The Trauma of the Past Is Alive in the Present – Rereading Locke and Key: Clockworks

I think most adults have had a moment (or more likely, several) where they realize they’re an unwilling participant in a series of systems and decisions that were made before they were born. I didn’t choose for the world to be this terrible, unfair, and/or inane way. And yet, the world is this way. And there’s nothing I can do about it except accept it and do my best.

Get used to that awful, helpless feeling Kinsey.

To me, this feeling is what Locke and Key: Clockworks is about. That’s what made writing a review of this volume last year so difficult – and why I eventually threw in the towel. Last year at this time, I was having a rough go of it for a variety of reasons that felt, if not beyond my control, at least too big to confront in the moment. (As you may have guessed by the fact I’m writing this, things have gotten better.) Reading and writing about the Locke kids going through a similar situation was a bit of an ask.

Because this volume of Locke and Key? It’s rough:

These are nowhere near the most grisly deaths in the volume.

Clockworks begins and ends with death. All these deaths took place in the past. But their echoes inform the present, as do the choices made in the wake of those deaths.

Some of these echoes, we’ve encountered in prior volumes of Locke and Key (plug for my reviews of volumes one, two, three, and four here). We just didn’t understand what choices in the past had shaped the people we encountered in the present. Now, thanks to the time-traveling power of the Timeshift Key, we know how the keys came to Lovecraft. We know how Dodge became the Dark Lady. We know how Erin Voss lost her memories; we know why Rendell Locke decided to become a teacher; we know so much more about the moments that led up to the series’s beginning than we did at the start of this volume.

And while that knowledge is, as the cliche says, power (it will give the Locke children an edge they need in the final battle to come), it is also terrible. It is so depressing to look back through history and see exactly where everything took a wrong turn. To see so many moments where things could have broken just a bit differently and created a better world. Especially when you know how utterly shitty things actually turned out – thanks, directly, to previous generations’ choices.

Yup, you’re totally not going to screw over all your descendants here, Benjamin Locke. Great choice.

This kind of knowledge can make you feel like you’re stuck in a trap that past generations built specifically to ensnare you. Or, that you are just a cog in a clock that was constructed and wound before you were born – and now you’re forced to tick, tick, tick away at a predetermined, immutable pace, because that’s what someone else designed you to do.

It can be maddening, to look backward and see everything that led to the present moment, if the present moment is one that is truly terrible. It feels like maybe things wouldn’t be so bad now if only we, or someone else, had done something different then.

But dwelling on the trauma and choices of the past will not change the future. Only taking action in the present can do that. And soon, the Locke children will certainly be asked to take action …

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