“You know that great pause that comes upon things before the dusk? Even the breeze stops in the trees. To me there is always an air of expectation about that evening stillness.
(…) Well, that night the expectation took the colour of my fears.”
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, 1895
And after that great pause came the darkness, and within the darkness came the Morlocks. With their fangs and claws and hunger for human flesh, true; but also with their legends and stories and craftmanship and tech savvy and imagination. And with a vision, even a dark and bloody one, perhaps, but with a vision of a future.
Terrified by the working-class appetite for aristocratic blood – a premonition that came horribly true just 22 years later, in Russia and then in (our) half the world – Wells does not tell us that in the novel. Yet, it is obvious. When the Morlocks came up from their pits, they must have had at least some built-up stairs, if not elevators, and that requires engineering and rudimentary mathematics and physics.
Also, while hunting for the angel-like Eloi, they definitely must have had a working plan and some sort of organization – some social intelligence, capable of calculating possible future events; and, to keep the Eloi blissfully unsuspecting, the Morlocks must have been able to create some believable lies. Evil fiction, one might say, but fiction nonetheless.
And why is that? Why didn’t the pretty Eloi have all those, too, and got reduced to cattle?
Because of the darkness. The Eloi lacked the darkness.
The Morlocks had reasons for struggle and fear and who knows what nightmarish, real or imaginary, monsters. So they had to use their imagination and sharpen their skills. They had to imagine things and that’s why they survived as a civilization, not just as a holiday resort with no future in sight.
As Wells himself puts it: “We should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help us grow. Without them we grow weak like the Eloi in comfort and security. We need to constantly be challenging ourselves in order to strengthen our character and increase our intelligence“.
Some really good reasons to keep literature exploring the colour of our fears, I’d say. Because horror, dark scifi and dark fantasy utterly challenge us. They challenge our bravery, our ingenuity, our morals and, most of all, our capacity to hope. They make us ask ourselves very, very difficult questions and they create terrible, horrifying monsters, but also ways of fighting them (or at least surviving – running away is always a good option).
Dark literature forces us to confront dark issues. Some, regarding us all, might be out there right now. Others – ghosts of history, yet always threatening resurrection. Some are just what if’s. For now.
They all need to be thought of, re-remembered and assessed. As in stories like Alaya Dawn-Johnson‘s vampire horror story, that brings up horrible moral dilemmas like: Is survival in a concentration camp a choice of strength, or of weakness? No matter what the character learns and chooses, it is literature’s vital role to force us into that thinking spot, before a real genocide does. Make us beware its signs and prevent it.
Other dark issues regard individuals, not societies. Perhaps facing a personal horror is sometimes, subjectively, even more difficult than collective traumas. Can there be love against impossible, murderous odds? What is the price to be paid for the survival of such a love, and is it really worth it? As Artemis Kelosaari’s gothic horror about love in times of war and peace forces us to realize, facing your own horrors sooner than later would be… advisable. Easier said than done, true, but exactly there come imaginary tales to help us sort out such questions, before having to deal with them for real.
And another thing. As perhaps the Morlocks would suspect and imagine, darkness does hide countless horrors. But it also holds the stars. It also brings together friends, lovers, comrades and fellow travelers. As Stephen King’s not-quite-horror story reveals, even in the darkest of times there might come, out of nowhere, something or somebody to heal a soul, warm a heart, remind us to look up to the skies, at least one more time. Cold and fear don’t only sharpen imagination, but they also give us a push to look for someone to share a camp fire with. They force us to break through the all-too-modern boundaries of self-imposed, anxious or just too comfortable loneliness.
In many ways, dark imagination keeps us on the good paths. But sometimes, the monsters are real, and they don’t always come with obvious fangs and claws. As Rich Larson’s dark scifi reminds us, sometimes survival depends on keeping our eyes open, our ears alert and our minds a little paranoid. Dark literature has that role, too: to startle us, keep us on our toes, scare us into not becoming Eloi. Remind us that no amount of comfort and civilization is for granted and forever and we must still beware, and confront, true evilness.
And last, but not least, there is one more side to the dark stories. All of us, except the saints maybe, have a Fenrir inside. A chained, ravenous beast that feasts on anger. Of one kind or another, for one reason or another, against one perceived enemy or another. It doesn’t matter, the hunger is there anyway.
Maybe the Fenrir in some of us also craves chaos, mayhem, revenge, a war path. Not any of those reading (or writing) this, of course. Just… some other people. Well, that Fenrir can, must and is fed with stories of darkness – and catharsis does work. It does keep us, ahem, them, as sane, functional and non-Joker-avenging members of an inherently imperfect society. And that is, perhaps, at least as good a reason as all the others above to brave up and read the scary stories.
So, fear not. Or, better yet, fear up, but face it and join the nightshift gang: Marian Coman will tell us about barbarian betrayal and death; Flavius Ardelean about love and hurt beyond life; Cătălina Fometici about lust and blood temptations; Cristian Vicol about the sacrifices needed for the end of winter; Mihai Alexandru Dincă about the dangers of surviving behind enemy lines; Robert Gion about temptation, loss and an unwelcome reunion; Daniel Timariu about the horrors of too orderly a world and yours truly about those of too disorderly a world.
On the non-fiction side, beside the excellent book reviews from Alex Lamba, Daniel Timariu, Flavius Ardelean, Lucian Dragoș Bogdan & Teodora Matei (also film/tv series reviews from Daniel Timariu), we’ll talk with Marian Coman & Alex Voicescu about publishing darkness, Ciprian Baciu will „corrupt” us into the Warhammer dark universe, Marius Gordan & Răzvan Zamfirescu will play dark on PC and consoles, Cristian Vicol will graphically walk us through Gotham City & the supererou.ro guys through their comics worlds, Florin Stanciu will sneak us behind the scenes of dishonorable science and the entire G42 team (and our guests) will suggest some dark books to read (link here). Also, all kinds of novel excerpts, from: Stephen King, Joe Hill, Andrei Mazilu, Teodora Matei & Lucian Dragoș Bogdan!
Welcome to the darkness. Let’s descend.