Summoning Evil: Horror Fiction and the Temptation Plot

About Horror and Temptation

seance with an ouija board. Image: IStock

Temptation is defined as persuading someone into doing something bad, or morally questionable.

An old trope of horror fiction is the misguided individuals who go out of their way to summon forces they do not understand and cannot control. But why? Shouldn’t people know better?

Temptation is a big part of human nature. Power, greed, and revenge are such powerful motivators.

Ronald B. Tobias mentions the temptation plot as one of them in his book 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them (2012). As a writer who loves to give moral conflicts to his characters, I am a fan of the temptation plot.

Who does not deal with temptation daily? Temptation is crosscultural, and literature is full of it.

Egyptian spell book for invoking Baktiotha

Does not the Christian Bible open with the temptation of Adam and Eve? Did not Satan tempt Jesus in the desert?

Did not Dr. Faust make a deal with a demon? Did not Flaubert, Nabovokov, and Tolstoy surround Emma Bovary, Humbert Humbert, and Anna Karenina with lots of temptations?

Horror fiction, which often relies on a black-and-white morality and confrontations with the supernatural is tailor-made for this type of plot.

Indeed, horror authors love to make their characters fall into temptation and risk everything for forbidden knowledge and power. Moreover, these stories resonate with readers.

But why? Why do insist on summoning evil? Especially when we know the consequences.

Dark Magic, Conjuration, and Evocation

Demon of Nurgle. image: Pinterest

Conjuration is one of the eight schools of magic. It is about summoning spirits and such. Evocation is another word for invoking demons.

When we speak of conjuration, most times we are talking about dark magic. Magic meant for evil use.

Whether you are calling for a ghost (usually known as necromancy), a spirit, a deity, a demon, or an Eldritch god like Chtulhu, it is never a good idea.

Picture the scene, a dark room illuminated by candles, a salt circle or other material, runes and symbols, a ritual with incantations, a wind blows, and an entity appears.

Most people would refrain to go through all that trouble. Most of us would become paralyzed with fear.

image: Noticia Normal

Characters in horror fiction do not. Or their greed and desire for revenge are stronger than their fear.

Other methods to summon entities could be a spell, a seance, or a magical item like an ouija board. Again, questionable methods. Possession is never pretty.

Which makes us wonder, what kind of person summons a demon?

My guess? Someone full of hate or full of despair. Beware those with nothing left to lose. Like Daredevil comics taught me, “a man without hope is a man without fear”.

Nonetheless, why play with forces we cannot control? Why?

Falling Into Temptation

image: Pinterest

Dark magic is so tempting. Revenge is such a powerful motivator. I am a fan of revenge fantasies in fiction.

Likewise, these stories work as cautionary tales of what not to do. And yet, our characters cannot help themselves. For these stories to work, there must be a powerful reason for our characters to summon evil.

The drawback of summoning evil is that it requires a vessel for the spirit, and like all magic, a sacrifice.

Moreover, there is often a contract or pact involved. And the terms are never favorable for the human characters. Demonic or wizard law is vicious.

There is a common Spanish saying, it is not the same to invoke the Devil than to see him show up. It means to exercise caution about who we offend or provoke.

image: Pinterest

Of course, we humans are vulnerable to temptation and will continue to make bad decisions when controlled by our emotions.

Let horror literature show us the consequences of doing so.

Granted, a banishment spell could help, but how many characters think far ahead? None.

If you are tempted by these stories, I highly recommend Mike Carey‘s The Devil You Know (2006).

image: Dungeons and Dragons RPG

Also, check Kim Harrison‘s Hollow series and Charles Stross‘ Laundry series.

Summoning evil and falling into temptation will remain horror tropes for the reason that it works on so many levels, external and internal motives, psychological, moral, and supernatural. And it is terrifying.

Horror fiction is about monsters and creatures of the night. As long as readers crave them, authors will keep summoning them. You were warned.

Reader, are you a fan of summoning stories? Would you summon an entity if given the opportunity? And what other books would you recommend?


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June 2023