Supernatural Evil and Good in the Novels of Dean Koontz:
Toward a Theology of Hope
by Steve W. Lemke
for the Art, Literature, and Religion Section
of the Southwest Regional Meeting of the American Academy of Religion
Over the last two decades, Dean Koontz has become one of the most popular writers in the suspense genre. His novels have met with enormous success, selling over 200 million copies, translated into 38 languages, with 17 number one best sellers.(1) In his best seller suspense novels such as Intensity, Icebound, Sole Survivor, Tick Tock, Hideaway, and Strange Highways, author Dean Koontz portrays a number of images of God. Koontz's novels usually portray people attempting to deal with incarnate evil in virtually hopeless situations, perhaps in part due to his own negative experiences as a child. Koontz's most typical religious theme, that of good being confronted with radical evil, is very evident in Hideaway, Sole Survivor, and Strange Highways.
I first discovered Koontz's work through some audio tapes of his novels. Several questions arose in my mind, which I will seek to answer in this paper:
(a) Is there in fact an identifiable and distinguishable Dean Koontz theology?
(b) If so, what is the theology that emerges in the novels of Dean Koontz? Can it be described and systematized?
(c) If so, how appropriate is the genre of popular suspense fiction to advance theological claims?
Developing a Koontzian Hermeneutic
The Psychological Interpretation
One obvious approach to interpreting Koontz is to read him in the light of his experience. His upbringing in a home dominated by an alcoholic, neurotic father apparently colors his perception of reality. Dean's father was diagnosed with both degenerative alcohol syndrome and schizophrenia, and twice tried to kill Dean with a knife. It is no wonder, then, that Dean could say, "It's so sad to say, but I cannot remember a single pleasant moment involving my father from over forty years of memories. They're all dark."(2) Perhaps Koontz's most direct reference to his father was in Dark Rivers of the Heart, in which a sociopathic murderer, Steven Ackblom, kills his wife and attempts to stab his son Spencer with a knife.(3) Sociopathic men (like his father) and heroic women (like Dean's mother and his wife Gerda) are frequent in his novels. For example, in The Voice of the Night, Koontz describes a fourteen year old boy named Colin who "is exactly like I was as a boy,"(4) while the sociopath Roy (very close to Ray, his father's name) threatens Colin, the unprotected child. A girl Heather comes to Colin's aid, just as Gerda helped rescue Dean's life.(5) In another example, Koontz describes how his father's action impacted his writing of Whispers:
My childhood was a nightmare . . . . Anyway, throughout my childhood and adolescence, I saw my own father betray me and my mother in all the most fundamental ways, again and again, times without number, and that is why Whispers deals with children betrayed by their parents and with betrayal in general . . . . And somehow the strongest of us are made stronger by being betrayed, and we go on -- like Hilary in Whispers. And those who can't handle it are sometimes transformed into men like Bruno Frye. How could a writer not be fascinated by that theme?(6)
So if Koontz is indeed writing out of his own experience, as he claims, it would suggest that there are confessional elements i