Meet Lucifer’s New Librarian…

By day, Christopher JC is a literature academic, working in New York City. But by night, he toils as the Internet’s definitive Satanic Scholar, author of a new website dedicated to the Romantic interpretations of the Prince of Darkness, pioneered by the puritan poet John Milton in his epic masterpiece Paradise Lost some 350 years ago.
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Christopher’s scholarship is impressive, but what really makes the site shine is his evident passion for the subject, transforming a topic that so often feels dry and dusty into something alight with vivacity and relevance. The trigger for the launch of Christopher’s Satanic Scholar site was the debut of the first episode of the high profile new Fox series Lucifer, in turn based upon the acclaimed comic of the same name by writer Mike Carey.

While at this early stage the jury’s still out on the TV show – though it’s provoked the regulation calls for a ban from right-wing Christian lobbies like the American Family Association – Christopher believes Carey’s Lucifer is one of the strongest interpretations of the Miltonic anti-hero to date. In the following interview I asked him about this, as well as the broader Romantic tradition, and how his academic studies dovetailed with his own views and philosophy…

GB: How important is Milton’s Paradise Lost in how we see the Devil today – did it change our view?
CJC: ‘Paradise Lost completely revolutionized the concept of the Devil, and I don’t believe we can overstress the significance of Milton’s Satan. Inadvertently, Milton’s magnificent portrait of the arch-rebel restored lustre to Lucifer’s much tarnished name and face, and the Miltonic Satan lent himself to the refined radicalism of the Romantics. Satan’s principled revolt was inspiring to a number of the era’s most prominent intellectuals, poets, and prose writers, such as Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt, Blake, Shelley, and Byron. The Romantic Satanists’ penchant for putting the Miltonic Satan’s celestial revolt to earthly use as a sociopolitical countermyth has had a greater impact on the Devil’s majesty than the proceedings of any occult order, and there simply wouldn’t have been a Romantic Satanism without Milton’s Satan.’
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GB: What drew you to the character of Lucifer in the first place?
CJC: ‘Even when I was a young kid, the story of Lucifer’s rebellion and fall was far more exciting than, say, Jesus doling out the loaves and the fishes. But the real dark epiphany for me was when I first encountered the eloquent fallen angel found in the pages of Paradise Lost later in life, awestruck as I was by the noble defiance of Milton’s Satan. I was always attracted to anti-heroes, and Milton’s Satan was the archetypal anti-hero—the challenger of omnipotent authority, dauntlessly defiant against all odds, heroically unbowed even in defeat. I was delighted to discover the tradition of Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School, presided over by Byron and Shelley. Their grand approach to life as little Lucifers—magnifying their own diabolical dispositions through adoption of the Miltonic Satan—was rather thrilling to me. Whether or not Milton was, as Blake famously theorized, “of the Devil’s party without knowing it,” I certainly was.’

GB: How do you rate the comic-book version of the character?
CJC: ‘I believe Mike Carey’s Lucifer—the Vertigo spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman—to be the place to find the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s true heir. You undeniably get sympathetic Satans in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth, and Anatole France’s The Revolt of the Angels, but they are not on equal footing with Byron’s Promethean Lucifer, let alone Milton’s epic hero Satan. I daresay Carey’s Lucifer is. Visually, he is a blonde-haired, golden-eyed, smooth-faced, handsome Devil, whose wings are even restored to their former, feathery state. Portraying the rebellious Lucifer as beautifully angelic rather than frightfully or comically demonic is very much reminiscent of Romantic renditions of Milton’s Satan in the visual arts.’
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Lucifer’s grand ambition of absolute autonomy is just as appealing as his outer beauty. Carey’s Lucifer may be so individualistic that he lacks a sense of loyalty to his brothers-in-arms (one of the finer qualities of Milton’s Satan), but his pride definitely has its virtues. Lucifer’s sole commandment is thou shalt have no gods, which includes him, and in this he is not only the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s successor, but superior. Carey’s Lucifer is an icon of illustrious independence, and while I’m not sure how much of this will translate into the TV series adaptation, to even see his proud name gracing the small screen is rather surreal.’

GB: Do you believe in the Devil?
CJC: ‘No. I’m an atheist, so I definitely do not believe in the Devil as some cosmic bogeyman. I do however believe in the Devil insofar as I believe his myth and how it was told by Milton and exploited by the Romantics holds a great deal of power. Many secular humanists would like to see the Devil discarded into the dustbin of history, but I believe it would be a shame to simply shun the Miltonic-Romantic Satan because he’s fictional. I’m a fervent admirer of Lord Byron, but in this I am closer to Shelley, whose militant atheism embraced the symbolic potential of mythical figures like Satan or Prometheus. It was Baudelaire who said that “God is the only being who, in order to reign, doesn’t even need to exist,” and if that’s the case, I find the Miltonic Satan—“the most perfect type of male beauty,” according to monsieur Baudelaire—to be the most appropriate weapon against that reign, Satan’s nonexistence notwithstanding.’

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GB: What would you say to people who think showing sympathy for the Devil is wrong or even dangerous?
CJC: ‘I would advise them to take a good hard look at the figure the Devil is defying. Even if we place theocrats aside for the moment and limit ourselves to mythology and literature, the biblical God strikes me as the epitome of genuine evil. In the Old Testament, God is worse than any maniacal tyrant plucked from the pages of history. To cite a few nasty examples, He promises to spread excrement upon the faces of His own people should they fail to glorify His name and to force them to eat the flesh of their own children should they disobey Him.’

Contrary to popular belief, the New Testament God is immeasurably worse, as the same Son of God who preaches turning the other cheek and love for enemies promises to see plunged into eternal flames all who fail to bend the knee to him and his Father. That divine despotism is what we see Milton’s Hell-doomed Satan defying in the opening books of Paradise Lost. Milton’s Satan lambasts “the tyranny of Heaven” and Byron’s Lucifer castigates God as an “Omnipotent tyrant,” and I think these diatribes possess such force.’

I find a great deal of sympathy for the Devil cropping up in atheist circles—however tongue-in-cheek it may be—and I believe that the more theocratic elements spread like cancers at home and abroad (is it coincidental that the holiest portion of the globe is also the most hellish?), the more appealing Lucifer will become. It’s the fallen Morningstar’s time to shine, and I’m proud to be a part of that…’

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To sample some of Christopher’s Satanic Scholarship – which I would most heartily recommend – check out his website here. Meanwhile, once the Lucifer series has progressed, we plan on chatting again…

Future Frights

Aber-poster-724x1024 As most of you know, I’m a big fan of horror, and make a point of visiting as many genre festivals as I can. A consistent favourite has been the Welsh festival Abertoir, and I’ve attended every year now since 2008, giving lectures at some of the events, and also covering them for sundry publications and websites. This year, I thought I’d deliver something a little more pithy and practical for my friends at Alchemy England. A lot happens over the six days of Abertoir, but I figured unless you were there, it’s the premiers of new films that are of most interest. Which upcoming chillers are worth looking out for in the coming months? So, if you want my recommendations for the most interesting, innovative and plain old wonderful indie horror that premiered this year, then check out my Alchemy blog here… thewitch-691x1024

Thanks for Nothing

We Brits keep importing all of these American holidays, so why not Thanksgiving? I’d be all for it. We could give thanks for getting rid of all of our religious twunts over the Atlantic. There should probably be an element of apology towards the Native Americans.

On a faintly more serious note, one almost universally ignored reason for the American Revolution was the refusal of the British Government to back the colonists, when the colonists wanted to break treaties made with the natives.

I was discussing this with a historian friend the other night. I observed that the religious nutters in New England began by condemning the natives as children of the Devil because they’d never heard of God and were ‘red’. They then decided the French King was the Antichrist when English-speaking colonies came into contact with rival French Catholic settlers. And finally, George III was identified as the Antichrist once the British had driven the French away and wanted the colonies to pick up part of the bill. Forbidding the puritans from stealing from the ‘demonic’ natives at gunpoint really was the final straw.
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You can sense a pattern in American politics establishing itself way back.

My friend observed that he’d been reading an article arguing that the Pilgrim Fathers weren’t exiled from England. The British were following a very liberal religious policy at the time. As long as you didn’t make a song and dance of it, you could pretty much worship what you wanted (many of the most powerful in the land belonged to Hellfire Clubs). The puritans didn’t want tolerance – they had that – they couldn’t tolerate the beliefs of others.

puritan-whipping In other words, the Founding Fathers didn’t need freedom from persecution, but craved the freedom to persecute. Which explains a lot about American history if you think about it.

Anyhow, happy belated Thanksgiving everyone!

England, Evil and an Interview…

As anyone who’s had the misfortune to follow my misadventures can attest, around this time every year I make a pilgrimage westward, to indulge in the unholy delights of the Abertoir horror festival. This iniqitous Welsh institution is now in its tenth year – a notable achievement in the increasingly competitive film festival market – and I have little doubt that the organisers will be pulling out all the stops to make this anniversary something pretty special. Indeed, for the first time, passes have sold out – a just reflection of the word-of-mouth on an event that’s become a highlight of my year.

I’ll be making my usual modest contribution in the form of one of my dreaded talks. This time, I shall be fulminating on the indelible links between the English and Evil. It’s on Wednesday (the 11th) at 4pm. While passes are sold out, some tickets for individual events are available. For specifics, check hereRprop011. Meanwhile, the charming chaps at the Terrestrial site interrogated me over the weekend. To find out if I revealed all (or talked any sense at all) click here.

A Face for Radio

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This Halloween I hosted my Nightmares in Black and White event at York Cemetery’s Victorian chapel of rest. It wasn’t the biggest audience I’ve ever addressed, but I’d like to state publicly that it was one of the best, and it was a pleasure to meet you all and speak to you. Many thanks also for all of the positive feedback! I did a brief interview with the local radio station on the event and, for want of anywhere better to put it. Have appended it to this post. A belated happy Halloween to all and sundry!

Nightmares in York Cemetery this Halloween

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I’ll be hosting a special event this Halloween at the Grade II listed Chapel of Rest in York’s picturesque Victorian cemetery. Entitled Nightmares in Black and White, and running between 2-5pm, I’ll be taking people on an illustrated tour through the twisted roots of horror cinema. Informal, but informative, and suitable for both curious newcomers and seasoned horror fiends alike, we’ll lift the (coffin) lid on the stories behind the classic Hollywood monsters we’ve come to know and love so well. The local paper ran a two page article on the event, which you can read here. If you’re interested, do please send me a message via this site, or the event’s Facebook page here
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Being a Count in Whitby

stoker_poster With due apologies for the short notice, I will be attending the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby tomorrow, the 22nd of October, where I shall be delivering a talk at 2.30pm. Entitled, somewhat impudently, Who are You Calling a Count?, I shall be exploring the links – or lack thereof – between the fictional Count Dracula and his 15th Century historical namesake Vlad the Impaler. The Festival lasts throughout the weekend, and alongside horror film premieres, also features a vampire ball, and performances by the likes of Goth rock gods Fields of the Nephilim. For further info, click here. Maybe see some of you there…

Satan Goes Live with a Bang!

Little did I know, ten years ago, when I agreed to appear on a heavy metal documentary for a Canadian production company I’d never heard of, that I was becoming involved with an outfit that would change the way the world saw the music I’d grown up with. The resultant feature documentary, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, garnered awards and plaudits worldwide, establishing the Canadians, Banger Films, as the definitive documentarians of music’s most disreputable genre. They’re now taking that status to the next level, launching a dedicated metal channel.

Even more excitingly, on a personal level, they’re also unleashing a new feature documentary that takes them beyond the realms of music, to a topic dear to my black little heart. The feature is entitled Satan Lives

Satan Lives‘Satan. Lucifer. Fallen Angel. The Devil. He has many names but strikes a singular emotion in billions of people: fear. From Biblical times to modern day, Satan has been portrayed as the worst evil known to man and is undoubtedly the greatest villain of all time. And yet, what do we really know about Him?

Satan Lives will explore the role of the Devil in the modern age. It will trace His transformation from fallen angel to demonic beast to charismatic charlatan, showing how popular culture (from Milton’s Paradise Lost to The Exorcist to South Park) has influenced the public’s perception of the Devil’s presence on Earth. Featuring in-depth interviews with horror icons like John Carpenter, Linda Blair, Stephen King, Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro and musicians Bruce Dickinson, Jimmy Page, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson.

‘The documentary delves deep into questions of faith and the psychology of fear, travelling across North America, England and Europe to witness exorcism rites, examine psychiatric testing and reveal the scientific and supernatural forces behind Satan’s power today. Satan is about the power of fear and the nature of evil. It explores the story of the ultimate agent provocateur and reveals that perhaps Satan isn’t what we should be most afraid of at all.’

Between you and me, somebody else some of you may also recognise making an appearance. More info presently…

Panic on the Streets of London

SPBackCoverCollage-640x420 On October 8th, I’m pleased and proud to announce that I’ll be co-hosting an event for the acclaimed Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, being held at the wonderfully atmospheric Horse Hospital in Blooomsbury, London. The night celebrates the release of the book Satanic Panic: Pop Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s, which features a chapter by me on the crusade against Dungeons and Dragonsby Evangelical Christian campaigners. On stage with me will be author David Flint, discussing his researches into ‘the strange case of Genesis P-Orridge’, and Satanic Panic editor and Miskatonic founder Kier-La Janisse, who will be providing context for the evening. Meanwhile, I’ll be holding forth on bullshit fatigue, comparing and contrasting authentic occultism, fictional sorcery, and the fabricated magic described by Christian crackpots, before speculating on just what motivated all of these Satanic conspiracy theorists to fantasise for Jesus. Find further details and booking info here.

Lost, Unquenchable Hammer Dracula has Risen from the Grave!

Lee book With the growing number of horror festivals springing up all over the UK, organisers increasingly have to pull off something a bit special in order to lure in the fans. Mayhem in Nottingham certainly caught my attention when they announced plans to revive a lost Hammer Dracula script by having it read live on stage. This is particularly appropriate in the year we lost Christopher Lee, the brilliant actor most associated with the Count (somewhat to Lee’s dismay), and who Hammer planned would don the cloak had the production gone ahead.

To head the reading Mayhem have secured the services of Jonathan Rigby. An astute choice, as he’s not only among the foremost scholars of Gothic cinema, but an acclaimed actor in his own right. “The idea came about, as far as I’m aware, when it was realised that the Hammer archive at De Montfort University holds a number of unproduced scripts,” Jonathan told me. “[The script we are staging] is The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula and was written as the follow-up to Scars of Dracula. Anthony Hinds delivered his first draft in September 1970. Hammer had a contractual obligation to give Warner Bros first refusal on its Dracula pictures during this period, so EMI’s distribution of Scars… caused considerable friction.

Yorga “The Hammer/Warner Bros programme was supposed to get back on track with The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, a story conceived by Hinds as a way for Warner to spend a large amount of rupees frozen in its Indian account (and thus appease them in the wake of the Scars… debacle). However, the success of Count Yorga, Vampire prompted Warner Bros to ask Hammer if it could attempt something similar, so in 1971 the production of what became Dracula AD 1972 took precedence. This was followed by The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which also had a modern-day setting. The India script was still being worked on – presumably because the situation with Warners’ frozen rupees had yet to be resolved – and was now going by the slightly altered title The Insatiable Thirst of Dracula.”

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“Once again, a gimmick took precedence, as in 1973 Hammer produced The Legend of 7 Golden Vampires for Warner as a way of cashing in on the craze for kung fu films,” adds Jonathan. “By this time the Indian story had been radically overhauled by Don Houghton and Chris Wicking as Kali – Devil Bride of Dracula. This was offered to Warner as a follow-up to 7 Golden Vampires…, but by this time the distributor had lost interest. Hammer abandoned the idea of shooting a film in India and instead concentrated its efforts on producing a film about Vlad the Impaler, based on Brian Hayles’ 1974 radio play Lord Dracula.”

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After such a tortuous history, might it have been a good thing that viewers were spared another Hammer Dracula? Being blunt, is The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula actually any good? Jonathan’s confident that the script suggests the potential for a classic Hammer vampire chiller: “It’s set in the 1930s and is certainly more epic than Hammer were used to. There’s a major train journey complete with teeming termini at either end (a bit like Horror Express), a colossal Indian carnival scene with hundreds and hundreds of extras required (and a very nice death for a vampire-conniving Maharajah), hordes of devil worshippers a la The Kiss of the Vampire and The Devil Rides Out, a Black Hole of Calcutta-style pit in which Dracula’s female victims are dumped half-drained, a car chase between a rickety Morris tourer and the Maharajah’s coffin-bearing Rolls-Royce, and an apocalyptic ending in the ‘evil is propagated’ style that was fashionable (though not so much at Hammer) in the early 70s.”

Reading the script inevitably led a Hammer expert like Jonathan to envisage what The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula might have looked like had it actually been filmed: “It’s very easy to spot the lines that Christopher Lee would have refused to speak! Joanna Lumley or Judy Geeson would have been good casting for the heroine at the time (as in Psycho, she’s searching for her vanished sister), and there are plenty of great roles for Indian actors, obviously. There’s also a dance sequence reminiscent of the sitar scene in The Reptile. Tony Hinds was stationed in India during the war and this experience fed not only into The Reptile but also The Ghoul. Unquenchable…, however, is actually set in India and thus takes fuller advantage of his local knowledge.”

Lee bite The Mayhem Festival’s decision to stage the script live is a bold, imaginative one. It’s also perhaps the only way to recreate the inimitable style that made Christopher Lee and his films with Hammer so unique. You cannot go back in time to recreate the era, so why not employ the theatre of the imagination to conjure this Gothic masterpiece that never was? “Hammer’s Dracula endures through a combination of factors, chiefly the definitive potency of Christopher Lee’s performances and the beautifully upholstered Victorian-Edwardian milieu in which Hammer placed him,” concludes Jonathan. “I must say I’m looking forward to bringing this script to life; it’s a forgotten link in the Hammer chain and I’m sure it will fascinate all horror fans.”

Mayhem Horror Festival takes place at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham between the 15th-18th of October. For further details click here.

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