Q&A with Emily Haworth-Booth, author of ‘The King Who Banned the Dark’
The King Who Banned the Dark is a thought-provoking and illuminating tale of power, rebellion, darkness and light. It tells the story of a little Prince who was afraid of the dark and decided that when he became King, he would do something about it. He would ban it.
When the King bans the dark completely, installing an artificial sun, and enforcing “anti-dark” laws, it seems like a good idea. The citizens don’t need to worry about any of the scary things that might live in the dark.
But what happens when nobody can sleep, and the citizens revolt? Will the King face his fears and turn the lights off?
We asked the author and illustrator of the book, Emily Haworth-Booth, some questions about her work and her inspiration for the book.
What was your inspiration for The King Who Banned the Dark?
Some of the earliest inspiration for making the book came from my love of drawing shadowy, dark things, and sketching outside at night-time. I wanted to think of a story that would enable me to draw these kinds of scenes and in doing so to show how beautiful the dark can be. I realised that a story about banning the dark could be a good way to show, through its absence, how important the dark is, but of course ironically that meant that a lot of the book takes place in very bright light, so in the end I didn’t get to draw quite as many ‘dark’ scenes as I wanted!
As I began to develop the story itself in more detail, I took inspiration from the political upheaval of recent years, particularly Brexit and the US elections, as well as by the current ecological crisis. It’s a classic ‘man against nature’ story, about what happens when we try to get rid of something we fear and how when we fail to embrace diversity (whether ecologically, racially or otherwise), in the end we all lose out.
The book is an investigation of the nature of power and its different incarnations: from tyranny and its accessories (such as the mis-directed power of the media and the police) to the grassroots power of the people. Although it explores dystopian possibilities, ultimately I wanted it to be a hopeful book that would empower children to understand that however small we sometimes feel individually, together we can rise up, take action and have influence.
What were you afraid of as a child?
I think I was quite a fearful child generally – definitely afraid of the dark, afraid of heights, sometimes afraid of other children (children can be quite mean to each other!) I don’t know if those fears are a symptom of having a very active imagination, or if imagination is a way of coping with fears. Probably a bit of both. Certainly my imagination helps me cope with things now. Drawing and writing stories about my fears helps me see what’s going on in my mind a bit more clearly so that my fears don’t rule me quite so much.
What are you most afraid of as an adult?
I suppose something that comes with adulthood is a greater understanding and knowledge of the world beyond one’s own, and so perhaps it’s unsurprising that some of my greatest fears now relate to the global picture; climate change, the rise of the far-right, inequality, what’s happening in politics and the world at large. It’s so easy to freeze in the face of such enormous injustices; writing and drawing about these things helps me to stay engaged when sometimes I’d rather just curl up and go to sleep. For me staying emotionally awake is the key to being able to take any action at all; to feel enough anger or sadness to want to get involved, while also staying calm enough to actually do something. Somehow we need to be able to hold in our minds simultaneously the fact of our own smallness, and the truth that many small people taking individual actions really can and do effect massive change (for better or worse). As a kind of meditation, creative work may help with this, as well as inspiring and producing specific ideas for actions to take.
Who has been an inspiration to you professionally?
The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was amazing for the way in which she used her artistic talents to support the suffragette movement and in doing so created one of the most beautiful and graphically coherent social movements of all time, which undoubtedly played a huge part in its success. She had enormous integrity and was a massive believer in social justice beyond the remit of the women’s suffrage movement. Not everyone knows that she spent much of her career working on behalf of East London’s poor.
Which illustrators or artists, past or present, do you admire most?
Favourite children’s authors and books from my own childhood are Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Two Bad Mice), Janet and Allan Ahlberg (The Jolly Postman) and Roald Dahl (The Twits). Some of my favourite contemporary writers as an adult are Maggie Nelson and Deborah Levy, and the American comedian Mindy Kaling. In graphic novels I love the work of Chris Ware, Marjane Satrapi, Judith Vanistendael. And in contemporary children’s book illustration I adore what Beatrice Alemagna, Violeta Lopiz, Kitty Crowther and Isabelle Arsenault are doing.
The King Who Banned the Dark is available from all good book retailers now.