Vampires, zombies, Dan Brown. The books sell like crazy, movies fill seats, cash registers ring, young folks swoon. What’s happening? Fad? Trend? Passing fancy? Or the forefront of a reinvention of American Christianity?
That last one, says Victoria Nelson, author of Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural. In what’s certainly the first HUP book to include both a photo of a shirtless, shimmering Robert Pattinson and a Guillermo del Toro Hellboy II character sketch, Nelson argues that popular culture is now saturated with a supernaturalism reminiscent of Pre-Modern Christian European culture. But it comes with some new twists: these figures aren’t just evil monsters as in the classic Protestant Gothic, but are semi-divine. And they’re no longer just males—the new heroes are joined by heroines.
Gothicka picks up where Nelson’s widely praised and deeply loved The Secret Life of Puppets leaves off, tracing the movement of this “unconscious religiosity” from what she calls the “sub-Zeitgeist” (“the grab-bag mass market popular culture lying beneath or around or on top of the secular-materialist mainstream”) to the everywhere.
In the years since The Secret Life of Puppets was published, this trend has emerged as a much more explicit spirituality expressed in performance and practice as well as in fiction and film. Where that book tracked, through the end of the twentieth century, the nature of the supernatural in the post-Reformation popular imagination, Gothicka attempts to describe the surprising new turn toward the light taken in the increasingly transformed subgenres of the Gothick. Still accessed through the grotesque and monstrous but displaying some striking new features, the twenty-first-century Gothick is showing signs of outgrowing the dark supernaturalism it inherited from its eighteenth-century ancestor.
We recently spoke with Nelson for an episode of the HUP podcast, wherein you’ll learn all about avatars of self-realization, Protestant iconoclasm, and the watershed moment of Interview with the Vampire. Have a listen:
The book covers an awful lot of ground, but Nelson was kind enough to prepare a little “playlist” for us – call it the greatest hits of the new supernatural:
- Max Brooks, World War Z
- Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
- Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk
- H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
- Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies
- Stephenie Meyer, Twilight series
- William P. Young, The Shack
Film and Television
- Alan Ball, True Blood series
- Park Chan-wook, Thirst
- Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland
- Patrick Lussier, Dracula 2000
- George Romero, Night of the Living Dead
- Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and Hellboy
- Jamie Delano, John Constantine: Hellblazer series
- Garth Ennis, Preacher series
- Neil Gaiman, Sandman series
- Chaosium, The Call of Cthulhu
- White Wolf, Vampire: The Masquerade
- Capcom, Resident Evil
- Cyan, Myst
- Electronic Arts, Left 4 Dead
- Konami, Castlevania
Those are the primary sources for your crash course in the fusion of post-Christian spirituality and mass media.
And, for super extra credit, pair Gothicka with Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, or at least spin their podcasts back to back. Here’s Gregory: