Friday, July 16, 2010

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you ever want to truly terrify your child and ensure they lose at least a week or two of sleep, I advise buying them a copy of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Don’t let the name fool you, either--you could tell these in the light and still be scared to the point of mild hysteria. Oh, and if the written word alone isn’t enough to get you, don’t worry; Schwartz has conveniently packed these books with the one-two punch of horrifying tales and gruesome, grisly illustrations. Well played, Schwartz. Our parents may not have been able to convince us to use a nightlight, but you ensured we wouldn’t fall asleep until we’d switched on every bulb in the house. Truly, well done.

Schwartz’s Scary Stories titles included Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories III: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Released between 1981 and 1991, these books scared a generation’s worth of children with their fast-paced story telling and spooky unresolved mysteries. Schwartz derived most of his stories from urban-legend type folktales, taking decades-old stories and weaving them into bone-chilling narratives punctuated with eerie sketches by Stephen Gammell.

To this day, I find I can hardly endure a basic Google Image search of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark--the pictures are just that memorable and that creepy. If you think it’s gross to read about a man whose face is slowly dripping off, imagine having to endure image after image illustrating his unfortunate and gruesome fate. Yech.



It’s unsurprising that Schwartz’s Scary Stories titles are among the most frequently banned of children’s books. After all, Harry Potter contains enough sorcery and magic to get parental watchdog groups in a tizzy, so just imagine the ante upped by adding all manners of severed limbs and hatchet-wielding headless ghosts. These anti-Scary Stories groups allege that the books’ content and imagery is too mature for its intended audience of mid-to-upper elementary students. Other common reasons for the ban are its preoccupation with the occult and the commonplace use of bloody violence. The same adults crying out over R.L. Stine’s tongue-in-cheek Goosebumps series were up in arms over Schwartz’s collections; according to the supporters of the ban, these books were just too scary for children.

Of course, the more something is shunned by adults, the more instantly attractive it becomes to children. Though the original book is nearly 30 years old, it still shows up frequently in current-day top ten banned children’s books lists. Despite its critics’ best attempt to have the book removed from libraries and bookstores, the Scary Stories series maintain an enduring popularity with children itching to test their scare limits.

Schwartz’s simple storytelling and skill for building suspense made these books a thrilling read, encouraging children who may not otherwise show interest in reading to pick one up for the sheer fear factor. Many of the stories even come with handy guides for scaring your friends around the campfire while bottom-lighting your chin with the eerie glow of a flashlight. What could be better than a book that tells you when to raise your voice or to pounce on your friends? I don’t know about you, but I prefer a book with some dramatic stage directions.


While the stories may not be in the realm of adult-geared horror novels, they do have a certain creepiness that resonates with readers even past the intended 7-12 year old audience. The content alone isn’t always particularly terrifying when held against the test of time, but anyone who read these as a child is sure to remember the way that they felt when they heard it initially.

Monsters under the bed or zombies in the closet once seemed not like a fanciful story but as a viable option for children with overactive imaginations. For those with regularly active imagination, there were always illustrations to push you over the edge. I’ve tried to include some of the less grisly ones in this post, but conduct a Google Image search at your own risk. I’m warning you, though, they will lodge themselves somewhere in the innermost depths of your cerebral cortex and haunt your dreams. Just as a caveat, I’m not to be held accountable for your ultimate stomach-heaving reaction to the guts and gore. That one’s all on you.

39 comments:

Gracie Beth said...

I always used to check those books out from the school library!

Anonymous said...

I remember sitting in the back (darkest room) of my grandparents house, with my sister and cousins, reading these stories by flashlight.

The Woman Formerly Known as Jenn said...

Lord, I had forgotten all about these books! Thanks, though - the memories are flooding back and I'm sure trying to go to sleep tonight will be super fun.

;-p

Faux Trixie said...

I loved these. I remember with particularity one story involving a woman with a ribbon around her neck. Turns out, it was keeping on her head. This is probably where my love of horror movies has evolved from.

Politics and Pearls said...

I LOVEEEEDDD this book :)

My favorite story was about the dog that slept under the kid's bed and always licked his hand at night and one night there was a note that said "People can lick too".

Sadako said...

It definitely wasn't so much the stories as it was the pictures. Those things...man, remember the woman with no eyes? Just sockets? Or The Thing?

Tobey said...

My local library had these, and I checked them out ALL THE TIME. For a kid who was checking out anything ghost- or paranormal-related, this was such a find!

@Sadako, you are right. The illustrations were creepy as hell.

I found all three books at a thrift store a few years ago, in a boxed set. I need to go get them right now!

caitlin said...

I remember the same one as politics and pearls! I think they used that in one of the Final Destinations or Urban Legends or something.


I saw this book at Goodwill a month ago and didn't get it. Now I'm sad.

nikki said...

These books were amazing. Surprisingly good story telling and completely captivating stories. Alvin Schwartz is one of my heroes. The books are not too scary for kids. The age kids are when they start reading these books is about the same age when kids are starting to realize that life isn't all rainbows and lollipops. Learning how to deal with frightening stories is such an important part of a child's development. It really bugs me that parents want these banned. You do your kids no favors by not letting them read these books!

Ali said...

Loved, loved, LOVED these books!

city girl said...

I still have these, and the pictures still terrify me, haha!

Jennifer said...

There are a few of the stories that I still remember pretty vividly. One of them was about these two farm hands that made a scarecrow and named it after this guy they didn't like. The scarecrow comes to life and kills one of them. The other story I really remember was about two kids that were horrible to their mother and she threatens that one day they will come home and she will have been replaced by a new mother with a wooden tail (?)or something. I always had to turn the pages super carefully and mentally prepare myself for the upcoming illustration!

Alison said...

Oh, goodness. The Hook STILL terrifies me. My dad had a truck with pull handles (?) and he told my sister and I that he found the Hook on it one night. Not. Funny.

We still have this book, but I wonder who bought if for us. My sister and I weren't even allowed to watch Hocus Pocus because it scared us so much!

Deathycat said...

I loved these books. I still have all three. The pictures were so eerie I remember freaking out the little kids in the neighborhood with them. ^_^

Anonymous said...

Maybe I was just a twisted little kid, but these stories never scared me. I would read them and get uber excited, dreaming up ways to scare my friend with them. Kind of the same way I still get uber excited looking up pranks online, dreaming about ways to get my friends and family. :) Yeah, twisted kid equals twisted adult.

Paigealicious! said...

@Jennifer...wasn't the scarecrow story called "Harold" or "Howard" or something? The picture of the scarecrow in that story scared the hell out of me. I didn't even want the book in my house, it was so creepy.

RAY J said...

I remember my childhood best friend had at least 2 of these, if not all of them. I wasn't allowed to read them though as my parents said they'd give me nightmares and were too scary for kids our age. I think I skimmed the books my friend had, reading parts of the more interesting stories but yeah...

coulrophobic agnostic said...

It was the damn pictures that made these books so scary. The stories were mildly creepy, but on their own I don't think they'd have stuck. But dear god, the illustrations. *shudder*

coulrophobic agnostic said...

Also, keeping your kids from scary things WILL NOT HELP THEM in the long run. How do I know? I was the world's biggest fraidy-cat as a child; now I'm a horror addict. Let your kid have a few nightmares - for god's sake, let them have a little FUN.

And, fine, don't want your kids to read them, don't let them (though don't be surprised if they get ahold of them anyway - kids are sneaky), but don't try to ban them and ruin everyone's fun.

Heh. Thinking about these books and things along those lines brings back that creepy feeling in my stomach that I'd get from these books. The same feeling I got watching Unsolved Mysteries. Hey, how about a blog post about that show?? I just bought the big fancy box o' DVDs...can't wait to find out if it's still creepy.

Sadako said...

@Pagalicious, it was indeed Harold. That was one creepy story...

rsparks said...

I remember having nightmares for weeks after reading these books. Both my parents are librarians and hate the Banned Book list, but you can bet those books were banned at my house after they were up all night with a terrified kid for a few days in a row.

Dina said...

OH MY GOD omg omg Best books ever I remember buying all of them on the way to vacation, reading them in the car and then scaring myself to death at night trying to fall asleep. I sold them at some yard sale and just recently rebought them on Amazon.com because they are a true treasure. Unbelieveable.

Dina said...

And I freaking HATED the story about the spider who laid eggs in the girls face. I remember that one the best and the one about the tom-tom drum and the one about the Mexican sewer rat/chihuahua dog...wow!

Steve G. said...

I remember those books too! The only story I really remember though was about a girl / boy with an obsession in peeling the yellow wallpaper from a room. Totally agree with you though - It was creepy enough that it has stuck with me to this day.

faster pussycat said...

The pictures...it was the pictures that got to me. LOL. I'd put a piece of paper in front of them while I was reading.

Red said...

These books gave me so many nightmares as a kid but I just kept reading them. I never had my own copies. Instead I borrowed them from a braver friend. A few years ago I bought the set and those pictures still creep me out.

Andhari said...

Scary stories always resulting in me having troubles to sleep! Yet it's so addictive :)

Katy said...

Great post! I hated these books so much that I literally hid them in the darkest depths of my closet for some sort of protection. My parents insisted on continuing to buy them for me..."The Hook" haunts me to this day while driving on dark nights!

Kaykiie said...

I love scary stories more than anyone!

I guess people just love to be scared!

If you want to check out some scary urban legends then read my blog:
http://urbanlegendsandhorror.blogspot.com/

All comments and feeback are appreciated, you can even post me your stories and i'll pop them up on there!

ajroyston said...

The story that always freaked me out was the one where the spider plants her eggs in the girls cheek and then all of a sudden she has all these spider babies hatching on her face...shudder!!

CraftyGamer said...

I owned this book when I was growing up I loved it so much and read it when my friends came over to try and scare them XD

Heather Taylor said...

I hated the story Harold because not only was it the creepiest picture ever, I recall the last line of the story having to do with letting the skin of the murdered kid dry in the sun. Other stories I didn't like were the one of the bride who hid in the trunk and nobody found her (but seriously, who plays hide and go seek when they just got married and hides in the attic in an abandoned trunk?) and the babysitter one. I used to babysit a lot so that stuff gets creepy fast.

Angelique said...

everytime I'd go to the library I would ALWAYS head straight for these books. Totally forgot about them...amazing.

<3

Becky said...

Let's not forget the audio books you could get along with the regular books. Because, y'know, it wasn't creepy enough with the gruesome illustrations. Better to throw in a terrifying voice and sound effects.

I think my absolute favorite bit was the funeral song. Never laugh as a hearse goes by or you will be the next to die. They'll wind you up in a big white sheet and bury you in a box six feet deep. ...The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.. and..my memory is failing me now.

Anonymous said...

I remember always checking them out from my school library and reading them to my friends with the cues and all. Aww memories! Haha, whats crazy is that my eight year old loves these books too. I guess crazy is genetic! lol

Anonymous said...

OMG! I know exactly what you mean. I read a few of these when I was 7 and had nightmares for WEEKS. Looking back, I can't believe they were allowed into the hands of someone so young. Even now, looking at the books in a bookstore gives me the creeps.

Anonymous said...

yup. definitely had a few sleepless nights due to this book. i was convinced there was a lady in white creeping in my bedroom corner.

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Phyre said...

I just found your blog and ooooooh man it's all coming back to me.

The power went out in our town about three weeks ago and I was bored out of my skull. I have all three volumes of the Scary Stories in one hardcover book. So I took it down and read by candle light I didn't make it past three stories before I started to freak myself out!

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