Thursday, May 09, 2013

Review: "The Dark" - Lemony Snickett/Jon Klassen

I have to say I do enjoy a good, scary picture book, especially one that's a bit weird or different. Two of my favourites are The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Wolves by Emily Gravett (coincidence that they are both about wolves? Maybe not, given Red Riding Hood etc). I've also used Bruno Bettelheim's book, The Uses of Enchantment, in myths and symbols classes, where he talks about how original, scary fairy tales can help children overcome fears.

So when I heard about the new picture book called The Dark, I was keen to read it. I even bought my own copy! So what do I think of it? Well... a bit disappointing. Maybe that's because I'm an adult, not a five-year-old, but there are a couple of things that didn't work for me. However, there were things I did like. I like the first half a lot, and the illustrations. It's a story about a boy called Laszlo who is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in his house, specifically in the basement, and is presented as though it's a living entity.

By nearly halfway through the book, things are getting scary. Laszlo has tried to "manage" the dark and keep it in the basement, but one night it comes to visit him in his room (the picture shows you that his nightlight goes out). At that point, the dark says, "I want to show you something." Laszlo takes his torch and goes all the way down to the basement, and finds an old chest of drawers, and the dark wants him to come "even closer".

Then we get a whole page full of text which is this kind of adult philosophical speech about why the dark is useful. Huh? What happened? All the tension is gone, all the scary stuff goes pfft. And then the story resumes. And the outcome is just kind of nice and tidy, and the last three double-page spreads are pleasant and affirming that the dark is good.

I'm not sure what is going on here. I've seen one review that asked the same question. Did the editors fall in love with the story and let Snickett/Handler get away with the diversion into dullness? Or did they really think it worked? Other reviews are full of praise for the book (it helps that the illustrator, Jon Klassen, has just won the Caldecott Award for This is Not My Hat), but it gets 2/5 from me. It makes me feel as though there was another story to begin with, somewhere, one that stayed scary all the way and had a really satisfying, victorious ending, and that story ran away or got "nice-ified". But this is a review, and it might just be my dark heart talking!
(There is an audio clip of Neil Gaiman reading the first bit of the book but it's only 40 seconds)

No comments: