John Steinbeck’s short story “Flight” is haunted by “dark watching men” whose gaze must be avoided if encountered in the mysterious mountains of Central California’s Big Sur. The writer Thomas Steinbeck, the author’s son, has collaborated with Benjamin Brode, the Big Sur landscape artist, in a beautiful word-and-picture book about these curious creatures out of some Jungian archetypal dream. Published in 2014 by Steinbeck Press, In Search of the Dark Watchers: Landscapes and Lore of Big Sur proves that some pictures really are worth a thousand words when they come from the collective unconscious.
As an adult, John Steinbeck read Carl Jung and understood archetypes. But according to Thomas Steinbeck, the idea was first planted in John’s imagination by his mother Olive, a true believer who—like Mama in “Flight”—warned her son to respect the Dark Watchers’ sovereignty over Big Sur’s dangerous terrain. Thomas Steinbeck wrote a short story called “The Dark Watcher” that further embellished the Steinbeck family fable, inspiring Benjamin Brode’s moody, mystical paintings in pursuit of the elusive spirit-beings said to inhabit Big Sur. Don’t worry. You won’t need Carl Jung to appreciate the art or text in this coffee-table delight. But follow Olive Steinbeck’s advice. Exercise care if caught—like Pepe in “Flight”—alone in the Big Sur woods at night. As Carl Jung discovered, disturbing dreams can come true.