One of my primary goals with The Darkening Dream was to develop a strong sense of merely seeing “the tip of the evil iceberg.” So the book has a lot of villains, some working together, but each with their own quirks and agendas. I knew early on that I wanted one of these to be a warlock and a minister. For me, Parris represented the human villainy in the story. While he clearly dabbles in the supernatural — hey, warlock! — he isn’t like al-Nasir in being wholly a creature of darkness.
What makes real people evil? Self interest certainly goes a long way, but I looked further into the twisted nature of the psychopathic serial killer. To do what he does, Parris had to be a deeply warped individual. As a local pastor he is a member of the community, but his role is aloof enough that people just write him off as a bit touched. He was raised by his crazy religious, repressed, and abusive grandmother. So severe was this upbringing that his adult pathology is devoid of all empathy. He can put on an external show, but his own fears and desires are all he really knows.
And he’s a deeply lonely individual who connects with but one other — and that other happens to be a domineering succubus moonlighting from hell. But that’s okay, as in private Parris is only comfortable playing the bottom. Nothing like a human/demon BSDM relationship to spice things up.
I even wrote 10,000 words of flashback showcasing grandmother Grace and Parris’ 1893 meeting at Harvard Divinity with his future demonic lover. But these scenes were left on the cutting room floor (although I might put them on the website sometime) because they are backstory, which really doesn’t have a place in fast paced fiction. Still, they were pretty cool and their removal made Parris decidedly less sympathetic. Plus they contained one of my favorite magical rituals in the book: a deadly curse tablet baked from the excrement of the victim (courtesy of an ancient Roman book on witchcraft).
My Parris is descended from Samuel Parris (to the right) who was the Puritan minister in Salem during the witch trials. Following in his ancestor’s footsteps, John Parris is the leader of what amounts to Salem’s Puritan church, by 1913 called the Congregationalist church. Witchcraft and ministry are both threads that run deeply in his family.
Pastor Parris does a lot of magic in the book and I heavily researched his particular old-school brand of witchcraft (he’s a ritualist, specializing in sympathetic magic powered by humors) and his complex conceptualization of protestant hell. For in the world of The Darkening Dream, hell is whatever inferno you believe in. His glyph (above) shows the tools of his trade: knives for bloodletting, bowls for mixing, and the flame — gateway to below.
But how does any of this connect to my plot?
Parris is both a competent thaumaturge and through his demon lover he has one foot grounded in hell. When al-Nasir, my ancient vampire, is sent west to find something of great importance he seeks the services of this dubious man of God. For powerful things are guarded by powerful magics and dead flesh works no spells.
But Parris is no fool. The undead are not to be trusted. Still, when a vampire offers the lost grimoire of Dr. Faustus in return for help, who cares if a handful of innocents have to pay the price?