As promised, this is my review of The Dark that I recommended in place of Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois – click here for my Franklin review.
Lemony Snicket, whose real name is Daniel Handler, is best known for his young adult series titled A Series of Unfortunate Events. Published in 2013, The Dark is, surprisingly, not the first time Snicket has worked on a picture book. In 2010 Snicket published 13 Words, and in 2012 he published the first novel of an ongoing children’s series: All the Wrong Questions Volume I: “Who Could That Be at This Hours?” In keeping with his characteristic tone, Lemony Snicket’s The Dark starts off as a fairly dark book, especially for a picture book, but as it progresses Snicket reveals a light at the end of the tunnel.
Laszlo is our main character and he is scared of the dark. Laszlo is seemingly alone in a big, old, and what I can only imagine to be creaky house with only the dark for company but Laszlo’s solitude is turned on its head as the dark becomes a character.
At first, the dark is an ominous entity. The text presents the dark as skulking around the house during the day; in the closet, behind the shower curtain, but mostly in the basement. Laszlo participates in the initial evolution of the dark into an actual character by initiating a dialogue with the dark which, later in the picture book, the dark literally responds to; solidifying the anthropomorphism. Laszlo visits the dark in the basement to preemptively prevent the dark from visiting him in his own room. Everyday Laszlo peaks into the basement:
he would say.
One night, the lightbulb in Laszlo’s room goes out and in comes the dark. Laszlo is scared but the dark speaks, encouraging him to go down into the basement.
Full of foreboding, Laszlo follows the dark down into the one place in the house he is scared to go. Happily, the dark shows Laszlo where to find the lightbulbs and Laszlo, by confronting his fear, finds a companion where he thought he had an antagonist. The omniscient narrator excavates the meaning behind Laszlo’s encounter, transforming the negative into the positive:
Without a closet, you would have nowhere to put your shoes, and without a shower curtain, you would splash water all over the bathroom, and without the dark, everything would be light, and you would never know if you needed a lightbulb.
The illustrations tell a story of their own, sequentially recounting the setting sun and the encroaching darkness. The interplay of light and shadows in the earlier illustrations, beginning with the waning sun, give way to the slivers of light which increasingly diminish as the dark encroaches. Finally, Laszlo illuminates his world with a sole flashlight, radiating beams of light onto fragments of the house. Laszlo becomes the internal illustrator of the picture book, he chooses what the reader sees by pointing his flashlight – everything else is black.
The illustrations foreshadow what the text reveals: not a dichotomy of light and dark but a harmonious blending of the two. Darkness and light are defined against each other but they work together to form a whole; the text and illustrations depend on both.
Why I recommend this book in place of Franklin is that Laszlo confronts his fear head on and discovers a friend in what he had perceived to be something scary. Franklin, on the other hand, uses a band aid solution. Bourgeois traps the animals of the book in their specific fears with no suggestion of resolution, simply avoidance while Snicket abdicates action.