“I’m afraid of the dark.”
If you’ve ever said or thought this, would you please raise your hand?
Okay, every one of you can put your hand down now, ‘cause I know you all raised ‘em. We all know the dark is scary sometimes. Literal, emotional, spiritual; there’s all kinds of darkness, and they all can be a bit frightening. I was pleased to find a picture book earlier this year that deals excellently with the first kind: Lemony Snicket’s The Dark, with illustrations by Jon Klassen. Several people speculated that it would win a Caldecott Award for illustration, an idea which I especially loved because several of the pages are just plain ol’ black ink. (Appropriate for a book titled The Dark.) The way that Snicket and Klassen portray and personify that darkness is what makes it such a good story.
The plot: Laszlo (what a great name!) is afraid of the dark. But the dark is not afraid of Laszlo. The dark hangs out behind the shower curtain, under the stairs, and especially in the basement of Laszlo’s house, but it stays out of Lazslo’s room—largely because of his night-light, that small wonder of electricity, upon which this story hinges. One night, Laszlo’s comforting light goes out, and the dark comes to visit Laszlo in his room. The dark wants to show Laszlo something. Not something behind the shower curtain or under the stairs, but in the basement. The darkest of dark places. Laszlo descends the stairs, and it’s here that Snicket takes a step back from Laszlo’s actions and into the heart of the story. He reminds readers that shower curtains, stairs, closets, and other places where the dark lives are necessary and helpful things. In fact, “without the dark, everything would be light, and you would never know if you needed a lightbulb.”
The dark directs Laszlo to a chest of drawers in a corner of the basement. Laszlo opens a drawer, retrieves one of the lightbulbs that are kept there, and takes it back to his room. After that, “the dark kept on living with Laszlo, but it never bothered him again.”
While I know that most of our fears aren’t conquered in a one-and-done incident like Laszlo’s, I love his courage and perseverance. Laszlo faces his fear and learns how to approach it. The dark doesn’t disappear, but now that Laszlo understands it a bit more, it’s not as scary, not quite as dark as it was before.
Where I live in Michigan, winters are cold and dark, and not my favorite time of year. Before I moved here, when asked to choose a favorite season, I would most often pick autumn. Now, however, I find myself delighting so much more in the return of light and warmth in springtime than I ever did in the beautiful colors of fall. I’m learning how to cultivate thankfulness for the darkness this winter, because it multiplies my thankfulness of each returning minute of daylight. Like Laszlo, I’m appreciating the dark because it makes me thankful for the light. Andrew Peterson posted a poem over at The Rabbit Room a few years ago that I really love, which ends with the line, “winter is where hope lies happy.” That thought gives me courage in the face of the darkness; that it can be a place to cultivate hope, a chance to recognize that the light is often crouching in the darkness, waiting to burst forth and dazzle us.
The Dark is well-written and cleverly illustrated. It’s not only a simple, profound story that comforts kids who are afraid of the dark; it also reminds me to be thankful for lightbulbs. I recommend that you go check it out.