A Walk in the Dark: a Critical Exploration of Fear and Darkness in Children's Books

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis


This exploration aims to discuss dark themes within children's literature, fear as felt and shown by the protagonist and the reader's response to these fears and dark material. Darkness can be defined as taking the form of darkness itself, dark villains and dark themes, whereas fear is defined as feeling anxious, uneasy or frightened. These two sentiments interact and transact with each other within each story. The text also sets out to explore how fear and darkness can be used to help children appreciate their own capacity to understand human emotions within themselves and others.
A classic literary approach is employed to examine four books for children which all include fear and darkness. One of the selected texts, The Dark, by Lemony Snicket is a picture book whereas the other three texts: The Witches by Roald Dahl; Coraline, by Neil Gaiman and A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, are illustrated.
Readers can vicariously experience a variety of frightening villains and themes without feeling a real threat to their safety. They can succumb to the physical, emotional and psychological feelings and reactions to which fear exposes them, however in separating fiction from real life, these reactions should not be debilitating. Authors employ a range of genres through which to create fear within their stories including humour, the gothic and the uncanny. Fears in children's literature can pertain to real-life circumstance and also supernatural, fantastical creatures and events. A common theme when discussing children's fears is related to growing up and becoming independent. By reading about fear and darkness in literature, children can analyse these feelings within themselves and begin to train their minds in understanding others and showing empathy.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
  • Davis, Professor Bob, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Aug 2016
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • childrens education
  • childrens books
  • fear


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