Lemony Snicket Talks About "The Dark"

He and illustrator Jon Klassen shed light on their new picture book.
Regan McMahon Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two Categories: Reading, We Recommend
Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two

Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), author of A Series of Unfortunate Events and more, teamed up with Caldecott-winning author-illustrator Jon Klassen (This Is Not My Hat) for the clever new picture book The Dark, about a little boy conquering his fear of the dark. We caught up with them for an email interview.

What was the inspiration for The Dark?

Jon Klassen: I liked the idea that the dark was only defined by the space where light wasn't. This is mainly because I don't like designing characters very much, so a book based around not having to do that was very attractive.

Lemony Snicket: The inspiration came from a drawing of Mr. Klassen's, so one can either believe that Mr. Klassen created the entire book himself and has been brutally taken advantage of (this is Mr. Klassen's belief) or that Mr. Klassen's haphazard, raggedy sketch was saved and ennobled by the author (this is everyone else's).

Were you afraid of the dark when you were a kid?

JK: We had a smoke detector right outside my bedroom door in the hallway, and I would sleep with the door open sometimes, and I would wake up in the night and forget the door was open, and this red blinking light from the smoke detector would be floating in dark above me, and I was scared of whatever I imagined that light to be. It was usually something's eye. 

LS: Then, as now, I was not afraid of the dark per se, but of certain things that might be lurking there.

Is Daniel Handler's kid afraid of the dark?

LS: Otto Handler hereby states that he is afraid of heights and nothing else. His parents offer no comment at this time.

What are you hoping kids will get out of the book?

JL: I think mainly the lesson is to make sure to go wandering down to your basement at night and rifle through old furniture. 

LS: A sense that a fear of the dark is likely a fear of mortality, of the great yawning chasm that awaits us not only every evening but at the twilight of our lives that approaches closer and closer with each passing moment, and -- oh look! -- it's almost bedtime.

What are you hoping parents will get out of it?

JK: They will know where to look for their children when they go wandering at night.

LS: The same thing as kids, except they get to stay up a little later.

What were your favorite books as a kid that were partly scary but not too scary?

JK: I had a book of stories by Benjamin Elkin called The Big Jump, and there was a story about a boy who got a sack that would give him anything he wished for, and he ended up having to get in the sack himself and wish himself into a Bad King's castle to get back a stolen puppy, and the wishing sack put him right on the Bad King's giant bed where he was sleeping, and the whole scenario was terrifying. The drawings weren't all that scary, but man. 

LS: That terrifying dark-blue page in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: "Look what we found/ in the park/ in the dark./ We will take him home./ We will call him Clark./ He will live at our house./ He will grow and grow./ Will our mother like this?/ We don't know." It invokes a shudder that is either revulsion or excitement or both.

Both of you always have a sly twist (or many twists) in your picture books. Are you confident that even 4-year-olds can handle stories that are a little complex or offbeat?

JK: For the younger ones, it's nice when a story has a visual ending as well as in the narration, and for this book that ending is simply contrasting Laszlo from the first page to the last page. He's in the same room doing the same things at the same time of day, but now he's relaxed and not preoccupied with it, and I think even young kids will get that. I also hope a few of them will pick up on some of our more politically charged themes regarding deficit reduction that are scattered throughout the book. 

LS: Four-year-olds of my acquaintance are the most complex and/or offbeat in my social set. They tend to be very interested, for instance, in mouse ballerinas or talking trains, while their parents are busy discussing the latest iPhone apps. Bring me a gimlet, will you? I'm over by the swing set.

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About Regan McMahon

Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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