Friday, October 5, 2018

Project October: Day Five: Dark Themes in Contemporary Lit


Over the past year, I have found something interesting about myself. I actually like dark themes sometimes. Today I am going to compare and contrast two books I have read recently that fall into less scary/spooky category, but more dark and thrilling.  And I hope you'll come along on the ride!


At first reading about a serial killer  in a lovely hardbound copy, and being strangely enchanted a few years ago, I was like, "I'm a freak. What is my problem?" But then I started to think maybe there is something in human nature that sorta likes to be freaked out.

I think it can be entertaining and humbling in a "You're not as safe as you think," kind of way.  So much of life is like a Child's Encyclopedia.  Sanitized nonfiction, sanitized illustration.

I found my way to dark themes in contemporary lit in a roundabout fashion.  To be honest, it came about in 2008 or so when I discovered Neil Gaiman.  My interest in creepy escalated at 48 hours was rounded out by my love for the scary genius of Coraline *book and movie* muah ha ha.. and this is just the radio show format, the exact same content as the show.*


Two books I have read recently popped into my mind as I was thinking about the issue of dark themes.

“She talked like a woman who knew more books than people.” 
― Melissa Albert, The Hazel Wood


The first one is The Hazel Wood.  I would describe this book as a twisted fairytale with elements of Alice in Wonderland, The Little Princess, and The Golden Compass.  (I have not read the last book myself).

Befriending animals and having unbirthday tea parties with half-crazy people is charming.  Murdering people in order to enter the Hinterland is unredemptively dark and creepy in an unappetizing way.  I could get on board if there was redemption for the characters in some way, but overall, the fantastical elements were for show and gore won the day. And the way.  Sad :(

I came to We Have Always Lived in the Castle after falling deeply in love with a book some may have heard of, Rebecca.  Reading Castle, I felt enjoyment of each turn of phrase, but as a whole I don't think I love dit. I adored Rebecca and I can say it is a fail-safe book full of criminal logic, creepy themes, and plot twists galore. I couldn't help comparing what seemed showy literature with a beloved classic that seemed more... well, beloved to me.  I was never gripped by the Castle, and so it fell flat for me.

Despite my love for some crazily creepy entertainment in a certain genre, what I find myself fascinated by isn't creepy books, creepy shows, or even creepy podcasts. What I find creepy is creepy people.  If you tell the truth about them in a way that intrigues me without disgusting me... well, tell me more. :)  If Paul Bunyan were a spooky story, it might be worth its salt. But spooky is cute, and I don't need any more cute.

*The podcast freaks me out, but I never feel unsafe.  I have never had nightmares or terrors from listening.  I think the way they deal with content is suspenseful, without being horrific, disgusting, etc.

“On the moon we wore feathers in our hair, and rubies on our hands. On the moon we had gold spoons.” 
― Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle




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