The Lagoon

A black triangle to one side of the nose is a graphic trademark of Lilli Carré. It drew my attention when I read The Lagoon, and after a while it becomes something you see but don’t notice. It’s like recognizing a person, oh that’s Lillie Carré. When I first encountered her trademark nose, I kept looking at Grandpa where he says, “I couldn’t make up a song that pretty, you know that!” The tip of Grandpa’s nose meets his laugh line and flattens the effect of the rendering to make the black triangle look like a hole. An optical effect where the positive and negative shapes swap places.

Carré draws figures with the push and pull of black and white. Transitions between the two poles often employ the artist’s brush in the manner of woodcut illustrations. In woodcut, the tool gouges out the black. Her brush feathers in the black. The gouge and the brush. Hard metal. Soft fiber. They’re strong opposites and they can create a very similar graphic style. Black and white. There’s no crosshatching. The white shapes are as necessary to define the figure and ground as the lines, patterns, and black ink. With this balance, Carré creates a pleasurable line of sight through the book. Her story dances on the surface and has a depth that one must put on a diver’s size thinking cap to plummet.

A lagoon has murky, unclear water. You can’t see into it. Half our life is spent asleep, and that half is awash in dreams. Dreams communicate with symbols. We don’t get the symbols from printed text in a dream. The symbols are images resonant with meaning. We unpack the meaning when we wake up. The picture of a lagoon symbolizes a lagoon. The lagoon symbolizes? Okay, it’s a lagoon where a creature lives. The creature is not a figment of one character’s imagination. The neighbors all come out to hear the creature sing at night. Given that the creature sings, I would say that the lagoon symbolizes the creative power of the subconscious from which dreams and desires emerge.

When the story opens, Zo can’t stand Grandpa’s singing. She says, “It sounds like a wet cat.” Grandpa tells Zo about the creature from the lagoon who sings the song and puts her to bed. Zo wakes up to a song coming from the lagoon. She follows it out and finds Grandpa sleepwalking. “Wet the felines. Only in July, when it’s hot,” Grandpa says. Zo brings him home and puts Grandpa to bed saying, “I thought the song was kinda nice.”

This episode can stand on it’s own; it introduces the song as a problem and Zo overcomes it. There has been an initiation. When you’re young, the folks’ record collection is boring. And then, somehow, you’re able to appreciate those tunes from the 60s and 70s. The records didn’t change. The person changed. But what changed? Did they grow a new organ capable of appreciating music? A new sense suddenly developed? No. The mind, the consciousness of the individual expanded. The barriers to expanding the consciousness are fear. Largely, fear of the unknown. The creature in the lagoon contains the beautiful song and is at once something to be feared.

The next episode has Zo playing the creature’s song on the piano. “Well, Grandpa made it up, but I learned how to play it,” Zo says. Mom wants her to stop. “Your father is a complete loon,” Dad says to Mom as he watches Grandpa in the yard picking flowers. Now that the fear of the creative unconscious are overcome, there is another gatekeeper: authority. The parents must be overcome for Zo to play music and for Grandpa to pick flowers in peace.

Dad tells Zo a bedtime story that is archetypal of the hero’s need to overcome fear. When the beast is slain, the creative anima can be enjoyed – as represented by union with the princess. The frontispiece shows the Zo handing a flower to the creature. She contacts and befriends the power that can teach her to express her deepest desires, destroy the oppressive authority that limits her, and put her in contact with the authority that will release her creative potential. Zo must overcome: fear, power, death. The creature is still dangerous; our consciousness runs from pure to foul as a change of breeze. The creature sets a fire in the woodpile and yet, with Grandpa to oversee her, the house is safe.

The Lagoon is the created structure to contain the creative impulse. The book sits on the shelf with a promise. The girl holding a yellow diver’s helmet surrounded by turquoise plants and red flowers. A graphic simplicity that reads: I am going into the deep water. I have the necessary tool and there’s beauty growing all around me.

–Arthur Smid

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