The search for meaning, or enlightenment, may lead us down many paths, toward foggy shores, a desert, or to a mountaintop. It's a pursuit fraught with questions, and sometimes no forthcoming answers, but we always begin in the dark, searching for the light to shine on our path through life.
Someone once asked me, "Why do you write such dark stories?" in reference to my Noir thrillers, particularly my Shadow series which can have some evil incidents in the plots. The answer may be simple, but it still is very complex. It has to do with man's psyche, his attraction to the mystical, the metaphysical, and to religion. Being a Catholic theologian, a former teacher of the God's mysteries, I write for the searcher, the one who wants their stories to carry them into a place where they might learn something about themselves and the world.
From the moment we are born, we are ferried toward the shores of Death, but our minds are attuned toward living our life to the fullest, to hang on with all our strength. We not only know this consciously when confronted with an illness or an accident or when someone we know dies, but that thought is always there on a subconscious level. We have a natural fear of death, to fight it off for as long as we possibly can, so life fills our daily thoughts. We might believe that our pursuit of happiness leads us toward the light, yet often times, our pursuits can make us feel depressed, unfulfilled, and even lost. But can the darkness, black subjects, shadows, lead us toward the light, give us a deeper explanation of who we are, and why we are here? Can horror and death teach us about light, and the sacred? My answer is yes.
"Taken in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries." Carl Jung, The Integration of the Personality.
My Shadow Series is based on one of Carl Jung's archetypes, the Shadow Archetype which Jung's quote refers to. I liked the metaphor of shadows, which abound in noir films and stories, and based my series on the idea of taking ten years of a couple's life where they uncover secrets about the heroine's parents, her past, and where she learns a great deal about her husband and partner in their private investigation firm, including herself. As they investigate various crimes, they are really discovering themselves, learning who they truly are, and what they must ultimately face; their darker half, the implacability of death. Just as we all do, they had compartmentalised themselves, but my heroine created such claustrophobic boxes to live in, those square walls affected everyone else around her. Together, she and her husband gather the strength to face the perils of life, to allow parts of their personality to flourish, when before they had been suppressed by others.
According to Jung, in order to be fully integrated, the Shadow Archetype must face negative aspects of their personae, their animal nature, much like the Hyde personality inside Dr. Jekyll. It is within this complexity that some have difficulty in facing that other half of themselves. The psychological terror of confronting one's darker side sends many to a psychiatrist, or in a minor sense, a psychologist, or to a church, or to God. Yet, if we knew the freedom we would experience by facing it, we could exorcise it, and realise that we are more than just a good or bad person, but that we have darker proclivities we must wrestle with, what Saint Paul called his thorn in his side. Our black side is not separate from us, but wholly a part of us. As Jekyll is dying, he is forced to admit that Hyde had always been there and it wasn't just the potion that allowed him to come out. Jekyll was not the angel to Hyde's devil, he had harboured all those evil thoughts all along.
By falsely believing he was two, Jekyll and Hyde, instead that he was one, he literally set loose those powerful forces within himself that had longed to experience an unrestricted life. As Jung would say, he ignored that dark half, giving it the space it needed to begin to grow. Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, once likened Hyde to a hydatid, which in zoology is a sac of limpid water containing tapeworms. He says Jekyll and Hyde are of Scandinavian origin. Jekyll is from Jokulle meaning an icicle, and Hyde comes from the Danish word for hide or haven. Instead of integrating the two to allow the good half to control the bad, to feed the good, he gave sustenance to Hyde, a potion to enable him to grow. In that separation, Hyde gained control, took over, killing the Jekyll side who became too impotent to fight Hyde because he was not that good after all, but an icicle.
Your choice may be to either swing on that saurian tail and play games with it, as Dr. Jekyll did, or face it. Jung, of course, was more interested in facing our darker half in a psychological coup. The religious life asks its believers to do the same, to face that darker half in order to integrate our lives, and not be impotent in the face of our dark desires.
In my stories, I take it one step further, to delve into the mystical mysteries of life. Light kills darkness, erases it, and removes shadows. My stories are not just the cold reality of facing the dark side, but the search for the divine, for light. Even with the implacability of Death hanging over us, to search for the divine is a search for meaning, to understand our soul, which are both immortal. Jung's reference to the saurian tail is the cadeusus, the symbol held up by Moses to prevent the serpents bite from killing the Hebrew people. It was the medicine that saved, the serpents bite that did not kill, but revealed a hidden truth. In a sense, by giving my characters a touch of the mystic, I raise that banner, that symbol to elevate rather than send a reader toward an abyss where they might never return. Yes, darkness can lead us to the light, just as the serpent's tail leads us to a greater truth of who we are.
- Chéri Vausé is the author of the Noir Mystery Thriller Shadow Series: The Night Shadow, The Touch of a Shadow, and (to be released later 2016) The Shadow that Follows Me. She is also the author of the Thriller, The Truth and Nothing but Lies, and a Gothic (to be released later 2016) The Portrait of Lilith.