Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Darkness abounds

One of my colleagues gave me a book today, Trigger Warnings, by Neil Gaiman (signed no less) and I started reading the introduction while my Freshman were participating in individual choice reading and a quote caught my eye:
"The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mold beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, and inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night."
First, Gaiman is a master of  language--such beautiful imagery--but this quote really got me thinking. The world is full of darkness, around every corner, in the news, in our movies and television shows. It is so true when he states that "The universe is amply supplied with night." This effects our literature as well. Our books are full of inky dark because we write about what we know. Our literature doesn't normally end wrapped up with perfect "happily ever after bows." For many students in my AP Literature and Composition classes this is bothersome. They want Gatsby to get the girl in the end. They want Okonkwo to turn out all right in the end. They want Kurtz to be this amazing person when Marlow finally reaches him.
But, unfortunately, that is not the case in most of classical literature. These stories of "night" are classics for that reason. They look at reality and provide the reader with a mirror. We don't need magic mirrors all the time, we need the reality of the situation to better equip us to deal with similar problems when we are presented with them in the real reality.

I blame Disney for this. Well, not just Disney, but our bubble wrapped society that has in more recent years decided that we need to sugar coat and safety strap everything. The shows my children read are tediously filled with stories and characters that always have happy endings. In these worlds there are no consequences and the darkness never prevails. But I am sorry, little ones, that simply is not true. The world is a harsh place and it will trip you and then spit on you after you've fallen down. I really think that it is healthy to read, listen to, and watch stories that do not necessarily have happy endings. If we want to raise well-rounded kids who are able to navigate this world, then we must. If we neglect this duty we are setting our children up to fail and repeat the mistakes of history.

George R. R. Martin and The Song of Ice and Fire novels (Game of Thrones) is a perfect example of this. I never threw a Harry Potter book across the room when I was reading those novels, which was not for very long, I only got through book 3. But I was never worried about Harry. I knew that he would get into trouble, but never enough trouble that he wouldn't be fine after the affair. But, with Game of Thrones, I had one of the most evocative reading experiences of my life. (I certainly hope that this is not a spoiler anymore, since the book has been out for so long, and then the extremely popular tv show had this happen in season one. If you care that much about spoilers, then read the book, or watch the show!) When Ed Stark was beheaded, I threw my copy of the book across the room. I was so angry because how dare he (Martin) kill my favorite character, the nerve! And then I distinctly remember rushing across the room to pick up the book again because I needed to reread that section to make sure I hadn't imagined it. But, yes, he sure had. George R. R. Martin had killed my favorite character. There was no happy ending. And yet, I rated that book very highly--a 9 or 10. Which for me is something. I don't rate many books that highly. The book was marvelous and it didn't need a happy ending. It was reality. Often the evil of this world prevails.

It is a coincidence that I read this directly after my students finished a blog post asking why humans love tragedy. This post touches on that same idea. It isn't just that we love tragedy and the darkness, we need them. I hope that this current generation understands this. They will live more adjusted lives if they can learn this lesson early.

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