Sometimes it’s Best to Leave it to Your Imagination

Imagination, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘the faculty or action of producing ideas, especially images, of what is not present or has not been experienced’.

Imagination is such a wonderful thing. It allows us to create, to dream, to fantasise and, best of all, it allows us to scare ourselves silly.

My imagination is a dark and dangerous tool, dear reader. It leads me down paths I am still unsure you are ready to experience. To open the iron door into the bowels of my mind is to release something that I cannot ever take back. For once the darkness is released, it will take over; it will consume; it will pervade your senses and, for some of you, it will be too much.

I could, instead, keep the door closed and remain on this side, locked in the dungeon; a place with its own darkness and foreboding; but a place more amenable to your sensibilities. The dilemma then, for a dilemma is what I have, is whether to be true – to myself, to my imagination and to you.

Imagination can open up a whole new world of possibility if you let it. Yet many people choose not to. Too caught up in the drudgery and grind of everyday life, their imagination is left to rot; to wither and die; to shrivel and become desiccated until, one day, there is nothing left.

Yet, what are we without our imagination? I tender that we are nothing, for it is imagination, or the depth of it, that dictates who we are and which path we will choose to follow. Everyone’s imagination is different, creating a unique viewpoint on any given scenario. In light of this, dear reader, allow me to present you with a scene:

‘The air is cool and crisp; the season on the cusp of winter. The path, lithe and snakelike, stretches before me, disappearing over the ridge in the terrain. All around me the flora is sleeping; nestled in the warmth of the earth, awaiting the first signs of spring, when it will burst forth and bathe these flatlands in a rainbow of colour.’

What does your imagination conjure as you read? Hold that thought; that image. I will now add to the scene:

‘The moon, full and bright in the naked sky, casts an eerie glow across the barren moorland. I shiver. Shadows dance in the distance, teasing my vision. I stop and listen. Nothing breaks the silence; nothing but my staccato breathing. I start moving again, my footsteps crunching on the frozen ground.’

How is your imagination doing? Is the image changing? Is your body responding to what you are reading? Allow me to continue:

‘A sheen of sweat spreads across my skin and the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. I stop again, my breath catching. Behind me I hear the frost crackle; ragged breathing echoes through the night air; and a fetid stench pervades my nostrils. I spin around, my heart hammering in my chest………’

Now, where has your imagination taken you? Has your initial view changed as each new passage has been added? Or, like me, did your imagination run rampant from the outset?

I’m not going to tell you who or what is behind my protagonist because what my mind, or more accurately what my imagination, has created may be far different from yours.

A lot of the time it is perfectly fine to show us what is there. After all, what would ‘The Walking Dead’ be if we didn’t see the zombies; what would ‘Dracula’ be without seeing a vampire; and what would ‘Dog Soldiers’ be without seeing the werewolves? These are known villains, if you will; the difference in their image being down to the film-maker and how s/he wants to portray them on screen. At a base level, they are familiar to us – a zombie will always be decaying, have a vacant expression and eat flesh; a vampire will always have fangs, be immortal and drink blood; and a werewolf will always metamorphose, have a need to kill and be attuned to the lunar cycle. Different writers/film-makers will, however, play with their weaknesses; their means of creation and their means of destruction, but, in essence, these fiends are what they are and images of them will be fairly consistent.

There are films and stories, however, where the monster isn’t an accepted/known image, but something new; something thought up by the writer/film-maker. Should this new monster be shown to us, though? I don’t believe so. How many horror films have you been to see where you’re really enjoying it, your imagination has created something frightening and then the monster is revealed and you go, ‘Oh, that’s not what I imagined’? Don’t you find it disappointing, a let-down, and maybe a fraud? Doesn’t it change your view of the film from ‘great’ to ‘OK’ or worse?

Three films stand out for me on this front – ‘Jeepers Creepers’, ‘Insidious’ and ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’ – all great films and all films which fell flat when the monster was unveiled. Maybe I just like my monsters with fur and fangs. Scaly creatures with hooked noses, weird eyes and wings just don’t do it for my imagination.

At the other end of the scale are the films which don’t show you anything at all. For me, there can only be one winner in this category, I’m afraid, and that is ‘The Blair Witch Project’. I found this film so dull and lacking in anything, dear reader, that I fell asleep… the cinema. It wasn’t until the camera hit the floor and noises could be heard that I rubbed my hands together and got excited that the film was finally starting. How wrong could I be? That was the end.

Now, I considered the possibility that I may be more warped than I thought – given everyone else looked terrified – until a chap stood up and shouted, ‘This film is crap. I want my money back’. I smiled and took solace in the fact that it wasn’t just me then.

I think the key to success with such ‘new’ monsters lies in the power of suggestion – the shadows, the silhouettes, the sounds, the eyes glowing in the dark, the flash of claws or teeth, and the smells – and to leave the audience to create their own demons.

For those people without imagination, who need it gift wrapped and placed in front of them, I offer my deepest condolences, for the imagination, dear reader, is far scarier than reality ever will be.

May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

Til next time.


P.S. I am keen to learn what my protagonist turned to face in your imagination, so please leave a comment and let me know. Who knows where it might lead. M