Disbelief Is a Killer

I’ve decided that this spring/summer is going to have a Stephen King theme.  I have a ton of books I am reading right now, mostly camping info and field guides, and for entertainment while I am geeking out over bugs, trees, and flowers I am reading Stephen King as well.  The first book up is ‘Salem’s Lot, which I first read in middle school and have largely forgotten.  Vampires are classic horror, I don’t care what Anne Rice and the other angsty romance novels of the day have to say about it.  If they are a metaphor for rape, if they suck your blood, if crosses burn them, they are evil.  Vampires = evil.

‘Salem’s Lot is scary as hell, as most Stephen King novels happen to be.  Scary enough that I am reading it during daylight hours only.  Scary enough that when Will comes home and I am in bed, he freaks me out just by informing me that he is home.  While dead asleep, he says from the doorway to the bedroom, softly and friendly, “Hey, honey, I’m home.”  My very reasoned and practical reaction is to yelp in fear while waking up immediately due to adrenaline flood and look for a weapon while my brain THEN processes that this is not a threat.  Thanks, brain.   Maybe process the not-a-threat sooner and create a little less drama for me and less humor for Will.  Sheesh.

The body count in ‘Salem’s Lot is high.  Very high.  Most of these people do not listen to their instinctive fear reactions, try to be reasonable and rational and thus are killed.  Two characters in particular die simply due to complete disbelief.  There is evidence, there are people backing up the evidence, and yet they still refuse to believe the truth because their disbelief is so huge.  They do not believe in vampires therefore vampires do not exist.  So, these vampires that do not exist simply kill the heck out of them.  Easy pickings, too.

My dad was a big reader of Stephen King.  Prior to his death in 2010, he read every single book King wrote.  Will and I were fortunate enough to receive these books after he was finished, so we have quite a few Stephen King novels, many in hard cover, on our bookshelves.  This means that a Stephen King Summer (because the daylight lasts longer than the darkness of night, summer is perfect horror novel reading time) will be a largely inexpensive endeavor for me as I will not have to purchase any books.

One of the themes that King explores frequently is the notion of childhood belief and adult disbelief.  There are quite a few stories where parents simply do not believe their children about whatever the supernatural bad guy of the novel is – therefore the children are left alone to handle these monsters.  As a child, reading these books after my father had read them, we would talk about them.  He was big on applying what he’d read to real life.  He once told me that I could always come to him if I was being stalked by a monster (he phrased it differently, but this was the gist of a very long conversation).  He said that he may not believe me totally but he wouldn’t disbelieve me.  He said he would take it seriously and we would figure out what to do from there.

To a little girl with an active and treacherous imagination, this was hugely comforting.

This is also a philosophy I’ve applied to my life.  As the bard says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Do I believe that vampires roam the earth?  Not particularly.  I do not disbelieve that they roam the earth, either.  I find it interesting that every culture has tales of vampires, in one form or another.  If someone were to come to me and tell me that they have seen vampires and are afraid, I would not necessarily believe them, but I’d sharpen some stakes, get holy water, and generally prepare for vampires.

As sci-fi and horror fans, Will and I watch a lot of movies and television shows where the main stumbling block is disbelief.

“You won’t believe me, but I am from the future,” says the hero of the story, sent from the future.

“No, you aren’t!  Shut up!” says another character who then proceeds to run away.

Good job there, idiot.  Way to shut down what could have been a really interesting conversation.

This is a scene that happens over and over and over again, much to my dismay.  Where are these characters’ intellectual curiosity?  I would have a lot of questions for someone who told me that they came from the future (or saw a ghost, or vampire, or zombie, or Whatever Else).  Beyond that, how can you deem someone to be crazy or a liar without gathering facts first?  I mean, at the very least, I need to know what kind of crazy they are.  Paranoid?  Delusional?  There are varieties and flavors that are interesting to explore in the realm of nutjobbers, so even if what they are saying is not true, it is not a waste of time to gather more information while they are in a confessional mood.  Also, always hedge your bets.  Chances are they are mistaken, but if they are not you need the intel to survive the story.  Furthermore, the gathering of information often provides great anecdotes.

I once had a friend who had a bit of difficulty in spending time with me and then going back to her “main stream” friends.  There was a bit of mental culture clash for her.  I never thought of myself as not being main stream, but apparently reading tarot for a living, not actively disbelieving things, and having a large amount of knowledge about various occult subjects makes you auxiliary stream.  However, if being main stream means that you shut down something simply due to it not fitting neatly into your worldview, then I am more than fine to be outside of the main.  I am always better at being support staff, anyway.  I can lead when necessary, but I never want to be king – I prefer to be the king’s adviser.  More fun, less responsibility and who likes the limelight?

As I am reading about vampires, I am also going through vampire attack scenarios in my mind.  What would I do if vampires attacked right now?  What weapons are nearby?  How would I survive it?  How would I convince Will that I wasn’t insane?  Although, I think he may have less disbelief than I do.  Or more paranoia – one of those.

Will does not simply answer the front door.  He always asks, “Who is it?”  When he and I first started dating (and really it was less dating and more him showing up at my door after work everyday – my running joke is that we are still on our first date, he just never went home), he would knock on the back door, I would open the door and he would proceed to lecture me about how I should not simply open the door to anyone.  I finally humored him by asking “Who is it?” even though no one other than him visited.  Will still asks “who is it” when anyone knocks on the door, even when we are expecting company.  He often follows this question up with “Are you a vampire?”  People laugh and say no, but he is at least partially serious.  If I happen to say “Come on in” he gets a little mad at me because what if they are vampires?  If they are, I just invited them in.

I asked him the other night what he would do if I told him that I saw a vampire.  He did that thing that many men of my acquaintance do, where they inspect you like you are an interesting but unidentifiable insect, arms crossed – it is this suspicious what-are-you-on-about look.   I used to take the look, plus the closed off posture, as an immediate shut down, but over time I have found that suspicion and interest are sometimes closely linked.  Will proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions that basically sum up as who, what, where, when.  He said that he would probably grab another person or two and go out hunting for the vampire.  He wouldn’t necessarily believe me, but he would not disbelieve me, either.  In Will’s mind, spending time hunting for a vampire that may not exist would not be time wasted.  It would be an interesting exercise in vampire preparedness, with the extra added bonus of the interesting possibility of being able to kill a vampire.

As an adult woman with an active and treacherous imagination, this was hugely comforting.  It is nice to know that Will would not be one of the people who died simply due to disbelief.

So, my advice to main streamers everywhere – suspend your disbelief.  Ask questions.  Gather information.  Do not simply disbelieve because information clashes with your view of the world.  This could kill you if the zombie apocalypse occurs and you spend the majority of your time saying “This is not possible.”  That is time wasted and time wasted could mean a zombie chewing on your arm.

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5 thoughts on “Disbelief Is a Killer

  1. One of the benefits of getting a philosophy degree in college is that I have a better grasp of how little human beings actually “know.” On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 indicates absolute certainty that something doesn’t exist and 10 indicates certainty that it does, I’d give vampires a 1. Like you, I’ll leave room for the possibiltiy of it, but I’m not about to run screaming out of the house “Vampires are everywhere!”

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    • I have to agree, albeit sans Philosophy degree. The more I learn, the less I realize I know. I guess that might be one of the advantages of being a vampire is that I would be immortal and be able to learn tons more, but it isn’t worth the evil, really. I think on your scale I am more of a 4 or 5.

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  2. Love it! Also, I have been trying to get my son to read Stephen King books. I am sure he would love them but I am yet to convince him! He LOVES zombie books and used to be into vampires until Twilight came out and romanticized them. It’s funny, we were at Barnes and Noble the other day and I came upon a collector’s version of a 3-in-1 book by Stephen King, it has “Salem’s Lot”, “Christine” and “Carrie” in it. Maybe I will get it for him for his birthday…

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    • That is a great collection of early work! I think that I have a fondness for earlier Stephen King as those were the books I read in my youth, the first being “Firestarter” but quickly followed with “‘Salem’s Lot’, “Christine”, “Carrie” and “Pet Cematary” – the last one has totally wrecked my ability to spell cemetery correctly.

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  3. Jay- Nice piece. Your line about time travel reminds me of Christopher Lloyd’s Dr. Emmit Brown character in Back to the Future answering the door with an electronic chandalier on his head and then slamming the door in Michael J Fox face after being told he was from the future. “The tell me future boy, who is the president in 1985? Ronald Reagan!!!!!”

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