From The Record, November 10th, 2017
I recall being afraid of the dark as a small child. I had a night-light, which essentially solved the problem. I was a nervous kid, so there was always something freaking me out, but the darkness fear was one which could be mitigated. My favourite night light, purchased at a local yard sale, was a green glowing orb made of some kind of flexible seventies plastic.
So far my own children have not displayed an overwhelming or persistent fear of the dark. Beatrice mentions being afraid if she has had a hard day, or is particularly tired but not interested in going to sleep. We just moved to a new house. For the first night we did not have any curtains in the girls’ room. Bea complained that she was afraid because she could see the dark outside. This got me thinking about how sometimes the darkness can feel almost like a character—a figure with a personality. I don’t think the darkness deserves to be painted as malevolent, but perhaps a bit mischievous and unknowable. Darkness has a special power to make our imaginations run wild, and turn everyday objects into shadowy monsters.
During the last six weeks of moving in and unpacking, we have all been getting used to and getting to know our new house. All of a sudden, last week, just before Halloween, the lights started to flicker and do unusual things. We thought it was the wind, or perhaps a ghost, but we didn’t want to worry too much about it. This past Monday morning the flickering intensified and our appliances were not working properly. It became clear that we had an electrical problem. I was home alone and it was raining outside. I waited for the professional to arrive after turning off every light and waiting in the dark. Even as an adult, it is easy to let a lack of light fill us with fear. Even in the mid-day, because of the gloomy weather my house felt spooky. In the end our problem was something easily fixable and a crisis was averted. I was thinking about what subject to write about this week and after the minor electrical crisis I was inspired to by the dark. Two special books came to mind for this theme.
“The Dark” by Lemony Snicket (of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” fame) is a book where the dark is personified, and Laszlo, a little boy is afraid of it. He learns to visit the dark where it lives and, in the process of working through his fear, he comes to see “The Dark” as a necessary part of life. The dark allows Laszlo to know about light. We all have darkness in our lives. Sometimes that darkness is real and other times it is a metaphor for other scary unknowns. Human beings, and especially children, are afraid of things they cannot explain. In Snicket’s book, the little boy faces his fear while in search of a replacement light bulb, and he is able to make friends with the dark. It is a simple and sweet story and easy for a young child to understand. In addition, it has some of Snicket’s signature quirkiness that both parents and older children will appreciate. This book is available in the children’s section of the Lennoxville Library.
The second book on the subject of darkness—also available in the Lennoxville Library—is by the beloved Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and is titled “The Darkest Dark”. This autobiographical picture book tells the story of a young boy who has a lot of difficulty sleeping, and who is very afraid of the dark. His parents are supportive, but struggle to get him to sleep alone in his own bed. After witnessing a lunar landing Chris is inspired to visit space himself, and gains a deepened appreciation for darkness through the darkest dark of space. This book is beautifully illustrated and has quite a lot of text (it is not a quick bedtime story). I also enjoy the historical anecdotes and afterword by Mr. Hadfield. It is a picture book that kids of all ages can appreciate.
Children and adults alike can be afraid of the dark. We seek comfort in the glow of our lights and the promise of the sunrise. We never know what could be lurking in the closet or in the mystery of shadows. Children have the special gift of untethered imagination, which can amplify fear along with joy and excitement. Spending time with the dark and getting to know the mystery, magic, and wonder it holds can help us work through this fear. Both Hadfield and Snicket have explored this in a masterful way, and readers of all ages will be delighted by their stories about the dark.