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February 4th, 2022
There and Back Again: The Archetype of Spooky in a Land of Not-So-Far Away
"Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Indeed, it is the telling of gruesome, or at least the fear of it, that draws the ear and eye
more alert. It's an ingrained human trait, you know; an animal trait and a tool of learning, so
that we may learn and remember what not to do, what to look out for, what works, and
what to avoid. Our ancestors wanted to make sure future generations remembered
these things as well, so the horrors were retold as amusements by way of fairy tales and
repackaged and repurposed by religion.
These stories become talismans -wards against perceived threats and empowered
by determination, intellect, strength, and courage.
We are creatures of limitless curiosity, intent, and possibility, so it is no wonder -to me at
least- that in times of great turmoil, bad news stories and themes of horror would trend
more commonly, religion would once again use it as a means to gather its "sheep", and
others would seek out magic. We already know of kindness or familiarity, so those things
don't draw our attention as much as the bump in the night. We want to keep safe the
people and things in which we find comfort and prepare ourselves to protect the ones
we love by focusing on what's lurking in the shadows.
Sometimes, this protection arises as violence, ignorance, and a desire to hold tight to old
things...even if those things aren't good for us. It manifests as anxiety, especially when
the night is long and dark. We look for comforts and familiarity in those dark places,
which is why it's of no coincidence that during these times of transition, some desire to
control and manipulate. Some cry wolf, while others take on the role of such; Each vying for
the attention of those within ear or eyeshot. One seeks to deceive us, by exploiting our
confusion and fear; the other seeks to scare us into submission. Both, acts of manipulation.
Caution and curiosity fight within our consciousness. One beckons us to move further down
the woodland path, into the dark, less traveled, and unknown places of the enchanted
forest, seeking out new treasures and discoveries that may help us out in times of
distress, or to bring back a bit of comfort. The other begs us to stay still; checking the locks on
all of the doors and windows. It checks in the closet and under the bed, telling stories of
horror so that others dare not rile the wolves, or draw attention to the ill-prepared.
Sometimes, we do find ourselves lost in the woods. Hearing the wind howl and not being
able to tell the difference between what is truly the wind, or the wolf at a distance.
This may cause us to run recklessly forward, towards some form of light, some kind of familiar
face...some remnant of sanity, from the situations we find ourselves in.
"I set dinner on the dining room sideboard at six. Breakfast is ready at nine. I don't stay after dinner. Not after it begins to get dark. We live in town, nine miles, so there won't be anyone around if you need help. We couldn't even hear you. No one could. No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark." -Ms. Dudley, The Haunting, 1999.
After all, it is our greatest fear...to be alone...in the dark.
We learn about ourselves through our adversity, but we've also learned when not to take
unnecessary risks. We got good at it too.
We teach each other through our stories, be they good and uplifting or bad and spooky scary.
We let each other know that we are human, together -despite our differences- with the
same basic fears and anxieties and striving for the same basic protections and comforts.
We speak to each other through storytelling, just like we always have; albeit nowadays,
those stories are not just by mouth or between the covers of a book, but in movies and other media.
We relate to the characters in the stories and see the archetypes clearly reinvent themselves
through their retelling...and whether you've noticed or not, be sure that the most retold
stories there are, is that of Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel.
Frequently, these stories are smashed together into one concept: a curious soul wanders
into the unknown and unfamiliar. Courageous at first, but broken down by their own
fears, they must fight with the villain within to free themselves.
What charms have we today? What needful thing?
Basket of goodies for Grama? Got some nice frosted cakes in there.
House made of cake and candy? Mmm, hungry? Surely, you must be. Come inside.
Over and over...food and shelter, being the objective.
It's the story of us and what we fear most. We want to know where the "big bad" is, so we
aren't as naive as Little Red's Grama, or so we don't get as lost as Hansel and Gretel.
We need to feel as though we are prepared for the worst, to avoid the pitfalls and the
monsters of lore so we leave ourselves bread crumbs along the path. Each time we choose to
go on an adventure, we make sure to add something to our backpack: a water-proof map,
more batteries for the flashlight, better snacks.
But here we are as a society, running around the forest in circles, taking measures and notes
and marking trees with ribbons, only to run for 15 hours, just to come back to the
same place...finding Heather Donohue snot-nosed and crying, and the Blair Witch is
leaving stick figures and rock piles outside of our tent...again.
Just as we get better about learning our terrain and how to navigate within it, the "big bad" is
also learning; coming up with new tactics and new ways to make us more vulnerable.
Why? Because it's a conniving, sneaky, self-serving, illustriously pervasive bastard who
finds us hella tastier than the rabbit down the way. Our usefulness is needed, so while
we're distracted by the wind, the baddies are scooping up our bread crumbs.
We stay in a state of confusion because we can't seem to find our way out of the goddamn woods
and begin to blame each other for it; sometimes, even blaming ourselves.
Like any of the characters in our stories, whether it's Little Red, Heather Donahue, Hansel &
Gretel, Bilbo Baggins, or Eleanor in a house on a haunted hill...they (we) just want to go
home -to a place of family, familiarity, and comfort.
Every character is us, searching for "Bag End".
To the Future Lost
by Arijah Ankh Khalid-Zyn
"this is the well, the portal, the hatch.
with need and be willing, the heart be the latch.
this is the entry, the gate and the door.
from way in the distant, we've heard your emplore.
here be the root, the moon and the raven.
soft be the landing; be the burden unladen."
So how do we avoid getting lost as we travel through the dark forest?
By realizing that we are...the forest itself. It is within us that live the
metaphors, "big bads", shadows, and lurking fears.
Not the other way around.
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