A few years ago I made the humbling discovery that I was afraid of the dark. It happened when my husband spent a few months overseas. I’m not talking phobic here, I just didn’t feel safe at night with all the lights off. I’m wondering if a number of us feel this way but are too self-conscious to say so?
A rather unscientific survey of the top “fear of” online searches in 2007 found the highest ranking were flying, intimacy, the dark, death, spiders, driving, love, god, success and being alone. While I hold a healthy respect for death, I can’t say that I find anything else on the list too unsettling (god???).
So what is it about the dark? Is this some instinctive feeling that predators might be sneaking around and we’d really prefer to be able to see what’s close to us at night? Humans don’t have particularly good nocturnal vision and our houses tend to make our surroundings even darker than a usual night. Is this simply a natural response?
Natural or not, I felt very child-like when I noticed my nervousness. I’m not really sure what I was afraid of, but it’s possible there was a near-supernatural element to my unease, as if I was afraid of experiencing something inexplicable and being confronted with a depth of fear outside the everyday – a kind of primal revelation that I can’t quite adequately describe. I suppose if you wanted to be my pop psychologist you might suggest that I’m afraid of the dark inside myself.
I consoled myself about my childish imagination with Ursula Le Guin’s statement that “the creative adult is the child who has survived.” One of the reasons that I write gothic fiction is that it is alive to me. I write it from within, to a certain degree, not with a cool detachment.
I’ve always considered the ‘dark side’ to be a source of inspiration, provided that some kind of balance is maintained. If we take the dark to stand for the unknown, the ambiguous and the threatening, then it will play a part in any fiction. I think perhaps the most moving quality of the dark is that it provides the foil to the light.
“To confront a person with their own shadow is to show them their own light.” Jung
thisgirlinmotion blogs on fear after the murder of a woman in Melbourne: http://thisgirlinmotion.com/2012/10/03/any-village-town-or-city/