Last December, in one of those minor seasonal news-cycle events that the sober and/or cynical among us have come to greet with a yawn, various mainstream media outlets reported that, according to a new poll (or, more accurately, yet another new poll), a majority of Americans believe in angels. “Angels don’t just sing at Christmastime,’ reported CBS News. “For most Americans, they’re a year-round presence. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 77 percent of adults believe these ethereal beings are real. Belief is primarily tied to religion … But belief in angels is fairly widespread even among the less religious. A majority of non-Christians think angels exist, as do more than 4 in 10 of those who never attend religious services” (“Poll: Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels,” December 23, 2011).
With a bit more gravity behind it — more gravity, I mean, than that of a poll conducted at Christmastime for the specific purpose of feeding the seasonally inflected media maw — the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion famously found similar numbers in 2010. Time magazine quoted Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at New York’s Barnard College, who characterized the Baylor findings as “one in a periodic series of indications that ‘Americans live in an enchanted world,’ and engage in a kind of casual mysticism independent of established religious ritual, doctrine or theology. ‘There is,’ he says, a ‘much broader uncharted range of religious experience among the populace than we expect.'”
In thinking of this tantalizing “broader uncharted range of religious experience,” I have to wonder whether anybody in America’s angel-believing crowd ever gets down to the meat of things and really considers, or actually encounters, or otherwise comes up against angels in their more profound forms, angels of the ancient and terrible type, angels whose appearance entails more than glowing, feminine faces and fat, winged babies, and whose job description includes more than helping people avoid car wrecks and recover from heart surgery. I wonder, in short, whether that multitude of angelic believers is even aware that a more ancient and substantial figure lies behind and beneath the insipid cultural encrustations of 21st-century digital media culture.
The just-released October 2011 issue of Waco Today magazine features an interview with me titled “Tapping into darkness: MCC instructor finds niche in horror fiction.” I wasn’t sure how much detail and depth from my conversation with journalist Terri Jo Ryan would make it into the finished piece, but I just came from reading it, and I must say I’m truly impressed at how much she managed to pack in there. The photo taken a local cemetery also looks good, although my facial expression makes it look as if I was doing my best to appear emotionally comatose. (Or maybe that’s how I always look.)
Two minor corrections to statements in the narration that accompanies my words: 1) I don’t suffer from a rheumatic illness (I was talking about somebody in my family), and 2) this year’s installment of the Dark Mirror horror film festival that I created at my college, scheduled for October 28 and 29, will take place not at 7 p.m. but all afternoon and evening each day, with films showing at 3:00, 5:30, and 8:00 p.m.
Presently I’m wondering how the interview with “play” with readers here in religiously conservative Waco, since it features me talking about dark and edgy religious matters. Here are some excerpts:
Had he lived a century ago, Matt Cardin, author of “Dark Awakenings,” (Mythos Books, 2010) might have been a rival of horror/fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, instead of his disciple. Had he lived two centuries ago, Cardin might have been classified as a “mad genius,” haunted by a morose muse bent on his eventual despair. But Cardin lives in 21st-century Waco, and he has found a home in some pop subcultures in his fascination with the sacred and profane mysteries of the supernatural. The former religious studies student from southwest Missouri now tags himself an “agnostic Zen Christian, if that’s possible.”
“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Jungian,” Cardin said, alluding to the famed Swiss psychoanalyst who regarded human beings as essentially religious creatures, and who posited controversially that God had “an evil face” as well as a kindly visage … For Cardin, “The tension between ‘life is a living nightmare’ and ‘life is wonderful’ is immensely compelling to me as a writer,” he said. “So my stories tend to explore this shadowy realm between existential dread and spiritual communion.”
The author credits his own nightmares for pushing him into the field of horror fiction. Visions he suffered during sleep paralysis (in ancient times, a malady blamed on demonic creatures known as incubi and succubi) inform a lot of his fiction, Cardin said.
“The (Judeo-Christian) scriptures have always had a quasi-Lovecraftian horror encoded within them,” he contends … One of his scholarly essays included in “Dark Awakenings” is “Gods and Monsters, Worms and Fire: A Horrific Reading of Isaiah.” In it Cardin ruminates on the recurring hints throughout the Hebrew scriptures that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is infinitely powerful, capricious and deeply terrifying.
Again, the full interview is available online. As for me, I’ll be buying a print copy.
My friend Richard Gavin, the talented author of Omens (which I praised in a review for Dead Reckonings) and The Darkly Splendid Realm (which is drawing praise from all quarters), has written an enthusuastic review of my Dark Awakenings.
A couple of pertinent excerpts:
To be genuinely inspired by a work of Horror is a fairly rare occurrence for me. Rarer still is my being left awe-struck after discovering a book with which I resonated so deeply that I felt an instant kinship with its author. Such a delightful reaction has happened only a handful of times in my life: when I first discovered H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti, when I read the first book-length collections by Simon Strantzas and Mark Samuels, and now with Dark Awakenings, the latest book by Matt Cardin.
. . . . [P]erhaps Matt’s most enviable quality is his ability to seamlessly smudge deep philosophical principles into his narratives without coming off as didactic. “Teeth,” “The Stars Shine Without Me” and in particular his novella The God of Foulness truly exhibit this talent. Cardin makes a reader ponder the nature of reality, yet at a turn he can summon images of startling terror, visions that unnerved this Horror author more than once.
The part about the felt sense of kinship is the most gratifying. As any creative writer or artist can tell you, that’s the holy grail of the entire artistic enterprise: making contact with somebody whose inner world vibrates with your own. Thanks, Richard.
The wait is over. The stars are right. Some rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born, and my long-awaited Dark Awakenings collection is now loosed upon the world.
- Publisher: Mythos Books
- Date: May 2010
- Length: 319 pages
- Table of Contents: Available at MattCardin.com
The brand new issue of Dead Reckonings praises the book with these fine words:
It is refreshing to see that there are still authors interested in and capable of portraying a species of dread that is dependent neither on the standard bogeymen of horror fiction nor in pain and the threat of bodily dissolution as ends in themselves….The philosophical and theological bases for Cardin’s horror run deep….[He brings] his ideas to vivid, immediate life through his excellent descriptive skills, believable characters, well-described settings, and an unusually apt gift for choosing metaphors when attempting to describe the ineffable….In “Teeth,” comparative religion, philosophy, and quantum mechanics meet in a mandala that offers the clearest expression of Azathoth as the universal maw since Lovecraft. Perhaps even more devastating is “The God of Foulness,” which posits a cult based on the incarnation through disease of the third god in an unholy trinity, served by a text riddled with redirected, misquoted, and parodied extracts from the world’s spiritual texts. Cardin’s ability to detail the full implications of ideas that utterly destroy “the human need for illusion” reveals the forces behind those ideas in action, without risking anticlimax, and demonstrates the impact they have on the lives of characters in whom readers can recognize themselves; this lends the stories a terrific impact.
— Jim Rockhill, review of Dark Awakenings in Dead Reckonings #7 (Spring 2010)
And don’t forget these other fine endorsements:
“In Dark Awakenings, Cardin proves himself to be an adept in the fullest sense of the word. To both the morbid and the cosmically minded, who may be one and the same, he delivers his visions and nightmares in a master’s prose. In the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft, Cardin’s accomplishments as a writer are paralleled by his expertise as a literary critic and theorist, as readers can witness in this volume. His analyses of supernatural horror and its practitioners are also dark awakenings in the dual manner of his stories, with one eye on the black abyss and the other on an enlightened transcendence without denomination. Again, this quality of Cardin’s work can be seen in the writings of Poe and Lovecraft, two other felicitous freaks who merged the antagonistisms of their imagination into a chimera as awful as it is awe-striking.”
— Thomas Ligotti, author of Teatro Grottesco and The Nightmare Factory
“Matt Cardin channels visions of dark, maniacal intensity. His otherworldly divinations will have you lying awake in the dark, counting stars in that most pitiless gulf that yawns above us all. A master of terror and dread, he ranks among the foremost authors of contemporary American horror.”
— Laird Barron, author of The Imago Sequence & Other Stories and Occultation
“Dark Awakenings offers the dream imagery of the best weird fiction but goes even further beyond the ordinary thanks to Matt Cardin’s fierce intellect. Haunting stories and insightful essays. This is mandatory reading to prepare for the doom to come.”
— Nick Mamatas, author of Move Under Ground
“In a wonderfully readable, multi-layered collection, Matt Cardin shows us that he knows, as very few do, how to write — from several perspectives, including as a researcher — in a way that is both riveting and richly detailed. Cardin’s gift can be celebrated by all readers.”
— T.M. Wright, author of Strange Seed and A Manhattan Ghost Story
I’ve just been interviewed by the Lovecraft News Network:
The title does a good job of conveying the overall gist. The LNN’s Jacob Hodgen did a fairly amazing job of coming up with detailed, fascinating, and carefully targeted questions, so hats off to him.
The “Gods and Monsters” paper itself appears in my imminent next book, Dark Awakenings.
Topics broached in the interview include my reasons for tackling such a subject, the project’s relationship to my writing of the stories in Divinations of the Deep, the three-part test for deciding whether a text should be classified as horror, and the dismay that many conservative Christians may feel in response to a monstrous portrayal of deity.
Many thanks to my friend John Morehead, TheoFantastique’s ever-reliable creator, writer, and proprietor, for asking excellent questions.
It occurs to me that I haven’t yet shared the final TOC for Dark Awakenings, even though, as I mentioned earlier today, the book is on schedule for publication this November or December.
So here it is:
TABLE OF CONTENTS for DARK AWAKENINGS
Apologia Pro Libro Suo
The Stars Shine Without Me
Nightmares, Imported and Domestic (written with Mark McLaughlin)
The Devil and One Lump
The God of Foulness
Icons of Supernatural Horror: A Brief History of the Angel and the Demon
I. Introduction: The prevalence of the Angel and the Demon
II. The prehistory of the Demon
III. The prehistory of the Angel
IV. The Demon from the first century to modern times
V. The Angel from the first century to modern times
VI. Understanding the Angel and the Demon in supernatural literature and film
VII. Conclusion: The daimonic zeitgeist, 1971-2001
Sources and suggestions for further reading
Loathsome Objects: George Romero’s Living Dead Films as Contemplative Tools
Introduction: Night of the sociocultural critics
I. Flesh becomes meat: The perishable body
II. The dead walk
III. The dead eat
IV. “He visited a curse on us”: The spiritual angle
V. The missing rainbow: Theism’s inadequacy
VI. Leaning Eastward: The contemplation of foulness
Gods and Monsters, Worms and Fire: A Horrific Reading of Isaiah
Introduction: Troubling questions and taxonomic schemes
I. Distorted cosmology in Isaiah: The return to chaos
II. Yahweh, King of the Monsters
III. Cosmic inversion and closure in corpses
Some concluding thoughts on closure, anticlosure, and cognitive dissonance
That’s about 117,000 words of material. “Blackbrain Dwarf” is previously unpublished, as are “Loathsome Objects” and “Gods and Monsters.” The Angel and Demon essay is radically reworked and expanded from the version that appeared in Icons of Horror and the Supernatural. And “Teeth” and “The Devil and One Lump” are so thoroughly reworked and expanded that they stand as essentially new stories.
Here’s Jason Van Hollander’s preliminary cover art again, for those who missed it before: