Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Childhood Trauma no 1

Up until about a year ago, I thought Moomins were just a figment of my early imagination. But then that book arrived in our store, and I nearly dropped it, screeching "OH GOD THEY ARE REAL!!!"

I have a very very dim memory - which I even thought was no more than a dream - of some mousy-elephantish looking creatures hiding in a house, while outside a sinister, dark creature approached, nothing more than a black lump with red fires for eyes and a mad grin and a pointy nose.
I must have been about two, and I remember I was terrified of that image, but neither my parents nor I could remember whether that was real or just a nightmare.

In subsequent years, I had serial nightmares of a similar creature I called the Worm, which regularly invaded our home, living in dark nooks and crannies, and in the land beyond the mirror. Sometimes you could see it in the mirror, a reverse landscape I was always fascinated by and wondered what it was like to be there. Mind you, this was long before I ever heard of "Through the Looking Glass".

In some of my dreams there was a cupboard near a mirror with a curtain instead of a door, and when you crawled behind that curtain, there would be a hole in the wall that would let you through into the mirror world. One time I foolishly followed that path, ending up in a mirror version of my flat, which was eerily silent and deserted... until a rustle made me jump, and when I peered into the dark corridor, I could see that this was where the Worm lived, that nameless lumpy creature. And I raced back to the hole and crept back into my own world, hoping it wouldn't follow me.

The Worm would appear in all kinds of unexpected places. On my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I would spot its long pointy nose sticking out from behind a dresser where it was trying to hide, and then it would lunge out and charge for us while I screamed "The Worm! The Worm!", running back into the lounge, where I tried to hide my family in cupboards before floating up to the ceiling myself, hoping to God it wouldn't look up.

At other times I would sit in the bathtub with my baby brother, and suddenly the floor of the tub would tilt and open up a gaping hole into which we slid, and the Worm would be down there, groping for us.

And its babies would be under my bed, screeching and poking their needle-sharp noses through the mattress (good Lord, what would Freud make of that??), into my back, giving me something that felt like seizures of terror, and I would wake and scream for my Mum and Dad.

The Worm was the single most terrifying creature of my early childhood. And I think it had its origins in the Groke... except that the Worm was infinitely more scary.

About 12 years ago, when I first met my friend Peter in Berlin at a Christmas party, he recited me this tale in his marvellous Queen's English, an excerpt from "The Moon of Gomrath", in which a dark, evil creature called the Brollachan possessed first a horse, then a little girl.

"Now the Brollachan", Peter said in his spookiest voice, with goosebumps creeping over my flesh, "had eyes and a mouth... but he has no speech, and alas... no shape!" He told me how it was blacker than black, a shadow in the night too dark to comprehend. "Somewhere near the middle... if there was a middle", he whispered, "were two red points of light."
And I realised he was talking about the Worm... it was the first time in years I had actually thought about it, and I had an invisible cold hand crawling down my spine, because Peter's story hit me square in my subconscious' nuts: "The pony turned its head and looked at Susan. Its foaming lips curled back into a grin, and the velvet was gone from the eye: in the heart of the black pupil was a red flame..."

Things like this make me wonder if there are archetypes of evil planted in our subconscious, ideas that cross cultural boundaries, because if there is a Collective Unconscious to mankind, as Jung describes it, then surely similar images representing similar ideas would pop up all over the world. The Groke (it's original name is Marran; I remembered it as Morrah) is Swedish, the Brollachan is a Scottish legend... and what about the god Kaonashi in "Spirited Away" (god, that creature always hit a nerve with me)?
That's ultimately more scary than just a single child's nightmare, no?

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