Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from the Puritans to Stephen King

Article excerpt

Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from the Puritans to Stephen King. Edward J. Ingebretsen, S.J. Armonk, M.E. Sharpe. 1996. 221 pp. Selected bibliography and index.

Until Ingebretsen's carefully detailed monography, the study of horror and its relationship to culture has been a morass of narrow, oversimplified and partial observations. Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell takes an intedisciplinary approach rather than safely remaining confined to literature or film which apparently has contented former scholarship. Unlike others, Ingebretsen's vision spans literature and film as well as civic ritual, history, philosophy, theology and cultural studies. He writes cogently, insightfully, convincingly, winningly. A brief passage certifies how easy it is to relegate the study of terror to the simplistic and innocuous:

The study of culture is a curious business. Like any organizing system, its strategies and forms of popular management recede from view, while much energy is invested in keeping them either unreflected upon or unreflecting. It is like a text, unwritten and overwritten, dense with meanings which are invisible to conventional (that is to say, to authorized) technologies of reading. (212-13)

As a sample, this passage speaks boldly yet remains deconstructively rich. Without question, the book belongs in any library which sports Lovecraft's The Supernatural in Literature and King's Danse Macabre.

The focus of the ongoing exegesis may be literature but Ingebretsen cleverly does not hesitate to demonstrate, sometimes at deservable length, connections to popular culture events like the Salem witch trials, the Bobbits and others. The intertwining of various sources supports one of Ingebretsen's major theses, that terror and horror are civic and public ingredients of American cultural life not just among the Puritans, but to this day. …