• Jill Jepson
  • [BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Dealing with the Bad Stuff: The Care and Feeding of Your Babadook
[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Dealing with the Bad Stuff: The Care and Feeding of Your Babadook
Written by
Jill Jepson
November 2015
Written by
Jill Jepson
November 2015

My husband and I have a Halloween tradition of sitting by the fireplace watching a scary movie. We don’t like anything with too much violence. We go for eerie, supernatural suspense. This year, we watched The Babadook, an Australian film by Jennifer Kent.

If you like being terrified out of your skin and haven’t seen The Babadook, I highly recommend it. I also suggest you stop reading this post because it has major spoilers.

The movie is about a young widow, Amelia (Essie Davis), who is still struggling with the loss of her husband after seven years, and about her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a troubled first grader. The Babadook comes into their lives in the form of an unsettling children’s book that mysteriously appears in their bookcase. The book tells of a horrifying being who enters your home and takes over your life. It is punctuated with the phrase, You can’t get rid of the Babadook.

The book is prophetic. The Babadook is soon haunting Amelia, calling her on the phone, pounding on her door, and appearing in unexpected places. Amelia tries to ignore it. She tells herself it isn’t real, it isn’t real. But it is real. It eventually takes possession of Amelia, turning her into a monster who wrings the neck of a beloved family dog and terrorizes her own child.

After a series of heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping scenes, Amelia gains control of the Babadook, gets her life back, and begins to heal. She hasn’t killed or conquered the creature. She hasn’t banished it from her home. At the end of the film, she is keeping it in her basement, feeding it worms from her garden. You can’t get rid of the Babadook.

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The Babadook represents Amelia’s grief, but it could stand for any strong negative emotion. Fear, anger, shame. They all demand to be let in. They refuse to be ignored. They can take over your entire life, turning you into something terrible.

My Babadook at the moment is fear about my future as a writer. I awaken at night afraid that my work will never get widely distributed. That,when I die some day, my stories will be erased from my hard drive, never to be read by anyone, ever. Yes, that’s how far this fear takes me.

Like the Babadook, my fear doesn’t go away when I refuse to let it in. It just pounds harder at my door. It pops up when I least expect it. Ignoring it only makes it stronger. At its worst, it becomes a destructive force in my life. It might not lead me to kill animals and attack children—but it does prevent me from doing what is most important to me—write. I can tell myself it isn’t real, but that works as well for me as it did for Amelia. My fear, like the Babadook, is real. It is a presence in my life. You can’t get rid of the Babadook.

The movie presents more than a metaphor—it offers a solution. Amelia deals with the Babadook by giving it a place in her home. She keeps it at bay by locking it in the basement, but she doesn’t ignore it. She feeds it. She gives it what it needs.

I can deal with my own Babadook the same way. The best thing I can do is not to fight my fear, but make a place for it in my life. I can acknowledge it and give it what it demands. At the same time, I don’t give it free rein. It can’t go barging into everything I do. Just as Amelia’s Babadook is confined to the basement, mine has to stay where it belongs. I’m the one in charge here, as Amelia, in the end, takes back charge of her home.

What is your personal Babadook? Fear? Grief? Anger? Sadness? Have you made a place for it in your life? Do you give it what it needs? Do that and you will find it stays put. It is still there because it is part of who you are at this moment—you can’t get rid of the Babadook—but it doesn’t take over. You are the one in charge.

I'm Jill Jepson, the author of Writing as a Sacred PathGet my free ebooklet Calling Up the Writer Within: A Short Guide to Writing at 50 & Beyond.

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