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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Christian

Every Halloween, I'm reminded of a theory of mine. My theory is that every kind of monster that you see in a scary movie, or read about in a horror novel, or imagine is hiding under your bed, actually is a symbol of a fear common to human beings, and that's actually what makes them scary. For example: why would a ghost be scary? They go right through walls! A ghost, in theory, couldn't even pick up a knife to stab you or a club to hit you. I think the reason people are afraid of ghosts is that ghosts represent something else people are already afraid of: death. I think people are scared of skeletons because we fear not having enough food... starvation. I think we fear mummies because we fear embarrassing or dangerous things that may come back from our past to ruin our present. I think we fear werewolves because we fear wild animals; I think we fear zombies because we fear strangers (what's stranger than someone you used to know who is now only an animated corpse?) It's easy enough to come up with a basic fear of mankind that matches up with just about any creature from any B movie you can think of.

In his new book, verbosely titled Night of the Living Dead Christian: one man's ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed, Matt Mikalatos, who must have had a heck of a time in Kindergarten learning how to spell his own name, takes a different approach. He matches up different approaches to living as a human being to different monsters. Then, in a whimsical twist, he writes a story starring himself as both narrator and one of the main characters. Apparently, some of the other characters in the story resemble some of his own real-life friends as well, and the neighborhood suspiciously resembles his own. However, the next-door neighbor in the book, a man named Luther, is (reportedly) not based on a real neighbor of his. Luther, who when he becomes angry transforms not into the Incredible Hulk but into an incredibly dangerous werewolf, soon also becomes the focal point of the story, because although it is a book that contains zombies, mad scientists, vampires, and one very large android, the book is actually about the transforming power of surrendering your life to Jesus Christ.

I almost hate to synopsize the story itself, because I feel like I'm giving away too many spoilers and it's much more fun to read it for yourself, but I'll fill you in on a few things to give you an idea of what the book is like. Luther, early on in the story, becomes estranged from his wife. In fact, the first time we see him (in human form, anyway), his wife has just loaded their baby in the minivan, and told Luther they are leaving him. After determining, based partly on Luther's wife's assertion that "He's a monster. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? A monster," that Luther is indeed a werewolf, Matt and his friends, who were unable to locate any silver bullets with which to shoot the wolf, instead attempt to kill him by pelting him with coins with a high silver content shot from slingshots. This attempt meets with limited success; the werewolf is not killed, but instead is befriended, and the crew sets off on a quest to figure out how to cure him of his werewolfiness. On the way they escape from a horde of Study Bible-toting zombies, get advice from a recovering vampire, and face off several times with a very persistent monster hunter. If you took Pilgrim's Progress, threw it in a cooking pot with a little bit of C.S. Lewis and a pinch of Monty Python, and then stirred in a season or two of Scooby Doo reruns, this book is what you would get. It's wacky and unusual. The line between metaphor and "real" is pretty blurry: Luther is a man who loses his temper and that transforms him into an angry person, and we might say he "became a monster," but he also actually transforms physically into a furry monster. So the book is a true monster story, although since it is not actually very scary, you might have to classify it as, I don't know, a "monster comedy" or something like that. But under the surface humor is a strong, important message about the way we non-monster human beings lead our lives.

That message is this: each of us has problems that we cannot solve without the transforming power of Jesus. Sometimes we can't use sheer willpower to keep from becoming angry. Sometimes we can't keep from selfishly, vampirically using others by making up our mind to be nice. It takes the power of God to change us. The scene where Luther is finally freed from his lupine tendencies, reminiscent in many ways of a similarly vivid scene from the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, illustrates a kind of change which is painful, horrible, and necessary. It's the story of all of us, after all. The final chapter is bittersweet; bitter because as in real life, not everything is resolved as we wanted it to be, but also sweet because there is a ray of hope which mirrors the hope that shines in each of our hearts when Jesus becomes our life focus.

I enjoyed this book very much, but didn't laugh out loud at it. (Then again, I don't laugh out loud at Scooby Doo and Monty Python, either.) I enjoyed it in the way that I enjoy a good fast-paced satire: I don't want to break out and laugh, because if I do, I might miss the next funny bit! It does take time to sort of acclimate yourself to the world that is unfolding in the story... particularly since the "Introduction" is written by the fictional Luther, whom we will not meet until chapter 3, and the "Prologue" is actually located in chapter 2. After that, you spend a lot of time trying to guess which characters are also monsters, and what the heroes are going to try next to cure Luther. For me, one of the funniest mental images in the book is when Luther, at the advice of a psychologist who asserts that he must accept that he is a werewolf and learn to control himself, dresses in a suit and spectacles while in wolf form and strikes up a chat with Matt. On the flip side, there are insight-loaded details there that might be missed by a too-casual reader, like the brief speculation that some of the partially-transformed zombies are zombies made up to look more like humans, and some are humans made up to look more like zombies, and the two are virtually indistinguishable. (Which might you be?) The silliness runs throughout; there is no shortage of light moments to balance out the seriousness of the primary theme. But the theme is always there, just beneath the surface.

When I finished the book, I found myself thinking about ways that I might sometimes transform into a manipulative mad scientist, or a brainless zombie, or a codependent, selfish vampire, or an angry werewolf. The "Are You A Monster?" section at the very back will either make you laugh, think, or scratch your head in confusion... hopefully it, and the rest of the book, inspires more "think" than "head scratch," but I suspect it was designed for a little of both. I know the book gave me pause to reexamine my reliance on Christ in my daily life; it's so easy, like Luther, to fall back into looking like a wolf but trying to behave like a human. I'm planning to spend some time with Mikalatos' other wacky novel, Imaginary Jesus, very soon. If it inspires change like this one does, I know I'll be glad I did.

Even if you don't like monster movies, I recommend that you give Night of the Living Dead Christian a chance. It won't give you nightmares about monsters... except, maybe, the monster inside of you. But if it does, it also will show you the way to eliminate that dangerous creature once and for all.

Read more about Matt Mikalatos at
Read more about Night of the Living Dead Christian at
Read more about Tyndale House Publishers at

Don't miss the details about the free book giveaway after the video!

We have a winner for the contest! Congratulations, Terry!

We have a copy of the book to give away! To enter the contest, simply leave a comment on this blog post (use an actual identity or at least click "Name/URL" and put in your name, so I'll know who you are) and then immediately send an email to me at so I'll have your email address. Make sure your comment and email reach me before December 22, 2011. On December 22 I will randomly choose the winner, who will receive a free book certificate, redeemable at Christian bookstores or direct from Tyndale.

I was provided with a review copy of this book by Tyndale House Publishers. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

1 comment:

Matt Mikalatos said...


Thanks so much for the great post and I'm thrilled that you enjoyed NLDC.

And, just to be honest... I didn't learn how to spell my last name until first grade. They wouldn't give me a library card if I couldn't spell my own name.