Friday, November 4, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 3

In which the werewolf first takes over narration...

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

When we left off, Narrator-Matt was at the mercy of the werewolf that he and his companions had been trying to capture.

...At which point we reach a break in the narrative. The next section is "Interlude: And Now, A Word From Our Werewolf." The title would lead most of us to assume that we are now listening to the werewolf, Luther, as he speaks to us... and that is actually the case, but it's not entirely clear - mainly because Luther also makes a big shift in the tone of the writing, and starts speaking in very general philosophical terms... which activity involves using a great many pronouns without clear referents. (Seriously, there's a sentence in here: "When I write 'we' I assume that you understand that I am referring to him, to you, to me, to all of us." Well, yes, 'he' and 'him' are presumably the same guy, but it would have been a lot more helpful if it had said "I am referring to Matt," etc.) Since this is the first time that Luther takes over narration within the story, it would have been nice to have a bit more introduction, so I wouldn’t have had to guess which character was speaking.

The sudden transition from farcical action to preaching/philosophy is a bit jarring, but I don't think that's main problem. The author is really at his best here when he's writing a farce. When he slows down and tries to get serious, the writing gets... clumsier. Clunkier. It's trying for a more elevated voice, I think, but it just doesn't carry it off. Luther is describing his life as a werewolf - the joy of throwing off civilized considerations and just running wild, the sheer pleasure of rage, the guilt over the pain and damage that causes, and the inability to reconcile the conflicting urges of man and wolf, and he's trying to extend that into a general metaphor for the human condition, and... well, it just doesn't work.

Part of the reason it doesn't work is that he's characterized the wolf-side of Luther as a sort of rage incarnate. Specifically, the wolf-side is the part that terrorizes and mistreats Luther's wife. As a treatment of lycanthropy, this isn't at all bad, though it's very much a horror-movie view of things. To be fair, that clearly isn't all there is to it - that is, the wolf-side is also characterized as enjoying its physical strength, and howling at the moon, and that sort of thing - but what makes lycanthropy a curse for Luther is pretty clearly the fact that his wolf-side is also his abusive side.

Uncontrollable rage is indeed a problem for some people, but it's not a problem for all people at all times. It is not, in other words, a general characteristic of the human condition. Which is why, of course, the book includes various sorts of monsters typifying various sorts of problems - but the fact that it does makes Luther's insistence that "you're all like me on some level" even more mystifying. If we're really all like Luther, why include the other sorts of monsters? If there are all different sorts of monsters, why does Luther keep preaching that we're all like him?

And then, in the final paragraph of the interlude, Luther explains that he took Narrator-Matt prisoner in the hope of learning whether Jesus could provide a cure for his condition. This marks a shift in the direction of the narrative, which carries over into the next chapter (when Narrator-Matt resumes narrating).

And this is the point at which the story quit working so well for me: when it starts trying to make serious, explicit theological points while remaining comical. In defense of the book, it picks back up just a little bit later on, so it may not be that the approach doesn’t work; it may just be that this was such an sudden transition; it felt a bit like the narrative made an abrupt right turn, leaving me to overshoot and run right into a wall. (Splat!)

Upon re-reading that, I think it really is a matter of a sudden transition that isn't quite right for this point in the plot. If I were writing a shorter version of Luther's monologue, it would look a bit like this: "There is monstrosity in all of us. I love being a wolf. I hate being a wolf. I feel so powerful when I'm a wolf. I do terrible things when I'm a wolf. I must ask my neighbor if Jesus can cure me." It's abrupt, and it doesn't seem to fit. That's partly because Luther is going to explore some other thing before he finally discovers that Jesus is the solution, but that's not all there is to it.

Luther is also strangely insistent, as we'll see in the next section, that Christianity probably can't help him. If Luther had come to Narrator-Matt (say, because Narrator-Matt was one of the few people who knew he was a genuine werewolf) and Narrator-Matt had been the one to suggest that Christianity might provide a cure, then Luther's resistance to the idea would be more understandable. As it is, Luther seems oddly opposed to an idea that he himself proposed.


  1. Michael, thanks for this post.

    I think one of the things I struggled with when writing this, and you've hit on it pretty much exactly, was unraveling the differences between Luther's point of view, my own as author, "my own" as character/narrator and the demands of the plot. Of course adding to that is the fact that the book is also self-consciously talking about theology and it got complicated. A simplifying solution could certainly have been to remove "me" as narrator and is something I probably should have considered more carefully.

    I think Luther would say that when he talks about us all being the same as him he doesn't mean that all are the same in exact condition, but that all are the same in having monstrous tendencies (thus, not necessarily "wolf"). Of course, he also says things that he would do and says that he thinks "we" would do that, too, but from my point of view it seems to me that we always think others would do the same as we would in any given situation, because, of course, we are reasonable, intelligent, well-meaning people. I'm sure that various horrific people throughout history thought they were doing what any other person would do in their situation. But maybe I'm missing the gist of what you're saying regarding multiple types of monsters?

    Regarding Luther and Jesus, I think you make a good point that it came across as muddled. I figured that was okay given Luther's background, that he might have mixed feelings and be thinking one thing privately and saying something else pubicly. But your solution is a good one. I think you're going to have to read an early draft of my next book (if you're up for it), as you have good insights and ways to solve them as well.

    I'm going to be out of the country for a week starting this weekend, so if I'm slow to respond (or don't respond at all) just assume it has to do with third world internet capabilities and/or jet lag.

  2. "I think Luther would say that when he talks about us all being the same as him he doesn't mean that all are the same in exact condition, but that all are the same in having monstrous tendencies (thus, not necessarily "wolf")."

    It's hard to tell, since he refers to himself as a "mirror" and most of his phrasing seems to imply a more direct resemblance. I'm not sure the idea of projection on Luther's part is enough to explain all of that. But, well, bear with me, because there's a later section where I'll be talking about that particular... conceit? ...of Luther's, in a lot more detail.

    "I think you're going to have to read an early draft of my next book (if you're up for it), as you have good insights and ways to solve them as well. "

    Sounds like fun. I can't make any promises - being the parent of two boys tends to eat my brain at the least convenient times - but I'd be happy to take a look.

    "I'm going to be out of the country for a week starting this weekend..."

    No worries. I'll probably cut down the posting frequency on these deconstructions (and put up some other stuff instead), and then pick back up with the daily segments the following week. That shouldn't really affect anything except the posting schedule on my end; almost all of these posts are written already. (I have one more, maybe two, that I still need to do, but everything up to the climax is covered.)


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