9 min read

Building Beyond: The Candleman

Let's build a bogeyman

Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together. Please note that this week's installment contains references and allusions to children coming to harm.

It is nearly your child's fifth birthday, and it is time for you to have The Candleman Talk with them. You are hoping to have this conversation without scaring them too much.

Jasmine Stairs is a sometimes-writer of YA Science Fiction and Fantasy living with nerdy roommates in Ottawa, Canada. She fills her days with procrastination, D&D, tea, and admiring her perfect cats.

Gailey: Has your child already heard of The Candleman from other children? Do they know that The Candleman is real?

Jasmine: Children talk, of course. About things they don’t understand, about things they’re afraid of, about things they’re not supposed to talk about. And the Candleman is new, and something where a child is more likely to be a first-hand expert. It would be infuriating to hear older children—children who are outside of the Candleman’s harvest range—scaring younger children with the stories, if it wasn’t also very understandable. A story of survival bubbles up and demands to be told, especially if you’re six. And what are you going to do, forbid your child from talking to their peers just because they’re higher risk? If the worst happens, you want your child to have had the broadest life possible in their short years, not live in fear. We still go to the park, Cassie’s in an art class. They interact with other children without us there. They’ve definitely heard of the Candleman. As to if they know that he’s real, I don’t know. What’s the difference between the Undying Lords, the tiny creature you’re sure works the light in the fridge, or relatives you’re told you have but have never met, when you’re four? It’s all taken on faith and fear, when you’re four. Almost five.

Gailey: Where does The Candleman go when he isn't doing his terrible work?

Jasmine: That’s not a useful question, I know, but I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t come up before. We’re part of a support group for high-risk families. We all get together and arrange fun outings for the kids, and then the parents are in the back talking to each other. A lot of the time the conversation is just the horrible relief of being able to talk about your fears and research and the steps you’re taking without making things “awkward”—because heaven forbid someone has to deal with the fact that your preschool child is more likely than not to have to walk the unlit path alone, absolute mood-killer, that is—but sometimes we get a bit punchy and start guessing.

There have always been horrors, as long as the Undying Lords have been in charge. Presumably before that too, but records before that point are spotty at best. My sister is a historian—chose not to have children and I can’t say I blame her, with our odds plus her spouse’s family record—and she says it’s to do with a tithe agreement of occasional harm for regular safety. Most of the terms she uses are in languages I don’t speak, but I agree with her as far as I can understand it. We live lives of prosperity and safety in almost every particular. If we interact with the Lords it’s a blessing. And then there are things that hunt. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of imagination to guess that the horrors and the blessings are somehow connected. My theory is that the Candleman is the Dawn Lord, twisted. But I’m a bitter person, with three children under five. If he wants to pull me up for heresy, the punishment isn’t going to be worse than the odds my family is currently facing.

Gailey: Is there anything your child can do to prevent The Candleman, or is he inevitable?

Jasmine: We went to the statistician when my wife and I got together, ran the calculations about risk to each other with the marital status change and the possibility of children. Our odds actually got better if we were together, if you can believe that, because with Dawn’s family’s history she was at high risk for The Smiling Queen, who hunts lone maidens. We planned on starting a family quickly, had Cassie, and Dawn was pregnant with the twins when the Candleman started hunting. It is one of the darker things that I’m grateful for, if there’s anything to be grateful for in all this, in that we’ve had almost three and a half years to prepare and gather data on the precise way the Candleman operates. It took a lot of other families’ tragedies to get to the point where I can face tomorrow with—not confidence, not exactly, but grim hope.

The survival rate for the first families was absolutely abysmal. I think in the first six months a full 96% of parents would just wake up to a blood-soaked bed with a dead candle-eyed child, and the 4% didn’t even have a body to bury. The fact that we knew the risk factors in the first month dropped the situation out of the news, and made for an absolutely hellish next few months in this house. But after six months the first child returned, and we’ve been clinging to that shred of hope since. I’ve read the transcripts of interviews, and look, it doesn’t take much more than a sober eye to see that Jason only survived being taken out of luck (who leaves a candle burning by a child at night in ordinary life), and he only survived the land beyond because he had a special interest in displacement horrors. He knew the rules, and he made it back. So we’re telling Cassie absolutely everything.

I know that the survival instructions do kind of go against what I said earlier, about not wanting Cassie to live in fear. Starting tomorrow, we have to impress on them the proper respect for voices out of the dark, the treatment of light, how to climb a ladder while carrying a flame, how to bind up their wounds, how to avoid eye contact, how to walk for hours. There are families that choose not to tell their children, and I can understand their hopes that the Candleman will just pass them by. But with an 84% risk of being hunted, there’s no way I’m letting my precious child try to face that atrocity unarmed.

But they have one more night of being a child before we light the candles.

My name is Leane and I live in England with a motorbike, tattoos, the Oxford comma, and what remains of my sanity. I'm a member of the alphabet mafia and wish for a future where there's equality amongst all our diverseness, and justice for all.

NEW POST: Parent Advice Group (PAG)

1stTimeMum has posted the following question:

During a tantrum today, my child told me that I “got on their wick”. When I asked where they’d heard this, they said that the school playground was full of talk about ‘The Candleman’. To me, some of the chatter sounded almost like bullying with threats from the older children being bandied around, informing the younger children of the danger they’re in once they turn five.

This is my first child, and I have no experience of handling ‘The Candleman’ talk! I’m not even sure I remember much of this talk from my own childhood! Does anyone have any advice? How did you speak with your children about such a subject as ‘The Candleman’? I am freaking out! Any advice would be welcome.

MomToAll has posted the following answer [top voted answer, marked as Solution]:

Hi 1stTimeMum! Welcome to the PAG, where everyone is welcome, and there are no silly questions about parenting.

Now the first thing is not to worry! This is something we’ve all had to discuss with our children before they turn five. It’s one of life’s unfortunate necessities, like taxes.

Whilst the conversation will be difficult and even upsetting, especially when you make sure your child understands that The Candleman is real, it IS still possible to reassure and empower them to stay safe throughout their childhood.

Here are some general tips I found helpful when discussing serious topics with my own children:

  1. Follow the natural course of the conversation and allow them to lead
  2. Listen to your child, hear their concerns and thoughts
  3. Don’t lie to try and make everything sound ok (you want to stay as neutral as possible)
  4. Give them time to process what they’re feeling

I found it easiest to teach my kids the nursery rhyme first. Then, when they could sing it by themselves, they were armed with the knowledge of how to stay safe at night. I made teaching them as much fun as possible, even finding the actions on YouTube for us to learn! To be honest, I think they laughed more at my attempts to be coordinated than anything else! It was a great bonding experience.

Here’s the complete nursery rhyme in case you don’t remember it from your own childhood:

1, 2, 3, 4,
Sleep safely babe on that sweet, dream-filled shore,
5, 6, 7, 8,
Fall asleep quick child before it’s too late,
9, 10, 11, 12,
Keep eyes tightly closed if it’s candles you smell,
12, 11, 10, 9,
The Candleman’s near if you’ve shivers up your spine,
8, 7, 6, 5,
He’ll knock loudly twice when he’s due to arrive,
4, 3, 2, 1,
He’ll hide in the dark underground from the sun.

Remember, as the nursery rhyme goes:

  • Ages 1-4 are safe and can dream safely without worry
  • Ages 5-8 need to be asleep before 20:00
  • Ages 9-12 should keep their eyes closed if they smell candles burning nearby or if they feel shivers running up and down their spine.

Under no circumstance should any pre-teen child answer a knocking sound or attempt to look for its source! This is perhaps the most important thing you can teach your child, and it’s never too early to start, in my opinion. (Please read the post by MomKnowsBest titled ‘How to deal with losing your child to The Candleman’ in PAG’s memorial channel to understand why I feel so strongly about this.)

Ultimately, The Candleman only visits under cover of darkness and cannot harm children when the sun is shining. So whilst you can reassure your child and help them feel safe during the daylight hours, they must be inside before sunset.

To reassure you, my children have never had nightmares about The Candleman, only about the tooth fairy (a story for another day). However, my oldest child did try to terrify my youngest by pretending to smell candles randomly throughout the night on a couple of occasions. I dealt with this calmly, and I’m happy to say that this trend didn’t last long.

Overall, just be there for your child and answer their questions, of which they will have many! Good luck having The Candleman talk with your child. Come back soon and let us know how it went?

Take care,

If you need Parenting advice, PAG is here for you… run by parents, for parents

My Candleman is a wickedly tempting friend to all children over the age of five. He appears at the end of a child's fifth birthday and whispers promises to them – promises of being able to understand the world, promises of having huge responsibilities and immense power, promises of understanding everything adults know and more. If the child accepts The Candleman's friendship, The Candleman will make good on his promises. It's hard to explain to a child why this is a bad thing without making life seem overwhelming and terrifying, unpredictable and dangerous. And... well. That's because life is overwhelming and terrifying and unpredictable and dangerous.

All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Jasmine's narrative is the prologue to a brilliant horrific fantasy about the paths we are sometimes bound and destined to walk. Leane's online support network is the start of a story about the quiet ways in which mothers try to support each other. My Candleman is the root of an exploration of what it means to grow up too fast.

How will you explain the Candleman to your child? What's at risk if you don't explain it correctly?

Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.

That’s amazing.

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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.