that was not composed by God, nor by Lucifer. What we have here is a story. And as writers, we know that there are two sides to every story and maybe Lucifer is down in Hell because he was the only one God trusted enough to do the job and to do it right.
After all, Mr. Morningstar was his favorite, right?
Or maybe the stories we’ve been told are true and the Devil is a bad guy, and a flawed character, albeit a powerful one. When done right, he’s brilliant. He’s charming, manipulative, sympathetic. When done poorly, well, we’ve all seen that song and dance. But I think what’s important here is that the Devil is flawed. He made a mistake. He fucked up. He’s in Hell because he was cast out by his father and shunned by his brothers and his sisters. He is sinful — an embodiment of the seven — and he makes mistakes just as we do. That’s why he loves us. That’s why he wants us. We’re like him — vulnerable, thirsty, and vengeful. We’re the perfect prey. He’s not playing with anything that isn’t already inside of us — and that is where the horror lies.
It’s not in the Devil.
It’s not in God.
It’s in us.
And if that’s not scary enough, let me take it a step further:
God didn’t like being challenged, so he got rid of his competition. Snuffed him out like a cigarette and hid him away from the world, trapping him in a sea of fire and damning him for eternity. Everyone is so concerned about what’s happening below, but who is to say that there isn’t something equally as terrifying happening above?
Remember. Religion is blind faith.
That’s why horror writers — that’s why I — love playing with it, because what’s scarier than to confront the idea of hope that we all have, but that none of us can confirm? Religion is all about good versus evil. But what if we flipped sides? What if we stopped hearing that God wins, that God exists, that God doesn’t make mistakes?
What if God did make a mistake and it was casting out Lucifer?
If God is all powerful, why was Lucifer such a threat?
What if there’s a story that we don’t know about?
That all of us are too afraid to tell?
Angels versus demons.
Heaven versus Hell.
Maybe it’s time we (as writers) start questioning the fact that we picked sides before we heard both stories.
Stephanie M. Wytovich is an instructor by day and a horror writer by night. She is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, and a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated poetry collections, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Brothel earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press, and her debut novel, The Eighth, is simmering in sin with Dark Regions Press. Follow Wytovich at stephaniewytovich.blogspot.