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Darkness lives in the basement

by Natasha Taggart March 11, 2014
Darkness lives in the basement

 Lemony Snicket’s latest children’s graphic novel, The Dark, carries a universal message

Each morning, Laszlo opens the basement door to greet the dark, in the hopes it will never visit him in his room at night.

“Hi,” Laszlo would say. “Hi, dark.”

Until one night, the dark visits him — and answers back.

The chances are, you were afraid of the dark as a child. The Dark is a graphic novel about a scared child who represents any one of us — a young boy named Laszlo who spends his days trying to avoid the dark.

Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Jon Klassen (This Is Not My Hat) team together to create The Dark. Still from YouTube.

As Laszlo walks around his big, empty house, equipped with a flashlight, he acknowledges the dark’s presence in the closet, behind the shower curtain and especially in the basement, where the dark lives.

“Hi, dark,” he says, peeking at the top of the stairs into darkness. Laszlo has never been inside the dark’s room at night, and he hopes the dark will never visit him in his. One night, however, when Laszlo’s night light burns out, the dark has the chance to visit him. Laszlo has to face the dark head on, and learns to overcome his fear with the help of an unlikely ally.

Leave it to Lemony Snicket, known for his A Series of Unfortunate Events to come up with the most special way to tell a simple plot. The personification of the dark is creepy and unsettling, enough to make the reader feel nervous and intrigued, as if they themselves are facing the dark in Laszlo’s shoes.

Those familiar with Snicket’s writing style will recognize his voice briefly throughout the book. However, readers expecting A Series of Unfortunate Events-type of written-magic, might end up slightly disappointed. Unlike Events, the text isn’t necessarily witty, it is more simple and direct, but nonetheless beautifully written. He uses poetry-like short sentences, which keep the mood suspenseful.

Jon Klassen’s illustrations evoke the feelings of mystery and fear. His minimalistic style, in terms of both colour and detail, complement the tone of the book: dark, mysterious and foreboding. Sepia tones, mostly neutral colours and a lot of black are combined with the contrast of light and shadow to create an abandoned-looking setting. Klassen frames little Laszlo in relation to dark shadow, often with his flashlight providing the only source of light — the reader is able to get a sense of being succombed to darkness. The cover alone is enough to provoke a sense of dread.

The drawings that show the small Laszlo is his giant house allow the reader to see things from Laszlo’s perspective, and you can’t help but picture yourself as a child laying in bed, waiting anxiously for the morning light to appear again. But, as often is the case, after the dark comes the light. As Laszlo learns to overcome his fear, the tones become lighter and less gloomy.

In 40 pages, the writer and illustrator duo is able to provoke countless emotions from being unnerved to cheery; you can feel yourself smiling by the end of it.

The Dark is marketed as a picture book for children aged 4-8, but the message of the book can stick with anyone and might resonate more with adults — the dark is simply a metaphor for many of the fears we have in life. The biggest fear of all is the unknown. Snicket’s message: you can’t know good without knowing bad and you can’t enjoy the light without the dark.

The Dark, a Governor General’s Literary Award nominee, is available for sale at Chapters Indigo stores and online at amazon.ca

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