Friday, March 7, 2008

The Prayer by Al Raines

This novel by Al Raines comes with the label ‘the first ever horror novel from India’ on its cover. Authors of the cult supernatural novel November Rain unfold yet another spine chilling tale through “The Prayer”.

The novel is set in Riverdale - a town otherwise well known in Archie’s comics. However Al Raines’ Riverdale is not at all a mirthful town as it is haunted by an evil prayer. Prayers are meant to give hope and heal. Unfortunately a prayer bearing a Wiccan curse is being forwarded to the inboxes of the citizens of Riverdale. This sinister prayer comes with the pledge that if read before bedtime it’ll make the reader’s dreams come true. By ‘dreams’ the prayer doesn’t refer to ‘wishes’ but ‘what the person dreams of when asleep’. Not all dreams are sweet, nightmares plague one’s consciousness when in slumber and some of those nightmares may indeed be of death. Reminiscent of the film The Ring in which every person who sees an evil video is supposed to die, in The Prayer, whoever has a nightmare of death after reading the prayer loses a loved one or dies. Life soon becomes a living nightmare with the characters in the book desperately trying to stay awake over cups of coffee to prevent themselves from falling asleep and dreaming in the process. Weariness however catches up and before they know it the characters are asleep and having ominous nightmares which will soon turn to reality once they wake up.

Eight-year-old Jamie found this prayer on a parchment on the windshield of his family’s car. He read that if he sent this prayer to seven people his dreams would come true. He diligently forwarded it with the hope that his separated parents reconciled. The characters affected by this forwarded prayer are shown to be within six degrees of separation.

The author does claim to be inspired by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkin’s theory of memetics. Meme is Dawkin’s unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene. The Prayer file not only infests the computers of the recipients like a virus, annoyingly popping up on screen just refusing to be deleted but adhering to the principles of memetics it seems to mutate in the brains of the recipients to be ready to jump to new vehicles. Adhering to Dawkin’s theory there seems to be a power struggle between the hosts (recipients of the prayer) and The Prayer which plays the role a gene in this case. Dawkin’s Selfish Gene theory says that the genes usually win without a fight. Only if the host is intelligent enough to realize its interests can there be a true conflict. As the prayer recipients begin to die one by one, the surviving members diminish their six degrees of separation to bring their heads together to solve their common problem by consolidating all their dreams to one dream and deciphering its symbolisms.

The authors do not seem to delve into well known dream symbolisms established by Carl, Jung and Freud. Rather they give the dreams a unique Wiccan supernatural touch. However Wicca even if practiced in scary rooms with black paint and no bulbs as shown in the novel may not necessarily always be ominous in its effect. The authors go on to show that Wicca is not synonymous to evil. ‘Evil lurks in our minds’ the novel says. ‘For those whose hearts are true, the light always shines on them.’

The authors also claim to have drawn inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe. There are special references to Poe’s poems A Dream Within a Dream and indirectly to The Raven. The circulating prayer of the novel in fact reads very similar to Poe’s poem A Dream Within a Dream. Poe’s poem questions the thin line between reality and fantasy with the rhetorical question as to whether everything is just a dream within a dream. In the novel fantasy becomes reality thereby becoming synonymous.

The characters of the novel see a raven in their dreams. Poe’s raven seems to ominously foretell that he will soon fly out of the poet’s life just like his friends have flown away from him along with his previous hopes. Similarly as the characters lose their friends, gradually they lose hope but ironically a mysterious character called Ravenclaw, the worshipper of the Goddess of Dreams can redeem them from the evil effect of the prayer.

Other than being a supernatural horror novel The Prayer beautifully explores the lives of Alcoholic Anonymous members in a foreign first-world-nation among whom the prayer is circulated. Some of them are trying to regain control in their lives sometimes by aiming for perfection when in reality they are following the path of self-destruction and returning to the bottle.

The novel ends with ample scope for a sequel to follow. Let’s hope that Al Raines is soon back with an equally scary The Prayer- 2.

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