In Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist, a Milton scholar encounters a possible case of demonic possession.
How did growing up in Stratford, Ontario, affect the kind of fiction you write?
Perhaps because my town was so naturally gothic in its architecture and relative isolation—the roads often closed in winter—my stories tended toward the ghostly and the creepily suspenseful right from the get-go. I made my otherwise quiet and safe environment more interesting, I suppose, by imagining it as full of hidden threats and buried secrets. It has become a vocation.
What got you thinking about using demons?
Before I knew what the novel was to going to be about, I was reading a lot of personal accounts of the supernatural, people who (from their point of view) had had their lives interrupted by the impossible—poltergeists, ghosts, demons. What struck me was how, so often, what these people shared wasn’t the thing afflicting them, but an unsettled emotional state. It got me thinking about how, so often, those set upon by demons share an emotional link to the demons themselves, the latter being creatures without a home, without love, fundamentally lost. Grief is such an important part of what gives the demonic its power: the fury at God for taking away the thing that made them part of the living, feeling world.
And using Milton as a jumping-off point?
This all turned me back to Paradise Lost, which I remembered mainly for its compelling and even sympathetic portrait of Satan, an intelligent and persuasive being who had been cast out of his former family, his gloom distilled into hate. I thought, “Yes! This is the way to tell a contemporary story about demons—not through priests and crosses and holy water, but through the shared experience of human/demon grief.”
Do you perceive a difference in how horror is written today?
What I see as the particularly exciting prospect for writing horror fiction as we go forward is setting stories in more internal landscapes than external ones, mapping out the mind as the home for scary things instead of the house at the end of the lane or lakeside campground or abandoned amusement park. As our world becomes more urbanized, the isolated or overlooked corners where we used to enact our imagined horrors feel less credible. Psychological horror is more interesting to me than the explicitly physical. It’s more frightening for me to think of the guy next to me on the subway seeing demons on the same car as us, even if he’s the only one who can see them. Monsters just outside our peripheral vision are scarier to contemplate than monsters miles away or in someplace only a fool would set foot in.