It’s no surprise that Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. There is no one who taps into the darker realms of the subconscious quite like he does. For this reason, I was mesmerized when I read an article from Brain Pickings talking about Gaiman’s reimagining of Hansel and Gretel. It is a dark tale, to say the least, and in the video clip that is embedded into the post (which I encourage you to watch), Gaiman points out that reading the story as a kid was the first time he realized that people are meat and that some people could eat you. It was a terrifying realization which I believe influenced his artistic direction.
Gaiman points out that being exposed to the darkness is important for young people, because ultimately it will empower them to face the darker aspects of life when confronted by them.
I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can — but you have to know that.
I recently watched “Alien” with my daughter, and while she was scared, she saw that people can be resourceful when confronted with something terrifying, and if they remain calm and keep their wits, they can overcome that which terrifies them. It is an important lesson. My wife questioned why we would watch something that was so scary. Gaiman answers the question much more eloquently than I ever could.
I encourage you to read the article on Brain Pickings. It is short and also includes stunning illustrations from the book, done by Italian graphic artist Lorenzo Mattotti. Also watch the short video that is near the end of the article, which has Gaiman and Art Spiegleman discussing the importance of dark tales.
My reading list just got one book longer!