Timothy Baker is a retired firefighter and an aspiring, perspiring, horror writer. He is published in Fading Light: Anthology of the Monstrous by Angelic Knight Press, and the forthcoming Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed from Tor. Tim has also received a commendation in the Australian Horror Writer’s Association 2009 Short Story Competition. His new book is Path of the Dead.

From Pariah to Hero: The Journey of Science in Horror

by Timothy Baker

Science and religion are horror’s best friends. Have been a long time. From the birth of the modern horror tale — arguably the first science fiction story — science has been the bad guy, feared for its dabbling in God’s nature, revealing its terrifying secrets, and toying with the properties of The Creation. This view was a boon to the horror writer and an ugly bane for the scientist for over a century. Religion too — specifically Christianity — was a common central theme of horror tales, using its mythology of demons and devils and the worshipers thereof as deadly, soul scarring, hell-born antagonists. But religion had the upper hand; in tales, the faithful had all the weapons needed to defeat the children of the Beast: prayers, blessed waters, icons, all empowered by the strength of faith. Religion was the good guy. This imbalance was, and still is to some degree, the cultural norm of the reader’s, reflecting their fears and beliefs, and they got what they wanted in buckets of blood. But the horror winds are always a’ changin’; today is a very different time and the balance has swung the other way.

In 1818, a novel was published that set the tone for scientific horror for years to come. The greater monster of this tale was not the scientifically created monster, but its creator, Victor Von Frankenstein. Obsessively curious, arrogant, genius, and a little crazy, Frankenstein was a usurper of God’s power to create. The protagonist of the novel, he was still the bad guy, a man using science to become equals with God, loosing a murderous “fiend” onto the world in his arrogant folly. The first Mad Scientist of fiction was born, rewritten in hundreds of forms since.

Some sixty years later, little had changed, but another scientist was created in the pages of Dracula, different from many literary scientists before, not by much, but science was gaining ground. Dr. Van Helsing, had all of Victor Von’s attributes, genius and driven, using all his reasoning skills to deduce the existence of vampires, and to find the lair of their Prince. In the end though, when face to face with these supernatural monsters, it wasn’t science that took them down, but the weapons of Christianity. Faith remained as the final arbiter of evil, and science was kept in its place.

Then came the mad scientists of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” followed by the 1950′s and 1960′s, when science became an even larger monster in pop culture; films and books where science brings aliens, atom bomb mutated giant insects and lizard kings, and Teenage Werewolves into our midst. And in there, sneaking around the edges, was hope in the form of a time and space traveling alien scientist with a quick smile and wit, and a hero of the largest order.

But still, the pandering popularity of faith as the final weapons of evil held on. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot kept that tradition. In the novel, the priest’s faith in God was what powered the cross he held when he entered the vampire’s home. And when his faith faltered, the priest was doomed. This was mirrored again in the eighties film, Fright Night, as Peter Vincent faced the vampire Dandridge with an out held cross. Dandridge crushes the cross as if it was paper, laughing and saying, “You have to have faith for this to work on me!” Science and its logic is no match for hell-born evil.

Around the same time, another film came out, the polar opposite of Fright Night and its traditional view, a film about some goofy, irreverent, nerd scientists in battle with ghosts, strange entities, demons, and a spell created gargantuan marshmallow man. The Ghostbusters used their academic knowledge and every technological thingamajig they could muster, to take to task a vast menagerie of supernatural beings, coming out on top smiling, joking, and laughing. Science had finally been given a kind face, and it was moral. Ghostbusters broke the mold in a big way and was the harbinger of things to come.

Since that time, there has been a lowering of attendance in churches the world over in every faith and sect. Evolution, notwithstanding its battles with fundamentalism, is becoming widely accepted. Science has taken us to the edge of the universe, near eradicated long fatal diseases, brought the world closer together with tech beyond Star Trek‘s imaginings, and proven its ability to can-do and get real life results. Yes, in popular storytelling, science can still create a monster, but it is science that police’s itself and brings the beasts to their gnarly knees, with not a whiff of supernatural faith-based weaponry. See World War Z. Much has changed. Even our most recent and popular vampire retelling, Twilight, has its vampires unaffected by crosses, Holy Water and prayers to questionable supernatural beings. Only a vampire can kill a vampire, and, it’s implied, that man’s biggest weapons could take out the sparkly bloodsuckers. Yeah, I think a bunker buster landing in the middle of a Twilight vampire hoedown might just end their eternal lives. And so too, Dracula’s. No faith needed there, just explosive chemistry.

And then there’s that planet jumping, time skipping alien I spoke of before that traveled from the sixties and came roaring back at the beginning of the 21st Century, more popular than ever. Full of laughter and love of life, with a knowledge and open mindedness that allows him to face the universe’s blackest evils with a courage built on curiosity. A scientist’s mind, indeed. The Doctor, and all he represents, has finally found his time.

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