"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those dwelling in shadow a light has dawned.
on those dwelling in shadow a light has dawned.
One thing that has always fascinated me is the contrast between light and darkness. I'm not entirely sure when, precisely, the fixation occurred, but when it did, it refused to let me go. Show me a dark tale with a mere sliver of hope, and my whole spirit shivers in anticipation and excitement, my heart thrills and skips a few beats, my breath catches, and I can only fall very still.
The truth is, life and light are breathtaking. Mesmerizing. Like staring into a campfire only to be hypnotized by the crackling bright flames and curling black smoke, the musty scent of burning wood and marshmallows.
Better still, make it a cold, starless night atop a hill, city lights far below and to the very rim of the horizon. Just enough to tantalize.
The truth is, even the tiniest ember is radiant against the black canvas of a starless night out in the country - We city people don't see true darkness much. Out beyond the city limits, with nothing in the atmosphere (or very little) that shouldn't be there, past the street lights and cars, out past Walmart, beyond the reach of cell phone service...Once the cell phone dies and the flashlight winks out, once the PDA and GPS blink into slumber and the laptop goes...Quite literally, you can't see the hand in front of your face.
Darkness comes in flavors: Cold and oppressive. Warm and inviting. Ominous and alive with coming storm. It isn't always evil, but evil prefers the shadows crawling on the walls. Shadows can only conceal, not expose.
Well, one thing the Abyss can expose. But the moment it does, it shatters like glass and breaks.
And it must be black, not gray. Gray obscures the contrast and presents bleak, depressing, oppressing: Muted, weakened light pummeled by intoxicated, sickly haze and fog.
Possibly why I found the end of Children of Men so bleak despite the intended 'hope,' that wasn't true hope at all...
Anyway. The question of 'how dark' always arises in fiction - in any sort of media. Honestly, somewhere down in your core the human spirit senses the line of ill passage. The onionskin-thin thread that divides the glorious from the grotesque.
I'll be honest: I am forever drawn to the supernatural. My spirit cringes or thrills at the mere thought, the sight, smell, touch...
Yes, I am one of those strange people who considers the Veil between realms as near as the next heartbeat, close as the next breath -- and as far from our human sensory perception as a dog whistle. There is Darkness, there is Light. There is Sacred and Profane. There is Glorious and Grotesque.
My quest has been, over the last few years, to understand the line, to find the place where 'too dark' resides and avoid it. Two things have occurred to me.
Why am I trying to find out how far I can go? The Road to Destruction, the Wide Gate, is paved with the souls of those who used Evil to find Good. Temptation led to Sin, Sin gave birth to Death.
Second, and more recent - What if it isn't the proper question? What if, in other words, it's not a matter of 'is this too far?' but 'is this glorious?'
I just finished The Book of Names. I described it to my friend Holli as "Dark, mournful, and beautiful." Dark, because the themes are heavy; it's physically dark most of the time, and many of the situations themselves are dark. Mournful, because it's a tale of the Lost. Beautiful, because it's got The Magic.
Forgive me a moment - Magic, at least the way I'm using it, is that undefinable but very much sensational quality about a story that turns mere words to flesh and brings them alive. If a tale is lacking, it's usually lacking The Magic. Readers and listeners can forgive poor grammar or flawed mechanics as long as they're driven, spirited away by that unseen force we all know and love but can't really name.
Don't believe me? Why is it that we can hold a person's attention long enough to relay how we've gotten a speeding ticket or had a night of homework even if there's little plot involved, little character development, little structure, and little basic mechanics? A child's simple story of catching a bug can rivet the listener.
Because the art's in the telling. The Magic.
Remember that black night before the campfire?
Behold the light.
Alright, if you dislike the magic, call it awe, wonder, and amazement. Call it whatever you want, but it's spellbinding. This is precisely why pastors can show a single clip from a movie and leave us all breathless without actually having seen the entire movie. The writers, actors, directors - they spellbound us. This is why I can remember particular scenes from particular stories with intricate detail that I have not read in years.
Where am I going with all of this?
My friend Justin told me the artform is called chiaroscuro. It's an art term in which dark backgrounds create stunning foregrounds. And I suppose that's become the line for me - the subtle and stark contrast of the Veil itself.
"I may fall down, but I will rise.
It may be dark, but God is light."
I suppose between working on The Phoenix and the Dragon series, the last two Books of History Chronicles with Ted, and working on Bogswallow -- The question presents itself. And I've come to appreciate the unease. I don't think I should ever be comfortable in the Shadowlands, out in the Bogs where nothing, not even shadows, can live.
My aim is the glorious, to be sure. The Phoenix and the Dragon is all about becoming who we really are; Bogswallow is strictly about bringing the dead back to life.
Darkness to light.
Death to life.
My God and my Father, Master of Lights, Invisible, stay my hand, guide my feet. Lead me in the way everlasting, for you are most glorious, and I yearn to give you glory. Yours be dominion and power and majesty and honor forever. Shaleh.