Horror stories often feature a parodic facsimile of ordinary things, adding the uncanny alienation from familiar objects to the simpler, straightforward violence of fear.
At its most developed, this takes the form of an entire realm, grotesquely mimicking our world.
The nightmare-mangled school of Nightmare on Elm Street.
The ‘upside down’ of Stranger Things.
A malevolent faerie’s reproduction of the protagonist’s home and neighborhood in Coraline.
The complex system of underground tunnels inhabited by clones of the surface population in Jordan Peele’s Us.
Imitation bespeaks parasitism. These places, or the entities animating them, are not self-existence: they must take and twist what already is.
In theological terms, the infernal delight is to pervert creation, for the demonic cannot create. Its program is ultimately one of lack, privatio boni; it acts as a thirsty, ontic privation, not a real presence.
It is interesting, then, when a cultural moment or social movement finds itself aligned with the inversion.
The pale, claw-fingered, top-hat sporting titular monster of the Australian Babadook film, for example, despite preying on a single mother and her young son, has been held up as a gay icon. Something similar happened to Pennywise from King’s IT.
Anecdotal, tongue-in-cheek associations of this sort are perhaps suggestive of something substantial, namely, the political capital associated with inverting normativity.
Tradition is full of references to parodic vales full of the shadows of true forms, but this is not true descent. Entry into the depth-dimension of surface reality, the underground center of the world, is precisely derailed by those seeking to deny the surface.
In this respect, we may recall certain medieval and early modern accounts, prominently that of François Rabelais, surrounding the mythic Venusberg and related faerie-realms. Virgil’s Christian successors seemed to intuit a danger in that Neapolitan countryside of the Pozzuoli, where volcanic Cumae had afforded the Trojan hero Aeneas entry into the underworld. A knight looking for genuine wisdom, an authentic entry into divine domains, risks being tricked, it seems, by malevolent spirits able to conjure up the burlesque semblance of a paradise.
Crucially, then: those who descend, as Aeneas did, should not confuse depth for inversion; the inner truth of the surface world, for its denial.
It is by ignoring the antinomian deviation that they will reach the true center: not a realm of monsters and death, but of sainted ancestors in the Elysian fields.
Confirming this, German authors occasionally referred to the Aeneid’s southern Italian portal to the starry heavens as housing the Holy Grail. Likewise, the infernal center of the earth was identified as finally coinciding with the solar heaven by traditions associated with Greek sages like Empedocles. To descend into Hades without submitting to the authority of evil, allows Christ to rescue Adam, whereafter he may take his place in the heavenly throne room.
Such, then, is Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. Not the embrace of monsters, but their overcoming, in the course of the journey to meet our heavenly dead.