Season’s greetings from the Lightrider Journals! Today we continue our version of Christmas traditions with the annual Christmas Point of Light series, where we focus on Christmas stories that provide young writers valuable tools in their development. This year, we begin with a story that not only highlights writing, but actually one of those young, inspiring authors. In honor of the release of Krampus, the story of the Christmas devil, we straddle the line between horror and holidays, with Matt Manochio’s The Dark Servant.
In Hancock, New Jersey, the morning of December 5th is rocked by a car accident and abduction of a high school jock. But this is only the first, as further kidnappings follow, including a high school Heather, a grade school student, and the son of the chief of police. While the police strive to find connections, all they come up with are bags of sticks left near the crime scenes, and reports of a huge, hoofed, bear like creature. The chief’s youngest son, Billy, does make a connection- the Krampus, the ancient twin of Saint Nicholas from German folklore. And indeed, he is right, as the Krampus has come to Hancock to punish the worst of its naughty children- unless they can repent. Billy and his school crush Maria, must race against time to find the Krampus before it kidnaps again. But Billy must also come to terms with just what it is that brought the Krampus to Hancock- and his part in it.
What Writers Can Learn- Dialouge, Homage, Morals
The Dark Servant works as a wonderfully twisted Christmas fable and succeeds as a fine debut in a number of ways. To begin with, Manochio avoids one of the easiest traps for a first time writer- crafting smooth, realistic dialogue. While I am certainly not claiming to be perfect, my experience with other new writers shows that dialogue can be a challenge. Often times, writers try more to sound well-written then realistic, and either explain too much or sound stiff and tin eared. While there are a few missteps, Manochio avoids this trap. He characters talk like real teenagers and adults, and while the Krampus itself can speak like Freddy Krueger, its dialogue effortlessly flies the distance between scary and funny and back.
That leads into another of the book’s strengths- the knowledge of its material. The Krampus itself plays into the mythos perfectly, and anyone that knows the creature will see its trademarks- the bad of sticks, its satanic appearance, and its desire to punish the naughty. But beyond that, the novel clearly patterns itself after a horror movie, and Manochio clearly knows the genre. The story builds in suspense, slowly bringing us out of the everyday bit by bit, as the Krampus becomes more and more visible. The elements of blood and gore are not overplayed, the characters are intelligent and fill their roles perfectly, and the Krampus itself is a perfect movie monster- sadistic and witty, but with a clear purpose and goal.
And that goal forms the core of The Dark Servant. The Krampus exists to punish naughty children, but also to make them repent. While its victims are trapped, it continually pushes and torments them to admit their sins. And these sins are not minor. The kidnapped students are there because they bullied and tormented a classmate to the point of nearly killing herself. The young boy bullied a classmate and had entertained thought of shooting him. The Krampus pushes all of them into forced confession, threatening to kill them unless they repent. But it does show restraint. It releases the children that do confess, and forces less torture onto the child, even saying there is only so much a child should have to endure. Only the Heather, who does not repent, is fully punished, and in a way the Krampus’s ‘Master’ would appreciate- throwing her down a lit chimney. Bullying and suicide are dark topics to go through, and often, they are discussed in a way that comes across as preachy. But The Dark Servant shows them in a way that is real, and with a grim message- that while the Krampus is a sadistic demon, it is our own evil that calls it- and only our own ability to face that evil that can save us. After all, Christmas is the time when we are called to be at our best- and to forgive.
Those interested in seeing the Krampus on screen would do well to examine the new film, or the anthology Christmas Horror Story, which also features the Krampus, in a more villainous role. And don’t forget to come back next week, boys and girls of every age, as we travel across the Hinterlands to see a town that more then a little strange.