Sylvia Plath’s work seems to attract those who interpret her poems and prose solely in terms of what they might reveal about her troubled life. She is rarely thought of as comedic. But what I like about ‘Johnny Panic’ is its edgy noir humour. The narrator – like all good authors? – is a collector of stories. She believes the fantastical dreams she transcribes in her hospital job are as true as any daytime narrative. In dreams Johnny Panic may speak freely.Well, from where I sit, I figure the world is run by one thing and this one thing only. Panic with a dog-face, devil-face, hag-face, whore-face, panic in capital letters with no face at al. It’s the same Johnny Panic, awake or asleep.But unfortunately the heroine’s determination to consult the work of her predecessors lands her in a risky situation.
First published in Atlantic Monthly, 1968. Collected in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and Other Prose Writing, Faber, 1977. Available online here