Lost Horizon

52 Authors: Week 13 - Dean Koontz

In all the many books that I have read, there exists much truth and wisdom, but in not a single volume has the truth of lovemaking been revealed. When I lie in the arms of [my wife], in ecstasy, it is essentially not about sensation but about passion, and passion is not of the flesh but of the mind and heart. No writer ever told me there is no self in the act, that the desire to give drives out all thought of receiving, that lovers become one, transported, that I am her and she is me, that we find ourselves not engaged in seduction and surrender but in the throes of creation, not consumed by desire but by astonishment, given for a moment the very power that brought into existence the universe, so that we, too, can create life.

—From a novel by Dean Koontz

Eight years ago when my friend Ann asked me if I had ever read anything by Dean Koontz, I thought she must have lost her mind. I didn't really know anything about Koontz at the time except that he wrote horror novels and that they sold his books at the grocery store. I had been in some serious discussion groups with Ann, and I didn't have her pegged for a horror aficionado. It turned out that she had read an article somewhere about Koontz that talked about the Christian influence in his novels and the fact that he was Catholic. That got my attention, and so I read my first Dean Koontz novel, and then my second and third, and then everything that he had written between the year 2000 and that time.

I soon found out that one can't place Koontz’s books in any one genre. Some of them, in particular his earlier works, are horror, but some of the novels are sci-fi, some supernatural and some not, some suspense/thriller, and some almost mystical. Almost all of them are filled with great tension of one sort or another and they hit the ground running. In very few of them do we get through the first chapter without finding ourselves in a battle to death.

It has been noted in the comments on this blog that Koontz's novels are pot boilers, and while I can't deny that there is usually a pot on the back burner, that's not all there is to his books. His battles are not just between a protagonist and an antagonist. They are not just about the people that we pull for and the ones we're against. His later novels, especially, are always a battle between authentic good and that evil who is at the root of all evil. Koontz increasingly demonstrates that he reveres the Culture of Life, and recognizes and abhors the Culture of Death, and that he knows their sources, and this is what most sets him apart from the majority of popular authors.

The more familiar I became with Koontz's work, the more evident it became to me that he has a vision, and that he shares that vision with and in some ways derives that vision from many of the authors that we have discussed on this blog. He talks about Lewis and Chesterton; there is a scene in one of his novels that is pure Percy—almost to the point of plagiarism; he quotes Eliot a lot. The author that seems to influence him the most, though, is Flannery O'Connor. While Koontz does not approach Miss O'Connor in subtlety or mastery of the language, he appears to be adhering to the means of writing for a deaf audience that she talks about in her essays in Mystery and Manners. His villains are certainly grotesque and over-the-top (although unfortunately reality will probably surpass them soon). His hyperbole seems calculated to shock us into realizing that something is wrong.

Another influence that has assumed more and more importance in both Koontz's work, and, I deduce from interviews, his own life, is his Catholic faith. Koontz, who grew up in a less than salubrious family situation, converted to Catholicism after becoming a part of his wife Gerda's close, loving, and very Catholic family. Sometimes this influence comes out in a sacramental way that is probably opaque to most readers. For instance, in one of the novels the main character is being pursued and methodically wounded in different ways by an enemy, and pretty soon I realized that the wounds were the wounds of Christ. Sometimes he throws in references to the Church. One book is set in a monastery. In the latter books, many of the characters are Catholic.

There are many recurrent elements in Koontz's work that reveal his recognition of the sanctity of life. One of his novels is centered around a man who is desperately trying to save his comatose fiancée from those who are trying to euthanize her. Another is about ethical problems surrounding questionable organ “donation.” Frequently, there are characters with some sort of disability in his narratives and they are likely to be pivotal characters. There is a love and concern for children. There is a respect for marriage and the family, and an awareness of the true tragedy of broken homes.

Koontz's most popular character, and the one about whom he has written the most books (eight), is a young man named Odd Thomas. Flannery O'Connor is often quoted as saying, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” I wondered for a while if this quote had influenced Koontz in the selection of Odd's name, but from what I've read, the line, “My name is Odd Thomas,” came to him in the manner of Lewis's faun. Miss O'Connor's quote is appropriate, though.

In A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today, Benedict XVI quotes Romano Guardini as saying, “Jesus' entire existence is the translation of power into humility...into obedience to the will of the Father.” This pretty well sums up the character of Odd Thomas. Odd has supernatural abilities. He can see dead people who come to him for help in moving on to the next world, which frequently involves his getting involved with their murderers. He has dreams that come true and something he calls psychic magnetism that leads him to a person or place that he needs to find, but he accepts and uses these gifts in true humility, and never for himself.

According to an article in the National Catholic Register, after reading the first two Odd Thomas novels, a friend of Koontz's, bioethicist Wesley Smith, told him, “You know what you're writing about here? You're writing the life of a saint.” Koontz at first rejected that idea, but soon began to see that this might be true, and got more serious about Odd's character. As Odd's story progresses, we see him grow in virtue. He picks up the cross of his abilities and carries them without complaint. One aspect of his virtue that stands out for me relates to the necessity of his taking human life. In the course of his mission, he sometimes has to kill people, but he never desires to kill people, and he is always sorry that he has had to do so, particularly when he has to kill women. He has a reverence for life and he realizes that the taking of a life diminishes his innocence.

Now all this sounds very fine and noble, and it is, but it takes place within a narrative that is often bizarre and outlandish and brutal. It is often quite humorous, too, but sometimes the humor is puerile, which I really dislike. I don't remember, though, Koontz using this kind of humor much in his other books, and I almost wonder if he does it to emphasize Odd's youth and innocence. There's nothing lewd or suggestive in the things I'm talking about—just, well puerile. And then in the midst of the violence and puerility, we come across something like this:

Beyond lay a large room softly illuminated by five oil lamps.

One lamp rested on a dinette table at which stood two chairs. Annamaria sat facing the door.

She smiled as I crossed the threshold. She raised her right hand to motion me to the empty chair.

... the humble furniture included a narrow bed in one corner, a nightstand on which stood a gooseneck desk lamp, a worn and sagging armchair with a footstool, and an end table.

Distributed around the room, the five oil lamps were squat, long-necked glass vessels in which floated burning wicks. Two were the color of brandy, and three were red.

When I sat across the table from her, I found dinner waiting. Two kinds of cheese and two kinds of olives. Tomatoes cut in wedges. Circlets of cucumber. Dishes of herb-seasoned yogurt glistening with a drizzle of olive oil. A plate of ripe figs. A loaf of crusty bread.

Odd Hours, Dean Koontz

There's more to this, but I hope I've quoted enough to give the feeling that I think this scene evokes. When I read this passage, my mind automatically flew to medieval paintings. There are images here that are common in pictures of the Annunciation.

Annamaria is an 18 year old woman who is pregnant, and has no husband and no visible means of support, but she is completely peaceful and people always give her whatever she needs. She wears a small bell on a chain around her neck. Odd thinks of her as the Lady of the Bell. My husband tells me that in the seminary they taught him that the voice of the bell is the voice of God. I don't know if Koontz had this in mind, but subsequent events make it seem likely. Annamaria is a woman of mystery and she remains mysterious throughout the rest of the series, so I think I'll just leave you with the mystery.

A couple of months ago, I had decided not to write about Koontz in this series of posts. It had been a long time since I'd read one of his books. I didn't care for the last one I read, and I had forgotten many of the things that attracted me to the novels. Then while looking for something else, I came across this interview with Raymond Arroyo about Koontz's novel Innocence. The interview is thirty-five minutes long, so I doubt you will want to listen to it, but it seemed from the interview that the new book was something different for Koontz, and something better.

I mentioned earlier that Koontz is not the writer that Flannery O'Connor is. He has some habitual flaws, and I never quite enter the narrative completely the way I do when I read really good authors. I have always wished that he would write a novel in a completely different style than his usual work—something without the pot in the background. Innocence is not exactly the novel that I would like to see Koontz write, but it is a great stride in the right direction.

This book is much slower paced. During his interview with Koontz, Arroyo kept using the word lyrical, and there are many places where the narrative is indeed lyrical, and in some places quite beautiful. The protagonist, Addison Goodheart, is miles away from some of Koontz's characters who rely heavily on weapons, and even from Odd who only uses weapons as a last resort. Addison will not use a gun or defend himself in any way that will harm anyone, although, through no fault of his own, everyone who sees him wants to kill him. The real strength of Innocence, however, is the metaphysical concept at the heart of the story.

One of the things I am always looking for in books and movies is grace in unexpected places. I’m sure that this is the reason that I was drawn to Koontz’s books. The idea that someone who is writing genre fiction for a popular audience that is searching for horror, action, and mayhem, underlies his narrative with a subtext of grace and redemption fascinates me, as does the process of watching the mayhem subside while the grace grows. His most recent novel, The City, has a 10 year old boy as its protagonist. There is no graphic violence, and the novel is more about the life of this child—his love for music—his family and friends—than about the danger that threatens him. I wonder how Koontz is going to keep his audience if he continues in this direction, but I hope he persists.

Yet the human heart is disheartened by the most unreasonable self-judgments, because even when we take on giants, we too often confuse failure with fault, which I know too well. The only way back from such a bleak despondency is to shape humiliation into humility, to strive always to triumph over the darkness while never forgetting that the honor and the beauty are more in the striving than in the winning. When triumph at last comes, our efforts alone could not have won the day without that grace which surpasses all understanding and which will, if we allow it, imbue our lives with meaning.

Odd Interlude, Dean Koontz

Janet Cupo has been commenting on this blog for about as long as it's existed, and has her own excellent blog at The Three Prayers.


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Janet - any suggestion where to start with Koontz?

I read a bunch of Dean Koontz back in the 80s and 90s. This was when I was younger, and prior to becoming Catholic, so of course now I am intrigued by themes in his work Janet is pointing out and will need to revisit some of his books. There are seemingly hundreds of them out there, so no re-reading is necessary. What about the wonderful dog characters Koontz populates his novels with? As a dog owner I like those too.

When Janet first mentioned Koontz to me some time ago, my reaction was a bit like hers to her friend (first paragraph). Not quite that strong, but in the vicinity. I was only vaguely aware of Koontz's name as one I saw on paperbacks in the grocery store. I don't think it would ever have crossed my mind to read anything by him. But I'm really intrigued now, especially by the Odd Thomas books.

El Gaucho, the ones from the 80s and 90s aren't really like this. There was a change around 2000, some of which had to do with his dog Trixie. I really wanted to talk about the dogs, but I already had over 2000 words and I just had to stop! I figured I'd cover it in the comments, which I will asap, but I'm a parish secretary and it's Holy Week. Three days to do five days work, lots of extra work and 2 funerals. Also, I'm trying to post on my blog everyday.

Hopefully, I'll have a minute at lunch.


Jeff, It kind of depends what you like and how much you plan to read. If you think you will only read one book, I would say Innocence. If you think you might read more, I would start with maybe, From the Corner of His Eye, or One Door Away from Heaven, or Your Heart Belongs to Me. There is also a Frankenstein series, and, of course, Odd Thomas. Don't read the little novellas that are written as promos, and I wouldn't start with anything before 2000.


Janet, I haven't even finished reading this yet (but it's ok - I started at the beginning!) and this is already the shot in the arm I really needed today.


I hope the shot isn't painful.;-)


I also have a friend who recommended Koontz to me, so I checked Relentless, written in 2009, out of the library. All I can now remember of the book is that some of the killings were so gruesome and lurid they wouldn't be out of place in a book featuring Hannibal Lecter. As a result, that "subtext of grace and redemption" you mentioned, Janet, was completely lost on me.

No. The shot was figurative. :)


I can understand that. And I did say it was brutal. There are definitely things that are gruesome even in some of the better ones. I don't remember Relentless very well, but when I looked up a synopsis I recognized it as one of ones I probably didn't like. I don't like that bunker stuff.



WRT the sort of thing that Marianne is talking about, I was tempted to get hold of Lonesome Dove to see how that scene you talk about compares to the gruesomeness in Koontz.


I was about to say the Koontz scene is probably worse, based on what Marianne said, because some of the most horrible stuff in LD doesn't actually happen, but is only threatened. Then I remembered this one scene. The only mitigating thing I can say about it is that it doesn't go on for real long--it's only one page or so in a 900-page novel.

And I didn't know there were "wonderful dog characters" in Koontz's books. I fear I'm becoming sentimental about dogs in my old age.

Oh, we had a sad dog tragedy in the family yesterday and from my reaction I guess I must be too. And I still miss Duke.

Koontz really loves dogs, especially Golden Retrievers. He and his wife are very involved with a group that provides assistance dogs to the disabled. He wrote about it and about Trixie here..

Strange as it may seem, his growth in faith may be attributable to Trixie. He wrote a book about it, and we have a signed copy because Becca wrote him a letter about another book, and he sent her this one.


So maybe you should read The Darkest Evening of the Year. It's not the Trixie one. It's a novel.


The Silence of the Lambs comparison makes me nervous.

Don't remember anything like that. Have to check it out when I have my glasses on.


Well, that blurb is almost saying the same thing that I am. That typical Koontzian gruesomeness but something new--insights into the mystery of the human and animal bond.

I have to admit that Koontz's villians aren't always as nice as Hannibal Lector. He does have a disturbing imagination like the last blurb says.

What I remember about the book, though, is the dog and something nice about nuns.

It's hard after all these years to remember which dogs did what. Some talk--not this one. Somehow it doesn't seem hokey.



I was amused, btw, when I followed your link on my phone, to see that there is a Dean Koontz app. The guy has quite a successful business going there. I might be envious if I didn't know how hard he must have been working throughout his whole career.

Use of the term "potboiler" made me think of a remark made by Eliot, I think, about another writer (possibly Charles Williams?): that he sometimes wrote potboilers to pay the rent, but that "he always boiled an honest pot."

Which leads me to the same question we discussed re Larry McMurtry: what's the distinction between popular and literary fiction? I'm guessing that DK would be counted on the popular side, but what exactly makes the difference? Seems like one of the things we mentioned was an address to the Big Questions, and he certainly has that, from what you say.

I think literature has to be well-written, and much of Koontz is not, although you can see by the quotes that he is not incapable of writing well (There is a nasty, double grammatical error in the first one, but that is very unusual for Koontz. He's a grammar Nazi.).

Also, a lot of his work is formulaic, and I don't think literature can be like that. You can read 7 great tomes by Dickens and never think, "Oh he's doing the same thing here that he did in David Copperfield." Koontz's last two novels aren't like that, so we'll see.


You can read 7 great tomes by Dickens and never think, "Oh he's doing the same thing here that he did in David Copperfield."

This is a great point. In fact, I think it might be one of the major keys.

I was thinking recently of the question: "Who are the greatest writers in the English language?" The A list, so to speak. My list was Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, the translators of the Authorized Version, and Tolkien. Anyone else, like Milton, Joyce, Twain, etc. are tier B.

That's my take.

Note, I don't have an American author on the A list.

Without stopping to give it much thought, I don't think I have a big disagreement with your list. Including the omission of Americans.

If you click on the word "Subcribe" at the top of the page, you see the blog in HTML.


"If you click on the word "Subcribe" at the top of the page, you see the blog in HTML." Well that's....interesting?


I keep thinking that if I think long enough, I can challenge your A list, but so far, no.


Makes a great desert island list, eh?

That's actually not html, but a thing called xml, which is a general-purpose mechanism of which html can be considered a specific application, although I'm pretty sure html came first. It's an Atom feed. I'm not entirely sure how it's supposed to be used, as I never bothered to get up to speed on the "web syndication" stuff. I think the basic idea is that you can put that link in a page elsewhere that serves as a reader for multiple sites, and the blog content appears there. I've forgotten how that Subscribe link even got there--presumably it was some standard component that I selected. Probably it should labelled differently. Or removed. Probably nobody uses it.

Getting back to the popular vs. literary question: Koontz, and much other popular fiction, must have a real narrative gift. And that makes the distinction less distinct in my eyes, because that's pretty important in fiction. I've read a couple of would-be thrillers in the past year or so--well, read one, and read half of the other before giving it up as a bore--and it's not something that can be taken for granted even in fiction that has no real literary pretenses at all.

I know that the "not narrative gift" and "not dialogue gift" thing is a show-stopper for me. That is what turns me off about Rowling, Ralph McInerny novels, Bud McFarlain, etc. There is a certain lack of poesy. I would venture to say that Chesterton is lacking on that score, but I might get arguments from some. Lots of potboilers have the narrative and dialogue gift. Not that I've read many of them, but one or two that I have dipped into seemed well-written (though not literary).

It is like a scale. For instance, I think that Christie has it to the nines, but Sayers, though pretty good, not as much. Doyle is a master of mystery narrative; Chesterton not so much.

It is undoubtedly why I'm not a novelist, even though I have lots of "ideas."

In general Americans seem clumsy compared to Brits. I don't know why that has to be. Maybe because we are more utilitarian about language than Europeans. We like Cartesian denotation and mistrust connotation. We don't believe that analogies have any metaphysical basis.

Briefly because I have to work, I think that Cormac McCarthy has it to the utmost. And I think that his books, particularly The Road are literature.


Certainly agree in regard to Cormac McCarthy. I think that literature has to be about something besides the plot of the novel. That does tend to leave out genre-specific works. If you are reading something that is really about plot and getting to where the author is going, then you are probably reading popular fiction. Not that there is anything wrong with that - I always say that all reading is good and most likely better than staring at a television if only because it takes more effort. I can't get anyone in my nuclear family to agree with me on this point!

...and I will throw William Faulkner into the mix as an American writer who is among the greatest!

I figured that someone would mention Faulkner in this discussion, but since I ain't read him, I can't comment.

Sorry, I'm kind of pressed for time, too. But:

Yes, McCarthy is definitely literature, and definitely has the narrative gift, to put it mildly. That's on the basis of the only book that I've read, No Country for Old Men. It's as gripping a narrative as anything by Elmore Leonard, and that's saying a lot.

"...literature has to be about something besides the plot of the novel."

That does sum it up very nicely.

I can't put Faulkner in the company of Shakespeare, though I think he's very good. At his best, anyway--extremely good. Actually I think he's a bit over-rated with respect to his entire body of work. I was a little disappointed in both Light In August and Absalom, Absalom. Not that I didn't think they were good, just that they didn't quite live up to what I'd heard about them.

"...literature has to be about something besides the plot of the novel."

Right, and I'd venture to say that most readers of "popular" fiction read primarily for plot. More "literary" readers, however, will usually be more likely to stay with a book in which perhaps not much happens, but where the characters and dialogue are good.

This fairly literary reader, though, feels a bit frustrated if nothing much happens. I was very impressed at an early age by Aristotle's writing on tragedy, which made plot the basis. I may have mentioned before reading Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac. Very skillfully written, very pretty--but in the end not very satisfying. The protagonist does reach a decision of a sort, if I remember correctly, but overall the sense is almost more of a lyrical meditation in prose than of a story. I'm not saying that's bad, just less good.

Right, I'd agree that some level of plot is necessary. If you don't have that it's hard to really call it a story.

But I'm thinking of something more like Gilead. I've had a couple people tell me that they started it but put it down because "not enough happened." Or people that walked out of The Tree of Life because they "kept waiting for the story to start."

I can understand those reactions to some degree. There is some storytelling in both of them, but you do have to be patient to get it. Really more than story telling in any straightforward sense it's a slow filling in of pieces of a story--there is a story there, but it's assembled rather than told. More like a painting than a piece of music. And at this point it's not an unusual approach to take, and it does work. Lord of the Rings, though, is something closer to the archetype of a story, though.

I started reading through Faulkner in my 30s, and I remember that I liked him well enough, although it all seemed rather alien to me, which is odd since he lived and hour and a half away from me. When I read the third story about a barn burning, I quit. It was too much. Our hotel is in a business park called Faulkner Properties, and I'm hoping they don't have a barn any place close.

The main thing that hearing about Faulkner brings to mind is that when Walker Percy was starting college, he tried to model his writing sample a la Faulkner, and they put him in remedial English.


I seem to remember reading that Faulkner himself flunked an English course. I guess that was before they had remedial courses.

I only know of one story about a barn-burning, but then I haven't read anything remotely near all of his work.

Intrigued by your description, Janet, I checked out some Koontz books. I just finished What the Night Knows, and I really liked it. A little Charles Williams. A little Madeleine L'Engle (reversing the future). A lotta Truth. Enough didacticism to help me follow along . Koontz’s magus writing ability provides a plausible way to show entry of the forces of evil and the equally powerful provisions of the Good to dispel it.

Thanks, Mary. Yes, I've thought about that Charles Williams influence. And while I don't think that Elizabeth Goudge was influenced by Williams, so you think that they are similar sometimes?


I'll give it some thought, Janet -- I'm interested in any similarities you see. I'm away from my books at this moment. I remember a Williams book with a child that evil can't corrupt, similar to certain children in both Koontz and Goudge. I remember objects in Williams whose reality goes deeper than is apparent, similar to artifacts and natural features (like the Elliots'cornfield) in Goudge.

It's been a while since I read Goudge, but I remember thinking, "Oh, this is Charles Williams." It's more that I think she employs that theory of coinherence--not saying she is familiar with Williams writing, although she may have been--but that she thought along the same lines.


I remember in The Heart of the Family that Sebastian takes on the suffering of Lucilla, Williams' substitution. Her writings definitely exhibit Romantic theology with aspects of nature and human love reflecting divine love. I agree with you.

I think it may have been Heart of the Family that I was reading when I thought that. David and Sebastian have that kind of relationship with one another.


Oh funny. I Googled Elizabeth Goudge and Charles Williams and the first thing that comes up is a post that Maclin wrote on Pilgrim's Inn in 2009.

The similarity to Williams lies on a deeper level. Principally it’s the sense, first, that the natural and the supernatural are not really separated from each other and are in constant interaction. And second, that the universe, in both its physical and material aspects, is what Christian thought conceives it to be


Thank you so much --

I find this statement in Maclin's post -- "It is the sort of Anglicanism that could hold C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, despite their Catholic leanings." That is the Anglicanism that holds me, Mary.

I'd tempt you elsewhere if I could. ;-)


I carry in my mind an image from about three years ago. It was the anniversary of the commissioning of Augustine of Canterbury to carry Christianity to the British Isles. Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury worshiped together and processed to a certain area of the Cathedral as the choir sang the Charles Wesley's "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."

Thank you for your witness, Janet. Thank you for your prayers.

I don't remember writing that. Weird feeling.

Thanks for your wonderful blog!

Thank you for the compliment, and for contributing.

~~I find this statement in Maclin's post -- "It is the sort of Anglicanism that could hold C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, despite their Catholic leanings."~~

Interesting. I find this in Blythe as well, although it manifests itself somewhat differently.

Yes, Blythe will definitely bring out any nostalgia for Anglicanism one might possess. Or for that matter simply attraction, if one hasn't been part of Anglicanism.

I am very indebted to you Janet, Rob G., and all participants. I just came home from a bookstore (in a neighboring town--none where I live!) with an armful of Wodehouse. I will be ordering as many as I can of Robert Blythe through Amazon.com. It was wonderful to find your earlier postings about Gentian Hill. I don't know where but here that I could have found such insights into my favorite authors and leads to others.

That's wonderful to hear. I'll be interested in hearing how you like Wodehouse and Blythe.

It must be great to be retired, Mary.


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