For author Declan Hyde, the connection between religion and horror is one that is often overlooked and yet has untapped potential.
“A lot of the time, I feel like the reason religious people steer away from horror is because they think it’s going to be attacking religion,” the Provo author says, “or it’s going to be about the abandonment of faith.”
The intriguing prospect of working with the themes of faith and horror — combined with an open call for short story submissions on the topic — prompted Hyde to undertake the project. His idea kept swelling, however, eventually exceeding the word count for a short piece, and thus was born his upcoming novella, “The Resurrection Box.”
“Religion is traditionally connected to horror in ways a lot of people overlook,” Hyde says. “There’s God versus the devil. That’s the biggest rivalry of all time.”
He points to the “looming threat of hell,” exorcism stories, spirits of dead people coming back to life and other areas of mysticism and magic as components from which he draws.
“In the Book of Mormon itself,” Hyde notes, “there’s cannibalism and war.”
The book’s plot
Hyde’s novella, set in the 1850s, is steeped in magical connotations, like when the main character loses her only child in an accident and then discovers a magic coffin that has the power to revive her son.
The story’s religious aspects stand out as well. The mother is a miner’s polygamous wife, who learns of the coffin’s existence through a vision and that its location is somewhere in the mountains near her Mormon pioneer settlement.
But the woman is on a “collision course with calamity” because foul and evil things lurk in those mountains.
She ends up going on a spiritual journey.
“When I was initially trying to come up with this concept, I thought, ‘What would be the most Mormon character that I could put in this?’ and I thought a polygamist Mormon wife was something I hadn’t seen before [in a religious horror story],” Hyde says. “I wanted to try and tell a story about a faithful LDS person within this genre.”
‘A faithful perspective’
Hyde, who is publishing the novella under an alias, was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and remains a practicing member. Part of his inspiration, he says, was to create a positive representation of Latter-day Saints — something he says there hasn’t been much of lately.
“I want to create stories that present a faithful perspective that members can see themselves in,” he says. “We don’t get a ton of that, especially in mainstream media these days.”
Hyde has been interested in storytelling since he was a young. Crafting stories about his action figures was his first foray into the world of words. He’s always wanted to explore the Latter-day Saint experience but has wrestled with how exactly to do so — until now.
“Most LDS writers aren’t writing horror,” he says. “That was definitely something I wanted to try.”
In the novella, he intertwines the two genres together in a number of ways. For example, when Zina (the mother) has her vision “and goes on this quest to find this magical item, it does tie into the early roots of the church.”
“Writing this, I thought, ‘How could I make this more Mormon?’” Hyde says. He points to a specific part that examines a section in the faith’s scriptural Doctrine and Covenants that discusses identifying good angels versus bad angels.
“If it be the devil as an angel of light,” the verse reads, “when you ask him to shake hands, he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.”
“One of the big cultural aspects that I tied into this,” Hyde says, “was the idea of Bigfoot as Cain.” Though it’s not a central story point, it’s an example of how he tried to “infuse more of these [Latter-day Saint] folkloric elements into the story.”
The experience of creating art from a place of faith, Hyde says, was fun for him. It also took him in directions he didn’t anticipate.
“As a story about faith, one of the biggest things is faith and revelation, which are big things in the LDS religious tradition,” Hyde says, “One of the things I wrestle with is how you interpret revelation? How do you know if something is coming from God?”
In the writing, Hyde loved connecting all the elements together in a cohesive way. He also enjoyed writing the character of Bill Pratchett (a Porter Rockwell-esque character, as Hyde describes him) who serves as Zina’s guide and bodyguard on her journey.
“One of the things [Zina] deals with is this serious vision at the beginning,” Hyde says, “but she doesn’t receive any specific guidance.”
On her journey to locate the coffin, she faces doubts and other obstacles, but she knows she needs to get there. This trek, with all its trials and tribulations, is guided by Zina’s faith and resolve.
This will resonate with Latter-day Saints, Hyde believes, and exploring these ideas that “we wrestle with” in a fictional setting proved rewarding for him. (He warns that the story contains some coarse language, brief descriptions of graphic violence, a suicide attempt and the death of a young child.)
The idea of overcoming darkness is something that Hyde hopes a lot of religious people will support.
“The Resurrection Box” is due out Oct. 24, several weeks after General Conference and a week before Halloween.