Monday, March 26, 2012

Night of the Living Dead Christian, by Matt Mikalatos. March 2012 CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1

Matt Mikalatos, the author and first person protagonist, has assumed the responsibility of neighborhood watch. On the particular evening in which the story opens, Matt comes across Dr. Culberton, the stereotypical mad scientist who, especially at this first encounter, has a remarkable resemblance to Dr. Emmet Brown of Back to the Future. Culberton is assisted by his android, The Hibbs 3000. Together they are in search of werewolves, not to kill, necessarily, but to study and cure if possible. Their mission, in the words of Culberton, “is both a spiritual and a scientific endeavor.”

Though I have never read Imaginary Jesus, what I have heard, especially in the endorsements for that novel, Matt Mikalatos (the real one, that is) is noted for a zany humor, which not only makes the reader laugh but also facilitates the conveyance of the message. Obviously, I am not against humor, I like to laugh as much as the next person, and because of that, I have a fondness for some zany characters that some might raise an eyebrow at – Spongebob Squarepants, for instance. Humor can do many things for a story, the most important of which is to enhance its friendliness. In Night of the Living Dead, it often worked well, but sometimes it got in the way. With such a humorous tone, I think a reader’s tendency is too often to look for the next laugh and miss the message. A rereading of the book might be necessary to scoop up what eludes the first time round. It also poses several general questions about humor’s contribution: Is it natural? Does it underscore? Does it detract? Can it be overbearing? Can it be monotonous?

But it is not the humor that I am concerned about.

Monsters wend their way in and out, representing loosely allegorical situations and phenomena of the way Christianity is perceived and practiced. For me, and it may be because I’m rather thick-headed when it comes to allegory, I did not make what probably should have been obvious connections until the author was kind enough to tie pieces together at the end. The fact that I wasn’t getting it as I was reading was a little frustrating, but I knew that was mostly on me, and I was pretty confident that the author suspected there were some boneheads like me out there, and that he would help us out.

Regardless, it is not the allegory that I am concerned about.

I did not miss the most obvious connection, and that is the werewolf the story settles onto, and more particularly the quest for a cure. The predicament of the werewolf was that he became something that he could not help to become, something vile and violent and offensive, which destroys the most intimate human bond he had – his marriage. To be cured is something the werewolf wants to do, and at the same time, does not want to do. That antinomy serves as a premise that underlies the theology of the novel. The werewolf is the quintessential allegory of the book. The message and theology of the story center on him. If you understand the werewolf, you understand what the novel is trying to say about the gospel.

I think many are of the same mind as Chris Fabry (Almost Heaven), whose endorsing remark succinctly states what the reader of NLDC is faced with. Chris writes:

“Matt Mikalatos gets what the gospel is all about. It’s not about reform or spiritual cosmetology. We’re dead, we’re monstrous, we’re enemies of God. But because of his great mercy, he desires a relationship. He wants us to become like him”

I agree with the part about our condition as dead and enemies of God, but the werewolf of Mr. Mikalatos’s story is not really like that. The second part about what God desires is iffy as well. How so? And what is at the root of the theology of Matt’s book? Those are things I want to get into with tomorrow’s post.

Thanks to Saltriver (Tyndale House Publishers) for kindly providing a copy of Night of the Living Dead Christian for review on the March 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

Matt Mikalatos’s Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
Night of the Living Dead Christian on Amazon.


  1. I think humor can be an incredibly effective tool--I can't speak for this book so much, but I read quite a few reviews of "My Imaginary Jesus" from people who thought it was hilarious (the humor wasn't my cup of tea). Even at least one agnostic/ex-Christian kept reading because he found it so hilarious. Humor can let you get into places where you otherwise wouldn't be able to reach.

    But humor can have trouble reaching a broad audience. If the reader doesn't find the story funny then it doubly detracts. Like that person who's always telling jokes that he or she thinks are funny, but aren't.

    Believe me, I know the problem. I'm often that person telling the not-funny jokes!

  2. Thomas, I share your concern that people often miss the serious point in episodes of Spongebob Squarepants. :)

    I am VERY curious to hear why you think the werewolf in the story doesn't represent someone who is dead and an enemy of God. And also curious to hear your thoughts on the theology in the book. Looking forward to it!