By Stewart Sternberg
In most recent film and fiction, angels tend to be depicted as insanely handsome, fit, aloof, and mysterious in a way associated with igniting throbbing hearts. We might say the angel is now stepping into the shadow of paranormal romance. Maybe about to go the way of the vampire and other metaphysically-rooted beings. Whether this is good or bad, it was probably inevitable. After all, the anthropomorphizing of angels in popular culture has been going on for centuries. Why shouldn’t it continue into genre?
The angel, believed by many to be an agent of God, is in many ways as mysterious as The Creator. Perhaps angels in art and fiction have always given us something familiar to latch onto, helping make the concept of the metaphysical palpable and safe.
In a survey done by Baylor University a few years back, at least half of Americans responding professed to a belief in angels. Of course, one wonders what people mean when making such admissions. Do they believe in angels as beings able to travel through planes of existence, perhaps with actual wings sprouting from their backs, or are these incorporeal creatures that influence rather than directly acting in the material world? Does each person have a guardian angel? Or is this a tremendous conceit reinforcing the impression that man is made in God’s image and is therefore elevated in importance?
While some descriptions of angels are a far cry from the human image we’ve given them (Consider one biblical description of an angel by Ezekial wherein angels are described as emerging from a chariot of fire, fantastic beings with four distinct faces and four wings, and legs ending in calf’s hoofs), most depictions tend to render the angel harmless and express these beings in the most benign fashion. The obvious contemporary representative of this expression is, of course, Clarence, the hapless angel in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.
Clarence and angels such as Dudley (played by Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife) and Mr. Jordan (played by Claude Rains in the comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan and later re-imagined by James Mason in Heaven Can Wait) have been the standard. However, the role of angel became darker, perhaps serving a darker self-awareness – or at least, a willingness to address that darker self-awareness – in the German film Wings of Desire (later redone for an American audience as City of Angels). Suddenly, the angel became as conflicted a figure as the human he or she was meant to watch over.
The anthropomorphization of the angel continued in the dark The Prophecy, a film about a war between angelic factions. And it continued into this decade with Legion and even the popular television series Supernatural.
The question that should spring to mind is: why this transformation? What has happened to the common psyche? We can’t argue the toll of international terror or economic crisis. After all, the angel managed to hold its faith in the face of World War II and several other bloody conflicts to follow. Why now? Why these last two decades? If the doubting and corrupted angel is a reflection of who we are, then what a sad statement about what we’ve become. Or perhaps, it’s not. Perhaps, in a decade where anti-matter is created by the CERN collider, where scientists feel they are on the verge of proving the existence of other dimensions…perhaps the angel has cause to doubt.
Bio: Stewart Sternberg has been published through Mythos Press, Chaosium, and Eldersigns Press. His new novel, The Ravening, a work of survival horror, is being released through Elder Signs Press and is available for pre-order now. You can follow him at http://house-of-sternberg.blogspot.com or on Twitter at: twitter.com/ssternberg.
Check out the rest of our Angels and Demons week this Christmastide.