A couple of days ago, I penned a post about light and darkness, and the enduring, almost super-conscious symbolism contained within the dichotomy.
In short: Light = life, dark = death.
And we see it play out a thousand different ways in a thousand different tales:
The universe explodes forth out of darkness, and here, in our infinitesimal corner of a speck of a galaxy, a slow-burning star provides the heat and light necessary for life to take over our planet.
Cavemen huddle around a dwindling fire, both for the heat it provides and the fact that it keeps the predators away.
The lights go out in the house when you’re all alone, and that’s when the monsters (demons, ghosts, psycho killers) strike.
Macbeth: “Out, out, brief candle!”
And I riffed for a little while on just how ubiquitous the dichotomy is, and how universally recognizable it is, and I even fielded some ways in which I’m going to consciously work the idea into the books I’m working on.
And that got me thinking.
Can you reverse it?
I’ve been pondering over the last day or two on this idea: can you invent a storyworld in which darkness represents life, and light represents death? Okay, maybe you can do it, but you can technically do anything in a story: reverse gravity just for kicks, invent an alien race who, for fun, remove their genitalia and fling them at each other, cozy up to all sorts of talking flora and fauna. But those are concepts totally alien to us. They don’t have to compete with a preconceived notion already extant in our head; they simply have to carve out their own little weird space in our thinkparts.
The fact is, symbols mean only what we agree they mean. But light and dark are symbols that have been around and understood since before there was literature. Huddle up around the fire at night, walk during the day, and your odds of survival go up. Go wandering in the darkness, and sabre-tooth tigers will make kibble out of you.
Can you reverse such a powerful, subconscious symbol, even for the space of a single story, in the mind of your audience?
I can’t be the only person who’s had this idea. I’m sure it’s been done in films or books before, but all of a sudden my mind is racing like a jackrabbit on Jolt cola.
Maybe aliens come down and suck all the juice out of the Earth’s power grid, causing their ships and their bio-suits to glow. As long as we stay huddled in the dark, they leave us alone, but if you turn the lights on…
Or maybe there’s some long-forgotten beast slumbering beneath the earth, dug up by glory-seeking archaeologists. At first, it just sits there, inert and unmoving, since they dug it up at night. But the moment daylight strikes its ancient hide…
Or maybe I’m thinking too close to home. Maybe it’s the far-flung future, and we’ve found a perfect planet to colonize (you know, since we’ve either a: trashed the earth or b: a wandering asteroid has wiped it out or c: the sun burnt out and left the earth frozen… pick your apocalypse, we have a neo-earth situation here), except that it emits a particularly nasty brand of radiation, so that you can’t go out in the day lest you be burnt to a crisp…
Man, I dunno. Each one sounds dumber than the next, and I immediately start poking holes in those ideas. (Do the aliens only live on electric power? Is it just one monster, and is it only sunlight? What about indoor lights on the neo-earth, surely we still need light to see indoors…) Which brings me back to the question: can it really work?
Can a story teller create a world where darkness brings the life and the safety, and the light brings with it death and fear?
If you know of a story like this, I’d love to hear about it.