laszlo and the dark

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Nineteen: The Dark

by Lemony Snicket, illus by Jon Klassen

Little, Brown & Co. 2013.

When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.–Nietzsche


“Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark is not afraid of Laszlo.”*

Seriously, how chilling is that? And I didn’t even have to use the Vincent Price voice to excite goosebumps.

“Laszlo lives in a house. The dark lives in the basement.”*

If only it would stay there. But of course, it won’t, because we’d rather be frightened than bored.

“One night, the dark comes upstairs to Laszlo’s room, and Laszlo goes down to the basement.”*

The hunter has just become the hunted–okay, so not really. It’s more like Laszlo is being carried off to his doom.

“This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.”*

The *jacket copy reads like dark chocolate. Too bad the daughter is thirteen and not three, because this could have been really fun to read together. She wasn’t as macabre when she was three–as macabre.

Imagining the dark as this living breathing thing that lurks is lovely.  It  is Laszlo’s fellow inmate of a big sparsely furnished house. And it speaks. This sort of schizophrenia not only plausible, but acceptable in picture books. Of course, Laszlo speaks to the dark first.

dark3 (1)

“Laszlo would peek at the dark every morning [which always retreats to the basement by then]. ‘Hi,’ he would say. ‘Hi, dark.'”

It’s cute, because Laszlo acts as if the dark comes to visit him because he wouldn’t visit it’s room; as if the dark were lonely, instead of each of them minding in-house boundaries. Which they are. But maybe, too, the dark is only trying to be just as thoughtful when it visits Laszlo. After all, who else seems to know what you are looking for when all the room goes dark–which is what happens before the dark’s voice lures Laszlo from his bed.


And really, how can you enjoy the light without the dark? The question of one needing the other for something is a clever way to go in this picture book about being afraid. Laszlo’s fears needed the dark, until he doesn’t any longer. Until he needs the dark [in order] to have light.

Klassen’s illustrations add a significant coherence to the story. The illuminated spaces are carved out by the dark. Even the text can be read because of the dark, because we are reading in the dark… The dark gives things shape just as the light in the more lit spaces emphasize shadow.

“Mr. Klassen’s genius is entirely accidental. He has no idea what he’s doing. Often he does something good, but it’s purely by chance.” Daniel Handler in a Kirkus interview. There is something to a well-honed instinct and Klassen’s previous works recommend him a gift for timing and placement and color values. Handler is quite good with his sense of story as well.


The Dark is something you are going to want to experience for yourself.


read Jenny Brown’s amusing interview for Kirkus here, in which she actually asks Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) “Would you say that, over time, you have become more compassionate?”

{images belong to Jon Klassen}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

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