Damien Black

Old Nick's Letters

Welcome to Old Nick's Letters, a series of blogs and occasional videos compiled by the writer whenever he feels the constellations are propitious.

Channelling the dark side: fantasy, mythology and therapy

For me, writing is therapy. When I can’t write, I’m generally in a bad way. When I can, all is well. OK, it’s not as simple as that but you get the idea…

Writing is essentially escapist and fantasy is a particularly escapist genre. That’s not to say it isn’t in touch with reality though. If, like me, you believe that the fantasy genre is the latter-day expression of mythology then it’s not hard to see why: all facets of the human condition are writ large across the pages of a good fantasy novel.

But for me personally there’s more to it than that. To paraphrase Joseph Conrad, I think there is a monster inside each and every one of us. Beneath the thin veneer of civilised (wo)man there lies something reptillian, spiritually naked and savage. I look at some of my thought processes and desires and frankly, the civilised man is appalled and terrified.

Put simply, I have my demons and my ghosts, and the only way I know how to keep them at bay is by channelling them onto the page. It’s not a cure; it’s a reprieve. Hence, as I said at the beginning of this article, when I can’t write, it generally means I’m not in a good place.

Other fantasts must speak for themselves, but this is why my own brand of the genre always has something dark about it, lurking in corners that nobody wants to peer into. Tolkien once remarked that his work was fundamentally about death, and perhaps this is the darkest corner of all, one to which all mortal men are doomed to be pushed into eventually. No exceptions.

One of the things writing dark fantasy enables me to do is to make a kind of truce with the darker side, to revel in it without actually hurting anyone, not least of all myself. This is why simply keeping busy is not enough: an artist must have a space in which his or her demons can express themselves, and for me this is writing. This is also why for me the experience of writing is at its best when it is ego-less; when I am not concerning myself with how my work will be received, or whether it will be received at all.

When it exists for me in this purest of forms, writing is like a tonic that soothes a troubled mind. When the ego intrudes, it taints the experience, and the flow is disrupted. The great psychoanalyst Jung among others posited that as human beings we need myths to balance out our psyches, without which neuroses must inevitably arise… And as stated above, for me, fantasy is mythology. Therefore writing it becomes a kind of therapy, a very enjoyable one when at its best.

Do any other fantasts have the same or similar experiences of writing? Or other genre writers for that matter? I’d be interested to know… Get in touch if you feel like it and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading this and may the muse be with you, always!

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