What I’ve Learned from the Apocalypse

Maybe it’s because 2012 is the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. But I have certainly seen a lot of apocalyptic stories being circulated out there. Of course, it all depends on how you define “apocalypse.” Most of those these days have to do with zombies (and defining that is another issue, for another blog). My position that there are many, many possible apocalyptic scenarios. And believe it or not, they don’t all have to end with the end of the world.

Some, like my recently released book, The Kiss of Night, “end with a whimper,” to paraphrase T.S. Eliot. A virus sneaks aboard a flight from Guatemala to the U.S. and brings with it a sleep that doesn’t end. What I found fun about the whole use of sleep to bring about the apocalypse is the love/hate relationship we all have with sleep. When we need it, we embrace it. But what if there was no guarantee that we would wake back up. The relationship grows a little more frightening.

And then you turn it up another notch. What if you are the only one awake, harnessed with the responsibility of thousands of sleeping people around you? How do you take care of their safety, not to mention their necessary bodily functions? Add to that a lack of power, and oncoming winter in Chicago, and you have a nightmare in the making.

But as tempting as it is, the purpose of this blog is not to promote my book. It is actually a follow-up to a recent blog I wrote entitled: “Can You Believe It?” In it, I raised the premise that what you believe is reflected in what you write, regardless of what that is. So what does apocalyptic writing tell us about the authors?

The first thing we need to agree on is that there is no one representative idea behind each of the apocalyptic symbols. Despite their literary heritage, vampires have moved beyond a symbol of overt sexuality, thanks to stories like Twilight. In that situation, both vampires and werewolves were used to represent frustrated and dangerous sexuality confronting teen girls. But the theme of seduction continues to be pervasive in the vampire genre. That’s probably why I wrote the Amish vs. Vampires short story recently, to represent the worldly seduction that confronts young people growing up in an Amish community (or any other conservative Christian enclave, for that matter). I am sure you can find other mythical allusions as well.

And then there’s zombies. My mythic interpretation of zombies is that they represent conformity, moving through life without thinking, following the crowd without using your brain. And once again, you and probably every other writer out there has a different interpretation of what they represent. But that’s the fun of writing.

What’s important, of course, about apocalypse stories is not what the monsters are like, but how the survivors respond to them. You see this on the the hit zombie TV show, “The Walking Dead.” The characters in the show spend more time fighting each other than they do fighting the walking dead. And that’s the frustration and enjoyment of the show–watching people fight each other when danger is right behind them.

And that’s what I learn every time I read or see an apocalypse story: how do WE respond to apocalypse? Do we fight each other? Do we surrender? Or do we huddle together to survive despite our differences? A fourth alternative can be found in the general reaction to the end-time predictions associated with the Mayan calendar: Maybe we just deny that it will happening, or in the case of those on The Walking Dead, that it IS happening.

In the real world, I am a believing Seventh-day Adventist Christian. That, I think, gives me two advantages. One, as you probably suspect from the name Seventh-day Adventist, I strongly believe that Jesus Christ is returning soon, and I hope while I am still alive. Second, as a Christian, I believe in the promises of the Bible.

I know that the world is not going to end with zombies, vampires, werewolves, a mushroom cloud, or even because the Mayan Calendar says so. It will end with the return of Jesus Christ, and only the Father knows when that will be (see Matt. 24:36).

In the meantime, watching how people deal with mythical adversity of zombies or sleeping sickness can serve as an interesting psychological window on what makes us all tick.

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