There are not many places in this world that make me afraid, but hospitals do. For reasons.
Fear is a curious, tight thing. That panic that burns and grows in your throat, that pressure behind your eyes, that inability to form the words that you know you have to say. The way that it seems that only you, only you is caught inside this pot of pure darkness, and the way it seems that you can’t even touch the world to re-root yourself in it.
Fear is the thing that comes for us all at some point in our life. Whether it’s fear of the dark, that shadow on your window, that unknown person on the bus, that dog with it’s jaws unfolded, it comes. Fear doesn’t stop. It hits, sharp, sharp, sharp.
And it changes. It shapes, and it shifts, and it becomes something new when you least expect it.
To sweepingly generalise, in children’s literature I feel like we’re taught to manage it. Taught that it’s okay to be scared and here’s how to do deal with it. Problem. Solved. Fear. Gone. Darkness. Managed. We preserve and we protect. We fight for the right of the ‘innocent’ to remain innocent. For the Famous Five to find the baddie and sort it out.
But then, what do we do as individuals when the darkness comes in our real life? When the fear and the shadows and the pain kicks in? Books for sadness, for pain, exist (I love you Michael Rosen btw) and I’m so massively proud of those that do. They exist to help fill in the gaps, the moment where life shatters and needs to be rebuilt. We trust books with every other moment in our lives but I stood in a bookshop earlier today and wondered about those books that pick us up when we’re down – and why they don’t exist in children’s literature so much.
So I wrote about it because, as ever, I find clarity in words and in putting down my thoughts on paper. I don’t think I’ve reached a conclusion, but I’ve started to unknot some thoughts inside my head. And I think those thoughts are related to things like that sick-lit article from the DM, and after attending a talk on the Narnia series, hearing a question on why write books of this complexity for children? And it’s also related to the whole ‘misery memoir’ genre greatly.
Is this then a form of societal censorship? Mediation? An ideological reflection of the genre? Or do kids not want to be sad in their books? Are books for excitement? For escapism? Am I writing this from the perspective of an adult reader of children’s literature as opposed to that of a child? Is it commercial – would these books not sell? Or is it more complex … is sadness a result of love? You love, and then you lose. Is it that the books for grief, for bereavement, are out there but are simply – hidden?
(Can you tell I’m having a scholarly kick? Here’s your congratulatory Pikachu for putting up with it).