As nominally diurnal creatures, we are made for the sunlight. We live in a place of daylight activities. Our eyes are made for the sunlit, work-a-day world, our instincts telling us to sleep at night to take shelter from the dark. It’s the way it is. Some of us have adapted to behave otherwise, but the vast majority of us crave this schedule. We all hope for puppies, love and and other good and happy things in our lives.
This might be what the allure of darkness stems from, particularly in our fiction. While we hope for the good in our lives, we seem wired to be fascinated by the tragedy – especially when it happens to someone else. Even our humor carries this truth, because in the best jokes it obvious to see the funniest ones are the ones where someone gets it good in the end.
As long as we’ve known the natural order, our higher brains have challenged us to defy good, to explore its dark boundaries, or – god forbid – invite that aberrant darkness into us. There are some things that are just easier to do when it’s dark outside. Sneaking a kiss with a lover. Peeking into a room we are not meant to see into. Smashing a window or lighting a fire. Then there are the less salubrious activities, transcending the small, petty crimes we perform in cover of night: theft, murder or other things so unspeakable we dare not speak of them in the light.
It’s the dark end of the street. The thrill and terror of the illicit and the unknown. Most of us don’t want any of that in our lives for the most part – though there are likely some strange folk who do whom we typically seek to avoid – and, as far as I can tell, I’m pretty sure it explains a lot of the stories we tell. If one looks at most of the stories humans have passed on in our short time on this planet, the keen observer will note that most of these stories involve the darker elements. Murder, conquest, blood shed, deals with things that crawl from dark places and all that these forces entail. Heroes of light come to defeat them, or at least confront them. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. But the struggle is always there. And, because it’s all a story, it’s easy to delve and then wash your sooty hands clean. It’s all just a story.
I tend to set my stories in places like the nameless city in Fincher’s Se7en, or the cold, diseased city of Snowtown in Warren Ellis’ Fell. It’s not a nice place, and it’s full of people who will shiv you for a dollar – maybe less. It has blood in the gutters and scum on the corner, and the cops – when not wholly absent – are worse than the criminals they purportedly root out. It’s not because I like these places or that I would ever dream of staying in a place like any of the fictional cities above. It’s because this is where drama happens. Stories of bleak heroes and scarlet lipped monsters abound here. They fester in dark corners and are hunted by desperate men and women who find themselves being pulled into the murky depths they fight against. Those who truly do crusade against the tide of corruption and filth stand in even sharper contrast as well. Nothing shines brighter than a hero in the pits of some urban hellhole fighting to make him as wretched as everyone else around him.
And who wants an easy win? The darkness gives us more challenge than we will will ever need in our fictional pursuits. It’s why little kids tend towards Superman and older souls take on the mantle of the Batman. Superman, crusader of light is too simple, too one-dimensional for most older palates (though, he’s still my favorite Superhero despite this criticism). Batman has issues. His parents were murdered in front of him and he’s just a man. He may be a man with bulletproof armor, gadgets, a pimp ride and kung fu at his disposal – but still just a man. And a damaged one at that. If someone like that can still make a go of it and keep his shit together, people tune in twice as hard. People love an underdog. Unless you’re a Yankee’s fan, in which case you’re probably not human anyway.
Writing the Many Labors of Bob tied into it in ways I did not expect it to. For the first few chapters it has a merry hi-jinks kind of aspect to it. It’s all mischief, no one’s getting hurt. But, once you hit the second act, it becomes apparent that the piper must be paid. And sometimes, you have to pay him in blood.
I’m lining up my next cast of dark children though, even as we speak. In the cities of bone, ancient evils stir and plot, mortal and inhuman alike manipulated across thousands of years of false history. Because ultimately, I cannot truly leave the shadows for too long. Not when it comes to fiction. Because drama doesn’t come from good decisions, and heroism isn’t born of utopia.
I’ll see you through the next struggle, kids. Until next time.