Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dean Koontz's "Innocence"

Dean Koontz is perhaps the most famous Christian author alive today. He has sold over 450,000,000 books, with 17,000,000 added each year.  He's sold more books than Stephen King, which is no small feat. Since he’s not published by a Christian publishing house, he flies under the radar in Christian circles. That’s a shame. He is writing about horror, hope, good, evil, nihilism and purpose in a way that is captivating, true, and broadly accessible.

His latest novel, Innocence, is yet another highly acclaimed novel of beauty and hope in the midst of a dark, dark word. Rather than working my way through the plot (I really don’t want to give away the ending), I will let Koontz's own words (from the book and from interviews) reveal why his message has resonated so deeply with so many.


“According to my mother, my real father loved freedom more than he loved her. Two weeks before I was born, he walked out and never walked back in, off to the sea, she said, or to some far jungle, a restless man who traveled to find himself but lost himself instead.” 
“You’re too high a price to pay,’ my mother declared on the afternoon when she sent me away. ‘I’ve lived by my own rules, and I expected a cost, but not this. Not you.’”
Koontz’s childhood was troubled to say the least, but he made the best of it. He told the National Catholic Register, “As a boy, I yearned for a normal family life, but later I understood that the darkness of my childhood was in a strange way a gift. Because of the poverty and violence of those early years, I have a depth of experience to draw upon that enriches my work.”

No wonder he writes poignantly of the perils of childhood. In a world increasingly characterized by the fragmentation of families and the damage that comes from rejection, criticism, and abuse, Koontz’s novels offer both empathy and hope. Our history is real, but it’s not our destiny.


“All people everywhere wanted their lives to have purpose and meaning.”
Koontz told Dena Ross at that one of the best things about converting to Catholicism was that “it gives me a sense that the world has shape and form and function and meaning…I don't wander aimlessly seeking for some meaning in things. I have a sense of what those meanings are. It opened my eyes to a deeper, more complex world, and that leaves you a lifetime of exploring to follow."

The characters in Innocence are not always sure what their purpose is, but they know it exists. They know that we are not made for despair and futility. In the end, their lives have a greater purpose than they could have dreamed. In a world that thinks we are just rats in cages, moist robots that dance to the music of our DNA as we run purposefully in an blind, uncaring universe, this is good news indeed.


“If a man is a beast, he’s a beast in his heart.”
Koontz has said of his father, “When I looked at the way he lived his life, it was always about himself. It was always about his wants and desires and not about anybody else. Therefore, he broke just about every kind of rule of behavior and cultural or legal behaviors that would make a life an acceptable or an admired one. And yet, although he had a lot of fun—he drank a lot and he ran around with a lot of women and he was gambling—all the things he wanted to do that he thought were fun, he got to do and he got away with. But, he never had a pleasant life. He was always an unhappy man, and although he would never have acknowledged it, always sort of desperate.

Koontz saw the impact that a sociopath (his father’s eventual diagnosis) had on those around him. Many of his novels feature villains who do what they want with no thought of boundaries, ethics or obligation. It’s the heart of evil.


“Everyone talks about justice, but there can be no justice where there is not truth, and these are times when truth is seldom recognized and often despised. “
Koontz had noted elsewhere, “Evil walks among us. We don’t always see it. Each of us, in our daily lives, encounters evil; we are tempted to evil every day of our lives. If we don’t want to read about it or think about it, I don’t think that’s a truly Christian point of view. We have to acknowledge it, face it and defeat it. That’s what each of my books is about.”

A robust view of truth requires a commitment to knowing reality in its entirety. Koontz does not shy away from showing the horror of evil. It’s tough to appreciate the light without a good look at the dark.


“I favored a theory involving the unseen world parallel to ours that I mentioned earlier. If such a place existed, separated from us by a membrane we couldn’t detect with our five senses, then perhaps at some point along the continuum, the membrane bulged around a small part of that other reality ad folded it into the stuff of ours.”
Koontz said in an interview with, “The night before my father pulled a knife on me, the phone rang. I picked it up, and this woman’s voice said, ‘Be careful of your father,’ and I swear it was my [late] mother; I recognized the voice. She said that twice and was gone,” he says. “The very next day, if I had gone in there unaware instead of edgy about that call, he probably would have succeeded. I often wonder about that.” Is it any surprise that his novels show a very real intersection between the seen and unseen world?


“The ordering of this world, however, is so abstruse, so deep and complex, most explanations that people embrace to make sense of moments of strange experience are inadequate…Every human cell, with its thousands of protein chains, is more complex than a 747 or the largest cruise ship, in fact more complex than the two combined. All life on Earth, in its extravagant variety, offers itself for study, but though we probe to ever deeper layers of its structure, the meaning eludes us. 
There is no end of wonders and mysteries: fireflies and music boxes, the stars that outnumber all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world, pinhead eggs that become caterpillars that dissolve into genetic soup from which arise butterflies, that some hearts are dark and others full of light.”
It's design, beauty, complexity, purpose, meaning and morality in one paragraph.  Boom.


“In truth, Father said, at the first instant of the universe, all of time was present, all our yesterdays and today and all our tomorrows, everyone and everything that was and ever would be existed at that moment. But more amazing still, in the first instant that the universe came into existence, the fabric of it also included all the infinite ways that things might have been, countless of them terrible in the extreme and countless others glorious. Nothing is predetermined for us, and yet all our possible choices are threads in the vast weave of things, so that we have free will even though the consequences of our will are predictable.”
Okay, not all philosophers agree on that particular theory of time. But it's a thought-provoking argument for the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge. 


I don’t want to give away how God makes an appearance in Innocence, so I will close with a quote that captures what is perhaps the most important message of all:
“If we were soulless machines of meat, the survival instinct would be all we needed to motivate us. The pleasures of the senses — such as taste and smell — are superfluous to machines in a godless world. Therefore, they are gifts to us, and evidence of divine grace. The older I’ve gotten, the more beauty, wonder and mystery I see in the world.”

Recommended: "God's Child," a review at Touchstone of the Odd Thomas series 
                            "Odd Thomas," a brief look at how Koontz addresses grief in the series
                            "Contemplating Evil," an interesting interview with Reason magazine


  1. Some time ago, I read a bunch of Dean Koontz's stuff and loved it. But then I randomly stopped reading his works and it had been so long I forgot most of the plots. I re-read "From the Corner of His Eye" almost a year ago and enjoyed it. I liked the Odd Thomas series as well.

    "Innocence," however, was amazing. I just finished reading it now (having seen that you enjoyed it so much, and because I trust your opinion, I decided to check it out from the library). Wow.

    It was just... absolutely fantastic in every sense of the word. His best work from what I can remember of what I've read by him. It is transcendent.

    I need to read more of his stuff. Have you read his Frankenstein series?

    1. I thought the first book in the series was a borderline brilliant critique of philosophical naturalism. As the series unfolded, I felt like it settled for being an action/adventure story. I don't think I read the last book. However, I feel like I probably missed something, because Koontz is consistently deep. I may try the series again. If you read them, let me know what you think!

    2. I thought the first book in the series was a borderline brilliant critique of philosophical naturalism. As the series unfolded, I felt like it settled for being an action/adventure story. I don't think I read the last book. However, I feel like I probably missed something, because Koontz is consistently deep. I may try the series again. If you read them, let me know what you think!