“The Painted Darkness” is a short novella that walks two timelines of a boy / man named Henry who happens to be an artist. He has a traumatic experience as a child and uses his art as a way of warding off the darkness. And, of course, (since this is a horror story), that darkness may be more real than he imagined.
As a horror story, this left me wanting. So let me make an argument for a different way of looking at this book, because if you approach this as an allegory, it becomes a deceptively clever little tale.
While the idea of “the tortured artist” is a cliche unto itself, like most cliches, there’s some truth behind the theory. Henry is without a doubt the epitome of tortured artists, a man who loses himself in his hobby, not even remembering what he paints as he does so. But when he doesn’t, “the darkness” comes a-knocking. His wife puts up with his hobby, not really understanding or appreciating it or his talent, but in the end, it’s this talent that ends up saving him (and his family).
Turn “the darkness” into the void of depression, “the monster” into Henry himself when lost within its grip, and the fluidity between past and present becomes a quite accurate depiction of that state of mind. It’s only in Henry’s ability to use his talents that he is in fact exercising his demons and keeping that darkness at bay, not only from himself, but his family.
“Henry never understands exactly why his paintings are what they are, no matter how many times he tries to decipher what’s happening inside his mind. He simply paints or draws what he sees in his head, and doing so keeps his dreams sane.”
Far from perfect, but still a great little story. As a fan of Freeman’s work, I wouldn’t categorize this as one of his best, but it accomplishes what he set out to do. And to all you authors out there, keep painting, I mean writing, to keep that Darkness at bay.