Apparently there’s a phase in publishing right now for ‘up-lit’ with gentle tension and happy endings. No more sustained peril and yet another beautiful young woman lying dead somewhere. Movie makers are also getting in on the act and are looking for the next big Rom Com (remember those?). Given the state of the world right now it stands to reason that we’re looking for light in our imagined worlds. Art can speak and these days we simply want it to say “It’s all going to be okay in the end.”
But I’ve come to realise that in books and movies I lean more towards darkness than light. A close friend pointed this out a while back and I laughed it off but it got me thinking. I’ve tried reading books that fall into the ‘cheer up’ category and I can’t finish them. I even struggle to write about happy things, choosing instead in a recent short story to bring a scary group of crows onto the scene who ended up chasing a pet dog. What’s going on?
It’s no surprise that children’s fairy tales are so dark. The brothers Grimm certainly knew how to teach young minds about danger, fear, identity and all things in between. I may have spent too many childhood hours within the pages of my ladybird books to emerge as an adult with any inkling of lightheartedness. I found a cloud and sat happily under it.
For a piece of art to speak to us, we need to connect with it. It might result in confusion or boredom or even transcendence (if you’re lucky) but something happens. Maybe for each of us this connection looks different. Laughing at comedy? Crying at romance? Shivering at horror? All good. The trick is to find your zone and embrace it. Seek it out even, because the feelings of catharsis and closure that happen within fictional or artistic worlds are truly special. There’s really nothing like it when you close the last page of a good book or watch the credits roll after an engrossing TV show. We’ve disappeared for a while, lived vicariously with dragons or monsters or friends or foes, and lived to tell the tale.
Life is not so clean. It’s messy: worries trundle on, uncertainty continues, bad people don’t get their comeuppance. So the tragi-comic land is one we need right now. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Light or dark, bring it on. Art is speaking and even if just for a while, we are listening.