Teddy Jameson awakens nude and confused in what appears to be a tropical paradise. His guide looks like Brad Pitt and the grounds look like a Sandals Resort. Nice, right? The only problem is that his guide has greeted him with these solemn words, “Mr. Theodore Carter Hugh Jameson, may I be the first to welcome you to Hell.” Hell?
That Hell seems to be an upscale and very expensive Caribbean resort and the man his guide introduces as the Devil appears to be a genial blonde-haired host in white shorts, polo shirt and sneakers with a passion for tennis, certainly adds to Teddy's confusion. Where's the fire and brimstone? Where are the horns and long pointed tail usually associated with the Devil? If this is Hell, it has certainly had a makeover.
That’s the beginning of my novella Welcome to Hell. I was intrigued by creating a story featuring a dapper, modern Devil living in a beautiful resort that just happens to be Hell.
Hell and the Devil—writers are fascinated by the topic. From past classics such as Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s Paradise Lost to best-selling modern books like Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin and The Omen by David Seltzer, the idea of this place and this person actually existing seems to have been fodder for many writers. Even the charming retelling of the Faust legend in the brilliant comedy Damn Yankees by Douglass Wallop is about “you-know-who from you-know-where.”
See also: Top 5 Movie Devils
In a course on themes, characters, and settings in literature, a grad school professor told a group of students that authors are like anyone else when faced with the uncomfortable unknown. They can do one of two things. The first is to create a scenario where they can be in charge. She said, “Think about it; when you do that, put yourself as the mastermind of any given situation, you become less afraid of the unknown.” The second explanation she gave is that, while those who are not writers tend to talk about the uncomfortable unknown, writers use their creative outlet and write about their own fears, expanding them into monumental tales. This is basic Psych 101 fear-management strategies put to good use for authors both in expressing their fears and in a few top-selling novels.
Monsters, on the other hand, fill our lives through a mythic potpourri, handed down in legend from generation to generation. We like to believe in dragons and any large frightening creature that comes from the ocean.
Remember Peter Benchley’s highly intelligent, super-large, human eating shark in Jaws? And George R. R. Martin has captivated us in his books with those high-flying, fearsome dragons! We might be afraid of them, but who wouldn’t want to be a Mother (or Father) of Dragons and have them do your bidding?
Any mystery—and all monster and Devil/Hell stories are mysteries—is a get-away from reality. The satisfaction of solving a mystery that has evil and terrifying creatures in it fills a deep-hidden longing in some of us that an “end justifies the means” outcome is not only possible, but in our control. We love our scary mysteries because, whether it is science fiction or even faith, we need these stories to end well and to make life plausible.
The strange and mysterious will always fascinate readers of fiction. The possibility of there being even a kernel of truth in these stories adds to the pleasure of reading them, even if the fear factor is strong. Mystery and fear—what a delicious chill of scary fun!
Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling novels, including the best-selling new series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. Book 3 in the series will be published this summer. She is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct powers of her own.
Houghton is also the author of two non-fiction books and numerous short stories.