Last week I talked with Jade Woodridge about the significance of why she writes about children in her dark speculative fiction, and she share an excerpt from her story, “The Sweeper Man.”
This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes horror writer Denise N. Tapscott.
Denise N. Tapscott was born and raised in California. She left her heart in San Francisco, but somehow managed to leave her soul in New Orleans. When she’s not creating and cultivating her characters, she enjoys dining on spicy tuna rolls, sharing a bottle of red wine with friends and watching the latest flick (especially scary films). From time to time this radiant left-handed pirate will even challenge others to a fencing match or two. But, watch out. This Gemini is determined to win!
As a member of the HWA, one of her greatest joys is publishing her first novel Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes as well as the short story The Price of Salvation. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories called The Friends and Foes of Grandmother Zenobia as well as a sequel novel, Enlightening of the Damned.
GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, Denise. When did you first become interested in Voodoo? What about Voodoo makes you want to include it as a recurring theme in your fiction? What kind of research did you do for your novel, Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes?
DNT: Great questions! Voodoo first caught my attention when I watched the movie Angel Heart. It was awesome and freaked me out! Then a few years later I saw The Skeleton Key and all kinds of story ideas popped in my head. I eventually came up with an idea that it would be neat to read about Voodoo battling Romany magic. I traveled to New Orleans several times to research Voodoo and Marie LaVeau. The more information I came across I realized my perception of Voodoo was way wrong. I was mixing and matching Voodoo with Hoodoo. There’s a lot more to both of these African Traditional religions than dancing to drums and poking dolls. I came across an awesome Rootworker, The Broken Prophet in Atlanta who explained there are several kinds of Voodoo from Africa and Haiti, and New Orleans being the melting pot it is, also has it’s own Voodoo! Hoodoo is a whole different ball game as well. I hope Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes (as well as my future stories) honors some of the things I learned and show that it’s not the evil religion people think it might be.
GMM: My debut novel, Invisible Chains, is an historical horror novel set in Antebellum New Orleans, told form the POV of a young female slave. What drew you to set your novel and other stories in New Orleans? How does the setting shape the narrative of your novel and other stories? Do you treat the city like a backdrop, or like a character in the story itself?
DNT: There are cities that have a certain flavor, but something about New Orleans feels magical. Considering Louisiana’s dark and lively history, I think it’s the perfect setting for my novels and short stories. One of my main characters, Grandmother Zenobia, is also dark and lively so it’s the perfect place for her to exist. I created a fictional area in New Orleans and named it Carrefour Parish (Carrefour means crossroads in French). I treat it like a living backdrop, similar to the zombies in the earlier episodes of the tv show The Walking Dead. In some episodes, you know the zombies are there, but the characters have other life problems to deal with. I hope the reader is aware of how it feels to be in the south, with hints of magic and how the characters move around in its environment without overshadowing what they go through.
GMM: I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and spent sixteen years of my life living in Pittsburgh. I consider Pittsburgh more of a home than the town I grew up in, but like you, New Orleans is in my soul. Each time I visit, I see something new, learn something about its history, and always have a good time. Tell me your best New Orleans story, or your fondest memory of the Crescent City.
DNT: I love New Orleans so much that people think I’m from there! My favorite memory is visiting a small bar on Bourbon Street for my birthday a few years ago. I went to New Orleans by myself and wanted to listen to some live Jazz. Walking past a place called Maison Bourbon, I noticed they had a small band playing so I found a seat at the bar. The band leader asked if anyone was celebrating something special like an anniversary, wedding, or birthday. No one spoke up, which is odd because there’s always someone celebrating something in New Orleans. So I sheepishly raised my hand and said I was celebrating my birthday. They asked my name and I said Sunny, which is one of my favorite nicknames. The entire bar sang Happy Birthday to me and then played “When the Saints Go Marching In”. It was such a treat. The next night some of my girlfriends flew in and I told them my birthday story. We went back to Maison Bourbon and when I walked through the door, the band recognized me. They said, “Hey, Sunny’s back!” They played “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” for me. I will always cherish that moment, the feeling that I belong there and in New Orleans.
Thanks for letting me spend time on Girl Meets Monster.
Excerpt from “Price of Salvation”
I dragged myself through the open doorway and when I entered the humidity vanished. Cool air caressed my face. I stood up straight and sighed. When was the last time I took an honest deep breath, without coughing or puking? The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls filled the air. My escape from the southern heat was glorious.
“Settle down,” I heard from the darkness.
“Close the door, and have a seat, Mrs. Jurel.”
The voice of the Voodoo woman was clear and melodic, only slightly tainted with a New Orleans drawl.
After blinking a few times, I saw a small metal folding chair. My eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness so I fumbled around until I could sit obediently. The chair was more comfortable than I expected. Resting in the darkness was wonderful. Once I regained my focus, I noticed I sat at a small table covered in soft black velvet. I wanted to brush my fingers across it, but my hands were dirty, accented with ragged nails, so I opted to fold my hands in my lap.
Sitting on a large purple and gold throne across from me was a pleasant-looking-dark skinned woman. Her hair was covered with a purple turban, matching the royal purple on her front door. She wore a black gauze tunic blouse. Around her neck, a shiny copper Ankh glowed against her skin. She didn’t wear any other jewelry, except a large black and gold fleur-de-lis ring that adorned well-manicured fingers. Was she wearing a skirt or pants? Why did I care about her outfit? She was not the toothless, gray-haired woman I expected. She looked like she was in her 40s? My assistant Tasha joked “Black don’t crack”. I could never say that, but she’s right. This woman didn’t look old enough to be a grandmother. She reminded me of that lady with the popular television talk show. Everyone in her studio audience went home with expensive vacations and new cars.
Three fresh, tapered candles, one black, one blue and one white, formed a triangle on the table on my right. A thicker, taller, purple candle sat close to the Voodoo Woman. From my research, I knew the black one warded off negative energies and promoted healing. Royal blue was for seeking wisdom and truth. White was for protection, and purification. Lastly, the purple one was for spiritual protection. All the candles on this table represented protection but the purple one supposedly canceled negative effects of bad karma. The Voodoo woman made interesting choices.
I lifted my head to take in my surroundings. My neck was sore from my head being tossed back and forth every time I vomited. There were shelves of books, crosses, various kinds of statues and other religious-looking artifacts. If I was not mistaken, there was a shrunken head in the corner. To my left, there was a jade dragon perched on a shiny black surface. Was that a human skull staring down at me? Heavy red velvet curtains with gold trim covered windows, presumably protecting us from the sun. In another corner there were large, dusty trunks. Simply being in this spooky room was worth my $500 dollars.
“Mrs. Jurel, you look like you could use some water.”
Grandmother Zenobia handed me a chilled, plastic bottle of water. I was scared to drink it; when I vomited all over the luxurious black velvet table, I would be mortified.
“Go on, drink.”
I swirled the cool water in my mouth a few times before swallowing. I braced for the burn. Instead the liquid was sweet and went down smoothly. It was an ordinary bottle of water, but it felt like I drank tears from heaven. I paused, waiting for my stomach to betray me. It rumbled for a moment but then, silence. Carelessly, I chugged the water as fast as I could. Panicked, I look around for a trash can, for when my body-double crossed me and the water forced its way back out.
There was no trash can. There was no vomit. There was peace, while sitting in a cool room. I was so grateful that I cried.
“Do you need a moment to collect yourself?” She asked, while passing me a soft tissue. Wiping my tears away, I noticed my eyes didn’t sting when I blinked. I cried even more. It would take centuries to stop sobbing and catch my breath.
Attempting to compose myself, I noticed that I sat taller. My fever faded away.
“Thank you, Zenobia.”
“Feeling better?” she asked.
“Yes,” I can’t believe that I do feel better. Thank you for seeing me.”
“I prefer to be called Grandmother Zenobia.”
The black candle, the one for healing, flared brighter than the others. The voodoo woman mumbled to herself; the flame obeyed her muttered commands and returned to its regular state. I re-adjusted in my seat and for the first time in months, I was almost my old self. I took in another deep breath and appreciated the smell of cinnamon again. Aware I was on the clock, I got down to business.
Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week!
Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.
Last night, I finally sat down to watch Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019). If you’re a horror fan and haven’t watched this amazing documentary, I highly recommend it. Based on Robin R. Means Coleman’s book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present (2011), the film not only discusses the historical lack of representation of black characters in horror films, but also examines the misrepresentations of black people when they appeared in them. As you might expect, the filmmakers and actors discussing the films and their historically important contexts talk about their fears and experiences with racism while trying to create art within a genre that subconsciously depicts monsters as The Other in relation to white people and culture in place of ethnic minorities.
After watching the documentary, I was inspired to watch a film from the Blaxploitation era, Sugar Hill (1974), which is about a woman, Sugar Hill, who uses Voodoo to avenge the death of her fiance. The film opens with what appears to be a Voodoo ritual with black people in traditional Haitian Voodoo garb dancing to a serious drum beat. I couldn’t help thinking of Angel Heart (1987), and expected to see Epiphany Proudfoot show up with her chicken. As the opening credits end, so does the dance and we become aware of the fact that the people dancing aren’t in a secluded location away from prying eyes, they are actually performers at a place called Club Haiti. They are performing Voodoo for a predominantly white audience. They are literally performing an aspect of blackness that is a stereotypical representation of black people in horror films. This also made me think of a similar scene in Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).
Typically, in horror films, Voodoo is shown as something evil, something to be feared. Depicting Voodoo practitioners as women who use their magic to hurt others, or exact vengeance, is a trope that I worried about perpetuating while writing Invisible Chains. I didn’t want to stick to the common stereotypes associated with black women, especially mambos, in horror narratives.
While Sugar is a strong female lead in a horror film, the film is still riddled with tropes like dangerous black women using magic for revenge. Her fiance, Langston, owns Club Haiti. A white gangster wants to buy it, but Langston refuses. So, he sends his henchmen to kill him. They beat him to death and leave his body in the parking lot of the club for Sugar to find.
Sugar doesn’t just use magic, she calls upon Baron Samedi who raises an army of the undead made up of former slaves who died of disease while still on slave ships. Their bodies were dumped in the water and washed up on the shore near Sugar’s childhood home. So, this movie has a lot going for it in terms of supernatural horror that looks at racism in the United States (in the past and in the present of the 1970s).
In exchange for Baron Samedi’s help, Sugar offers up her soul, but he’s more interested in her body. But, Sugar’s final revenge is taken when Baron Samedi takes the racist girlfriend of the gangster back to the Underworld with him in place of Sugar. In my opinion, that gave the film a happy ending.
Black women in roles like Sugar are viewed as frightening and dangerous because they wield power. My protagonist struggles to accept her strengths and often downplays or hides her abilities for fear of being punished for either her knowledge or power. Her strength is a secret and she doesn’t make use of her power until she’s pushed to the limit. She protects herself and others, rather than seeking vengeance.
I worried that by writing her in this way, people wouldn’t accept her as being “authentic,” and I struggled with my decision, which I think says a lot more about me as a writer and how I see myself than it does about my character.
I also struggled with the belief that because this narrative isn’t a traditional horror story — a slave narrative with a black female protagonist — people wouldn’t recognize it as a horror novel. In fact, people challenged the notion that I was writing horror while I was in my MFA program. But, as Tananarive Due puts so succinctly in Horror Noire, ”Black history is black horror.”
I already knew that what I had written is without doubt a horror novel, but having my beliefs confirmed by another writer I respect and admire made me feel a lot better about releasing this novel into the world. Black women have plenty of horror stories to tell, and perhaps, a female slave is the most qualified protagonist for an historical horror story set in America.
Invisible Chains will be released in a week on July 22, so my anxiety is on the rise. But after watching Horror Noire and Sugar Hill, I feel more confident about how I chose to write my protagonist, Jacqueline, and I may actually be a horror writer.
As a writer who happens to be a woman of color, it’s important to me to see myself in books, film and art. Seeing other people of color in important roles isn’t as uncommon now as it was for me when I was growing up, but I am not just a person of color. I am ethnically mixed. My mother is white and my father was black. I was raised by my mother’s family and am more culturally white than black according to the tiny boxes people wish to place us in here in America. I am primarily attracted to men of European ancestry and have only dated and had long-term relationships with white men. I don’t think my ethnicity and dating practices make me that unique, but it has taken me nearly a lifetime to see healthy relationships between women of color and white men depicted in films, books, and on TV. In my nearly 46 years, it has been within the last roughly 10 years that it has become commonplace to see interracial couples in commercials, on TV shows, and in films that didn’t have a darker undercurrent. The specter of racism hanging over that relationship and making it nearly impossible for it to exist.
I remember being very excited to see Lisa Bonet and Mickey Rourke’s sex scenes in Angel Heart when I was a teenager, but the older I get the more I realize that their relationship was fraught with many problems, the least of which being that she is murdered. Racism is prevalent in the film. And despite the fact that Harry Angel is aware of racism and segregation in his hometown of New York City, it is even more apparent that blacks and whites don’t mix when he gets to New Orleans. To be fair, the film is set in the 1950s, so Jim Crow is alive and well. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the police officer investigating the string of deaths that seem to follow Harry Angel refers to Epiphany Proudfoot as Harry’s nigger. What should surprise us is that Harry does nothing to defend Epiphany’s honor. I mean obviously he enjoyed her company if his blood-soaked orgy fantasy while screwing her is any indication. So, if he really does like her, at least sexually, and is worried about her safety, then why doesn’t he tell the detective not to call her a nigger? One reason is due to the history of interracial relationships in this country being either forbidden, kept secret or simply flat-out denied and erased from history. But, our history isn’t nearly as lily white as the textbooks would like us to believe.
Like I said, interracial relationships are becoming more common in works of popular fiction, but who is writing them? Who is performing them? How are they being depicted? This summer I was shocked, delighted, and fascinated by the choice to change the ethnicity of two of the major characters in Charlaine Harris’ Midnight Texas series for the TV adaptation. In the novels, Fiji Cavanaugh, the local witch, is a plump little white woman who is head over heels for Bobo Winthrop, the handsome owner of Midnight Pawnshop. Their relationship is complicated in the novels, but the decision to make Fiji a woman of color on TV takes the level of complication to a much darker place. And, the choice to cast a very dark-skinned black man as Lemuel Bridger was interesting since in the novels his is one of the palest vampires alive. The rewriting of Lemuel’s backstory, making him a slave who kills his master after becoming a vampire, is almost a new American mythology of revenge. The first time I encountered this concept of a slave becoming a vampire as a form of freedom, was in The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez (1991). But as even Lemuel realizes, he traded one form of slavery for another.
The Color of Love: Bobo Winthrop and Fiji Cavanaugh
Bobo Winthrop first appears in the Lily Bard Shakespeare series of mystery novels written by Charlaine Harris between 1996 and 2001. Lily Bard is an amatuer sleuth who gets involved in the darker aspects of the community she lives in. Lily’s past is also dark and she initially attempts to stay out of the public eye, but can’t allow bad people to get away with their evil deeds. She cleans houses for a living and is a martial arts student. Lily cleans the Winthrop house, and Bobo is also a martial arts student who sometimes works at the gym where they workout and take classes.
Bobo is the teenage son of a wealthy well-connected family in Shakespeare, GA. His family is involved in the White Supremacist movement, which Bobo is extremely ashamed of and tries to distance himself from his family once he becomes more aware of their activities and the fact that they have actually had a hand in killing people. Most notably, the bombing of an all Black church in Shakespeare.
When Bobo reappears in the Midnight, Texas series, he’s an adult and has been running from his family for many years. He bought the pawnshop from Lemuel and had established himself as a regular in Midnight, which means he has a dark past and is intentionally trying to keep a low profile. He’s one of the few human characters in the novels, but his past is dark enough to make him fit in, and his fiance is murdered in the first Midnight novel. Because she has lied to him about her identity and the fact that she’s already married to someone else, he slowly discovers that she was plant that brings back the truth of his past that he has tried to escape from.
As I mentioned, in the novels, his best friend is Fiji Cavanaugh and she is a small, chubby white woman who is also a witch. Fiji fantasizes about Bobo and having a relationship, but her low self-esteem and body image issues keep her from getting as close as she’d like to the handsome man with the very dark past. And, he doesn’t exactly profess his undying love for her either. The TV show makes their relationship even more complicated by casting a woman of color as Fiji. Fiji and Bobo are still friends. Bobo’s fiance, Aubrey turns up dead and she is married to a white supremacist who was trying to get information about a legendary stash of weapons Bobo stole from his family to prevent them from killing more people. Fiji doesn’t know about Bobo’s past even though they are good friends. Of course, Fiji has some secrets of her own that cause a bit of havoc as the story develops. Bobo is attracted to Fiji and admits that the first time he saw her, he thought he was out of her league. Her kindness and friendship over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed, and when Aubrey dies, she’s the first one to offer comfort. And, when anything happens to Fiji, Bobo is usually the first to come running to her rescue or to defend her honor. And yet, they aren’t a couple.
It takes the two of them much longer to get together in the novels, but the TV show dives right in and does a mashup of all three books in 10 episodes. Because I read the novels, I had no trouble keeping up. However, the timeline is out of whack, and there are missing characters. I’m doubtful of a second season showing this summer, because, hey, I love the show so it probably won’t get renewed…so who knows what will happen next?
In the show, like the novels, when Fiji discovers Bobo’s connection to white supremacists and is kidnapped because of that connection, she is unable to trust him for a long time. The truth of his past and the fact that his secret put her in danger causes her to take a break from their friendship. Obviously, casting a woman of color as Fiji gives so much more weight to this revelation.
She loves Bobo, but knowing that he was raised by white supremacists, regardless of his beliefs and actions as an adult, raises some serious trust issues and makes Fiji reconsider her feelings. It doesn’t help that Bobo is showing an interest in her that goes beyond friendship and he even tells her that he loves her.
Bobo pleads his case, tells her that he’s ashamed of his family, but misses being able to see them. He’s completely honest with her and is worried that she’ll reject him. But, rather than badgering her and begging for forgiveness and trying to show her that he isn’t like his family, he tries to give her the space she needs to figure things out. His feelings are hurt, but he doesn’t blame her for not trusting him. He continues to worry about her and does what he can to keep her safe, let her know he loves her, and has to wait for her to welcome him back in.
In the meantime, there’s a demon communicating with Fiji who wants to be her new boyfriend so he can have access to her high concentration of witch mojo. In the books, like the show, one of Fiji’s secrets is that she’s a virgin. In her 30s. Apparently, virgin witches over 30 are not only rare, but very powerful. And, the demon wants to get on that. The entire town is in danger, and the demon keeps encouraging people to kill themselves, because it feeds on death and the more death there is, the easier it is for him to rise out of Hell. In the third novel, Night Shift, when we find out Fiji’s secret, the male characters all volunteer to help Fiji with her…problem. Fiji is beyond embarrassed and totally freaked out that all of the men, including Joe who is in a relationship with another man, offer to take her virginity. In the novel, it has to be performed like a ritual on top of the Hellmouth, which means she has to do it in public with the lucky fella. First time jitters don’t even cover that effed up situation.
In the TV show, Bobo offers the solution to Fiji who initially thinks he’s crazy. So, after weeks of avoiding being alone with Bobo, Fiji decides to have sex with him. Now, we already know that they care about each other and Bobo can’t imagine…or really even tolerate the thought that someone else would put their hands on Fiji. He’s a nice guy, but jealousy is kind of an issue for him beyond the desire to keep Fiji safe. At least they get to do it in private on the TV show.
The choice to make Fiji a person of color was a bold one on the part of the scriptwriters and casting director. It gives the problem of Bobo’s past more weight and addresses some of the typical concerns people have about interracial relationships. Not to mention the fact that NBC put an interracial couple on during prime time while racists are trying to make America white again after Trump’s election. AND, made white supremacists the bad guys, second only to demons. Stick that in your Evangelical Christian pipe and smoke it.
What’s really interesting to me is the fact that Fiji never mentions race in any of their conversations. Bobo simply confesses that he was ashamed and that’s why he didn’t tell her about his family. And she says she’s upset because it was a lie of omission. He lied to her. She doesn’t say anything like, “how could you lead me on and let me fall in love with you when you were raised by racists who you’re on the run from?” His lie almost cost Fiji her life.
But, once Bobo has deflowered her and chased the demon away…literally with his penis, all is forgiven and they become a couple. In the TV show, Manfred has more of a hand in defeating the demon, but in the novel, some much needed sex magic does the trick. Bobo’s white penis saved Fiji’s life. You read that right. Fiji’s salvation came in the form of a white man’s penis.
Let that sink in for a moment.
As a woman of color who has dated only white men, I have had the misfortune of dealing with racist relatives who make off-color jokes about my sexual proclivities because apparently black women’s vaginas are a source of fear and mystery, reminiscent of the Dark Continent itself. My exes who had never dated anyone other than white girls/women before dating me were either making huge mistakes or conquering some unknown territory according to some of their friends and family members. So, seeing Bobo and Fiji warmed my heart because I want them to be together. Despite his past, Bobo really is a good man and truly loves Fiji. And, let’s face it, they’re a hot couple. If NBC nixes a second season, my dream would be for it to get picked up by Showtime or HBO so that Fiji and Bobo get a lot more sex scenes. No, like a lot of sex scenes so they can try lots of different positions. And, that would also open up the possibility for Joe and Chuy to have a few sex scenes. Because Bobo is hot. Manfred is hot. But Joe Strong makes my mouth water.
As hot as Bobo and Fiji are as a couple, seeing them together and knowing Bobo’s backstory caused me to remember some uncomfortable parts of my own past. Bobo isn’t going to be able to take Fiji home to meet his family. That isn’t an option. Part of me envies that fact. Meeting someone’s family for the first time is usually fraught with fear for me. Fear of past hurts, fear of further rejection, fear of actual physical violence. When I was a teenager, I called my boyfriend’s house, and his father told him that his nigger was on the phone. I was only 14. No one’s father has ever said that to me since, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking it. And, it is certainly always on my mind each time I meet the friends and family of a new partner.
You may ask yourself, why would I continue to date white men if I harbor fears like that? And my answer to you would be, because you can’t choose who you are attracted to or who you love. Maybe the real takeaway from Midnight, Texas shouldn’t be that Bobo’s white penis saved a black woman from damnation. Maybe the takeaway is the fact that people come into our lives and regardless of our pasts, regardless of our differences, we can’t help but fall in love. I’m a cynic and the fact that Bobo’s penis saved the day isn’t something I can completely ignore. None of the penises I’ve encountered have ever been magical enough to save me from certain doom. In fact, they probably caused me more trouble than anything else. I think most women would say the same regardless of their dating preferences. But as cynical as I am, I’m also a hopeless romantic who still believes in love. And, I also firmly believe that the color of your lover shouldn’t matter as long as they love and respect you.
I have a confession to make. I love Lucifer. To some, this will come as no surprise, since many of my friends already know that I have a fondness for darkness. But I’m only drawn to it if there is a spark of light shining in that darkness. The promise of redemption. Evil, while intriguing, usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth — actually, it makes my guts churn and fills me with dread. True Evil (notice the capital E) is something I hope to never have to confront face-to-face. Just because someone has a reputation for being monstrous, doesn’t automatically make them Evil. Especially if they’ve been misrepresented since the beginning of time. Lucifer is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, but talk about a reputation. People have been blaming him for all the e(E)vil in the world since he made his fabled fall from Grace. Well, him and that bitch Eve.
I recently finished watching the first season of Lucifer. Twice. Initially I was skeptical. I mean Lucifer is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented fictional characters of all time. Yes, that’s right, I said fictional character. In fact, this particular character made his first appearance in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics in the late 1980’s. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there (cough, cough, Christians) who will read this and be angry that I’m referring to Lucifer (Satan, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, or whatever you’re most comfortable calling him) as a fictional character. But here’s the thing, I’m not a Christian. I’m not an atheist either. I believe in something, but I’m not exactly down with the concept of one all-powerful creator, especially not one as temperamental as the Judaeo-Christian god. If we’re to believe all the promises of damnation and hellfire, there’s no pleasing that guy. If Hell does exist, I’ll probably end up there. Not because I’m an inherently bad or cruel person, but I tend to question everything. Including the word of God. I’m an educated uppity Negro who believes in self-determinism and indulging in hedonistic pleasures. And, since the first overly judgmental Christian pointed a finger in my direction and deemed me a heathen, I’ve had a special place for Lucifer in my heart.
Is it just me, or did it get hot as Hell in here?
Sympathy for the Devil: Lucifer Morningstar
Before I start talking about my new TV boyfriend, Lucifer Morningstar, I’d like to talk a little bit about the mythical origins of Lucifer and why I – as well as many other people – find him so fascinating, and yes, deserving of our sympathy.
“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” – Mark Twain
Talk about a tragic character. He’s the original scapegoat. In his fascinating book, The Devil: A Biography, Peter Stanford looks at the role the Devil has played in shaping how people view evil and how our perception of evil has evolved over time.
In the modern mind it [evil] is located within each individual — what Jung called our “shadow.” Historically, the tendency was to place it [evil] outside — on the Devil, who exploited a weakness in the human makeup. Of the two placements, the contemporary option is harder to deal with since it imposes a responsibility on each and every individual. The traditional route, while emphasizing that God gave each man and woman free will — the capacity to choose right or wrong — did have the bonus of off-loading some of the burden onto an external force. That is why the Devil still attracts a following. He represents the easy option when we are confronted with evil. (6-7)
All of the world’s sins are blamed on him, and he must forever carry the burden of punishing the wicked – or anyone who doesn’t follow God’s commandments. Once one of God’s favorite angels, Lucifer was cast into Hell after refusing to follow God’s word to the last letter. Pride was his downfall. He exercised his free will and challenged his father’s authority. He rebelled.
12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Isaiah 14:12-14 (King James Version)
As a teenager, I developed an interest in Lucifer’s story even though I didn’t attend church. Maybe because I didn’t attend church. I drew parallels between his banishment to Hell and the punishment my friends received for expressing themselves honestly. I had friends who were kicked out of their houses because they could no longer conform to the expectations their families had established for them. I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen I rebelled. Most of us do. I dressed all in black (wait, I still do that), wore makeup that made me look dead, experimented with drugs, climbed into cars with strangers, flirted with married men, rode on the backs of motorcycles under the stars past midnight, made out with boys in leather jackets, read vintage smut and other banned books, watched lots of inappropriate foreign films, listened to loud rock and roll (1950’s – present), wrote poetry about killing people I hated, daydreamed of becoming a vampire or succubus, partied with drag queens, played with Ouija boards, read Tarot cards, and hung out with juvenile delinquents. Sounds fun, right? There were plenty of people willing to lead me down the primrose path. Oddly enough, none of them were Satan. No matter how badly they wanted to be.
Just to piss people off, or fuck with their heads, my friends and I declared an alliance with Satan and all things considered evil by mainstream culture. We’d shout, “Hail Satan!” and then giggle like schoolgirls. Because we were schoolgirls. Schoolgirls with a very dark sense of humor who were bored with mainstream ideals of good and evil. Let me tell you, we had a great time. If we had done any of those things prior to the latter part of the 20th century, we would have been labeled as witches (in some cases we were) and punished severely. None of us really made a pact with Satan, despite what some of our classmates and teachers thought. Being accused of practicing witchcraft and worshipping Satan only made us laugh, and oddly enough gave us a certain amount of power, independence, and individual voices. Wearing black lipstick to high school doesn’t make you a witch or Satan worshipper. It makes you a scapegoat. But if you stand up for yourself, speak up for your rights to wear whatever you want, and the rights of others to be different, that makes you a strong teen girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming a black lipstick wearing feminist. An uppity Satan-loving Goth Negro.
It wasn’t always easy to wake up in the morning and be myself. Some days it was fucking horrible. Knowing that about myself, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Lucifer’s plight. I knew what it meant to be misunderstood, and feared or hated for being different. People shouted at my mother from a passing car when we walked down the street, “Nigger lover!”, because she was holding my hand. I was five. If there is a Hell, I hope every evil racist asshole who ever made me and my mom and dad feel afraid or feel bad about ourselves goes straight there and suffers the punishments of the damned for all eternity.
Aside from the fact that people treated my family like shit because we were ethnically mixed, I was always too heavy (fat), didn’t wear the right clothes (poor), liked to read for fun (nerd), talked too much (behavioral problems), and collected Star Wars figurines (um, those are for boys). I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point I decided, maybe not even consciously at first, that if people were going to see and treat me differently anyway, I might as well give them something interesting to look at.
I wish I knew the exact moment when the light bulb in my brain switched to black light and I decided to give conformity the finger. I like to imagine I was born that way, but a very specific chain of events occurred to make me think it was perfectly acceptable for a seventeen-year-old girl to smoke pot in her bedroom and listen to the Velvet Underground while lying in bed with her older punk rock boyfriend.
Before I fell under Tom Ellis’s spell as Lucifer, there were a few other devils who captured my heart (and mind) in film and television. He’s in good company. Although technically I’m talking about the same character, the way that different people portray and/or write about him makes this character fresh each time we encounter him in fiction. A purely evil Satan wouldn’t interest me, but a complex character who finds humor in our misery, can make fun of himself, and shed light onto the human condition in a way most of us can relate to, can provide hours of entertainment for me. He’s the ultimate antagonist who can inspire fear or sympathy, and more often than not, lust.
Sweet Baby Jesus!
In 1987 I went to the movie theater to see a film starring Lisa Bonet (Epiphany Proudfoot), Mickey Rourke (Harry Angel), and Robert De Niro (Louis Cypher). I wanted to see Angel Heart for two reasons: 1) it was set in New Orleans, and thanks to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I had developed an infatuation with the city, which would eventually become a life-long love affair, and 2) I wanted to see an interracial couple having sex on screen. I may never be as tall and thin as Lisa Bonet, but at age 15 I viewed her as the closest physical representation I could see of myself on TV and in movies. And, she was starring in a movie about voodoo set in New Orleans having completely inappropriate blood-drenched sex with an older white man who is running from the devil. Seriously? The only thing that could have made this movie any better for me as a teen would be for her to somehow turn into a vampire. But hey, she’s a mambo, so I can’t complain. I would LOVE to talk about the intersectionality of racial, gender, and sexual politics in Angel Heart. And, someday I will. Today is not that day.
Today I’m talking about Lucifer, and in this particular case, Louis Cypher (say it aloud in a French accent). If you ever have a chance to pick up the novel this film is adapted from, Falling Angel (1978), by William Hjortsberg, you will be amused by how many parodies of Lucifer’s name one author can think up. And, it’s a great story.
1996 Mass Market Cover
Robert De Niro’s Lucifer is handsome, charming, well-groomed, wears expensive suits, has a taste for unusual jewelry, manicures his nails into pristine points, and has the air of a mysterious European aristocrat. He’s also spooky and sexy, which is always a great combination of personality traits in my book. Louis Cypher hires a law firm, Macintosh and Winesap (get it?), to hire a private investigator, Harry Angel, to find a missing person. If you’ve never seen Angel Heart, shame on you. But just in case, I’ll be nice and won’t spoil it for you.
‘Mephistopheles’ is such a mouthful in Manhattan, Johnny.
Needless to say, I love this film. I’ve owned various copies between 1987 and the present, and I come back to it from time to time when I need a pick me up. That’s right, devil-themed suspense films about voodoo cheer me up. What’s it to ya’?
De Niro’s Lucifer is a tough act to follow. He has so many quotable lines, and you can see he is clearly having fun in this role. I always liked Robert De Niro’s work, but this role gave him a whole new depth that made me fall a little bit in love with him. It was a long time before I saw another Devil quite so appealing.
One of the most lust-inspiring, yet unsettling portrayals of Lucifer is Viggo Mortensen’s in The Prophecy (1995). When I discovered this gem of a film I watched it over and over. I made my friends watch it with me over and over. It’s dark, it’s funny, it delves into the age old debate over good and evil, we see glimpses of the war in Heaven, Christopher Walken plays the archangel Gabriel and Viggo Mortensen is Lucifer. What’s not to like?
Humans…and how I love you talking monkeys for this…know more about war and treachery of the spirit than any angel.
Mortensen, dressed in a black cassock like a priest and wearing black nail polish, is somehow simultaneously aloof, bored, insightful, petulant, mean, creepy and sensual. He’s attractive, yet repulsive, like a big piece of decadent dark chocolate cake dusted with arsenic. You’ll probably take a bite even though you know you’ll regret it later. He’s beautifully monstrous.
He inspires fear in the people who cross his path in the film, until his mantle of power and control slips and we are shown his desperation, a peek at his loneliness, cravenness, as he threatens to take the two main characters back to Hell with him. As we see the motivation behind his threats to drag them to Hell, his threats seem more like the pathetic attempts of a lonely drunk at last call looking for someone to go home with him. Physically appealing, but loathsome. Pitiful. But not exactly Evil.
Viggo was my favorite Lucifer until I met Peter Stormare’s Lucifer in Constantine (2005).
Seriously, Stormare’s Lucifer is super fucking cool and spooky. When he shows up dressed in all white to collect John Constantine’s soul — in person — it’s like the Godfather showing up to collect an unpaid debt. Rather than ascending from Hell as we might expect, he enters this realm descending from an unseen portal above. His bare feet and the cuffs of his white suit are stained with something that looks a lot like tar. His eyes are red-rimmed, like he hasn’t slept in a very long time. Managing Hell is a full-time job after all. It’s open 24/7.
Sonny, I’ve got a whole theme park full of red delights for you.
Aside from Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare’s Lucifer is one of the best things Constantine has to offer. Actually, his portrayal of the Devil is one of the best I’ve seen and it invariably makes it onto top ten lists of all time best Devils in films. Ironically, the only bad casting choice in this film was Keanu Reeves as John Constantine.
After Stormare’s, my favorite Lucifer became Mark Pellegrino’s on Supernatural. Pellegrino first appeared as Nick/Lucifer in the 2009 episode, “Sympathy for the Devil,” in which a man with a tormented past, consumed by grief, with apparently nothing left to lose or live for, accepts a demon’s offer to become the vessel of Lucifer. That’s not an easy gig. Especially if you aren’t genetically predisposed to contain the soul of a deity. Nick is only a temporary skin suit, and we soon learn that Lucifer really has his sights set on Sam Winchester.
Michael turned on me. Called me a freak. A monster. And then he beat me down. All because I was different. Because I had a mind of my own.
Pellegrino’s Lucifer is a bit more complex than the previous ones I’ve mentioned. He’s an emotionally disturbed fallen angel who will never get over being banished to Hell by his father. The way he sees it, his family abandoned him and the psychological aftermath has made him into a sarcastic, spiteful, jealous asshole seeking vengeance in the form of world annihilation. He believes the only thing that will make him feel better is to start the Apocalypse. He hates humanity and wishes to destroy it to spite his father. Some angels support his efforts, while others think he’s acting like a spoiled jerk.
Don’t hold back, Gabriel, tell us how you really feel.
Like I said, Lucifer’s soul is slowly eroding his vessel (Nick) and is looking to take up permanent residence inside Sam’s skin. So, he tortures Sam psychologically by making himself invisible except to Sam in the hopes of driving him insane. Hilarity ensues.
Resting Bitch Face Championship Finale
I like Pellegrino’s Lucifer because he is hilarious, but also because when he explains why he does the things he does, no matter how atrocious, he’s very convincing. Does this Lucifer have any hope of redemption? Possibly, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Just because I agree with some of his arguments doesn’t mean I would blindly follow him to Hell. When it comes to charismatic figures, I reserve a certain amount disbelief. I’ve been lead down the primrose path by attractive men with compelling stories more often than I’d like to admit. It’s alluring and exciting for a while, but eventually the emotional roller coaster stops being fun. Especially if your sweetheart has apocalyptic aspirations.
Like I said, pulling off this character isn’t easy. If he’s portrayed as being nothing more than mindless evil, I’m not only bored, but insulted. If he’s portrayed as a simpering, child-like man who throws temper tantrums because he doesn’t get his way, then I’m probably only going to keep watching for the spectacle. Most people fail at portraying Lucifer, because they don’t fully grasp or appreciate his complexity. Tom Ellis is not one of those people.
Admittedly, even if he wasn’t hilarious, tall, dark and handsome, seductive, sensitive, sexy, well-dressed, sarcastic, and yes, at times scary, the fact that he’s a bit geeky in an overly-educated way and has a British accent would have been enough to capture my attention. I mean, for Christ’s sake, look at him! I know what I’m about to say may offend some Whovians, but I don’t care. I think this man would make a fine Doctor. There. I said it. I’m not taking it back. I’d love to see him traveling through time and space in a blue Police Box…with a young woman of color as his companion…and at least one episode with Captain Jack Harkness. Look, you have your fantasies about the Doctor, and I have mine.
Jesus, Mary, and Lucifer.
When we first meet this Lucifer, he seems pretty shallow. A rich handsome playboy driving an expensive car who buys his way out of bad situations. He owns a club in LA and has a reputation of being a ladies man. Initially, I wasn’t impressed.
Yeah. Not feeling it.
Not until he began interacting with people and we had a chance to explore how he manages his relationships with them. Through certain relationships he begins to grow emotionally and each episode we see a little deeper into his soul. His personality is what makes him so fucking attractive. He’s taking a vacation from Hell, but the longer he stays on Earth and builds more friendships, he has even less of a desire to return to his job of torturing the damned. His allure is in his vulnerability, which he tries to hide and deny. Not only because he needs to maintain his reputation, but because he is afraid of this transformation and doesn’t understand it.
Totally feeling it.
Over the course of the first season, Lucifer develops feelings for a police detective, Chloe Decker, and she develops feelings for him. Feelings he doesn’t understand, because he’s never felt that way about a woman. Aside from his confusion about his emotional state, their relationship is complicated by a long list of reasons why they can’t and probably shouldn’t become more than friends. They have some really heavy emotional scenes together, and each time they get a little closer, one of them pulls back out of fear.
In fact, he’s so freaked out about these new and confusing feelings, that he starts…seeing a therapist. I’ll give you three guesses to figure out how he pays for her services.
Although Lucifer is enjoying his time on Earth, there are a few people who really wish he’d go back to Hell.
Even the Devil needs a BFF.
Mazikeen, or Maze, is a demon who has faithfully followed Lucifer since his fall from Grace. She’s his friend, sometime lover, bodyguard, and assassin. She’s having a good time on Earth, too. Well, most of the time. But as she sees him changing, becoming more sensitive to the plight of humanity, she advocates for returning to Hell so he can become his old devilish self again. His emotional attachments to humans terrify her, and yeah, makes her jealous.
But, the one character who pushes him to return to his duties of punishing the damned more than any other is his brother, Amenadiel, the archangel.
That is one good-looking family.
Despite Lucifer’s openness about being the Devil, the detective, Chloe, refuses to accept that he isn’t just an eccentric and overly-dramatic, but well-meaning nutcase. However, there are a few things she witnesses that make her question who he really is. But, like most sane and practical people, she keeps denying the proof that he’s telling the truth.
Ironically, her daughter has no trouble believing he is who he says who he is.
While this Lucifer is fun-loving, cynical, charming, likes to help people he cares about, and…I said sexy, didn’t I?…you still shouldn’t piss him off. Especially when it comes to people or things he’s emotionally attached to.
Yeah, I’m absolutely smitten with Tom Ellis’s Lucifer. He’s everything I’m looking for in a convincing Devil. Smart, funny, emotionally damaged, but open to growth, and I said tall, dark and handsome, right? His body was made for suits (or nakedness), and his accent sends shivers through me.
Let’s make a deal.
If you haven’t watched the first season, treat yourself. Honestly, I’m probably going to watch it again. I’ll be fantasizing about Tom Ellis with a sonic screwdriver in his hand, and contemplating the fate of my immortal soul.
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