Friday, April 19, 2013

At the Foot of the Stairs: The Dark by Lemony Snicket

The Dark lived in the same house as Laszlo.

But mostly it spent its time in the basement. All day long the Dark would wait in a distant corner.

Laszlo's heart sinks with the sun.  That certain slant of light over the windowsill tells him the sun is going down.  He knows what comes next.  THE DARK.

He's met the dark in small doses, in the closet and behind the shower curtain. And Laszlo has his own resources, a big flashlight to sleep with and  a small nightlight near his bed which keeps the dark away.  He even visits from the safety of the top of the cellar stairs, softly saying, "Hi. Dark."

But then one night the slender lad in blue jammies wakes up to--nothing but dark.  Quickly he pulls out his flashlight and shines it at the door of his room.  It is dark beyond that opening and he seems to hear a  hoarse voice:

The voice was as creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows and sounded very far away.

"I want to show you something," said the Dark.


Calm but clutching his flashlight in front of him, Laszlo follows all the way down the long stairs to the basement, where the voice seems to be coming from a dusty chest in the corner. He realizes he's going to have to open that long-closed drawer.

But the Dark turns out to be a bit of a pedant as he holds forth on the need for creaky roofs  and shower curtains and dim closets, all the while spinning out the suspense until the contents of that drawer are revealed, in Lemony Snicket's and Jon Klaasen's new The Dark (Little, Brown, 2013). Two promising partners for the picture book set, Snicket does a fine job of building a sense of apprehension about the dark at the foot of the stairs, and Klaasen's  classic, cool, and controlled illustrations are a perfect foil for the author's wryly lyrical text.  Luckily, there's the light at the end of the tunnel for brave little Laszlo, as he finds a mysterious cache of lighted bulbs, one of which is just the right size to restore his bedroom night light, and Laszlo lies down with a new view of the Dark as he drops off to sleep.

Anyone who is, (or has ever been) afraid of the dark will find this fanciful confrontation of that old fear downright... enlightening.

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