Collected from American folklore… now that’s the kind of horror tale I want to read. Something that’s old. Something that has a bit of urban legend mixed in with obvious horror fantasy and the combined with some of the best creepy artistry this side of Bernie Wrightson and John Zornow (to name two of the greats). When I say the name Alvin Schwartz you need to turn the light on because we’re about to discuss the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy published in 1981, 1984 and 1991 (later collected).
I first picked up volume two in New Hope, PA at a ramshackle bookstore on the main drag. New Hope is a shopping oasis for the consumer who is looking for something just a bit different. Something that you might not find in the in the everyday if you live in rural to suburban New Jersey or Pennsylvania. The town transforms with the times and has seen any number of eclectic shopping experiences: Head shops. Spinsters – a record stores (that sell records). Love Saves the Day (which came along later and is labeled your Local LSD drug store). Gothic armor and weaponry. Any number of shops dedicated to Witchcraft (and they are fun to walk through whether you practice or not). It should be no surprise that a bastion of the weird would carry a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book all seasons on display and absolutely meant for the consumption of young children. I still thank my parents for picking up More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It was a life changer. Let’s find out why.
Alvin Schwartz was writing out and retelling his tales to scare you out of Princeton, NJ and has been deceased since 1992. He collected ghost stories that you might tell around a campfire. These stories are often filled with “jump scare” moments where the reader might elevate the volume of his voice to frighten the listener. While this phenomenon is unwelcome in our modern day horror cinema culture, it’s paramount to the campfire/sleepover set. His design was to create a collection of stories specifically made for this purpose; for kids (and if you ask me for adults as well). As he says in his forward, “the best time to tell these stories is at night. In the dark and the gloom, it is easy for someone listening to imagine all sorts of strange and scary things.” Darkness is the greatest to the heebie jeebies only second in line is a campfire with the sounds of the wood in the background and only beyond that is the sound of nothing at all. Schwartz designed a perfect collection that ranges from poetry or song to short story to urban legend. Each book was sub-divided into different levels of scare. While the method of division was not entirely scientific, it did entice the reader to get to the next subsection to find out what horror awaited.
The writing is clearly for a youngster but the horror story need not be complex or overly descriptive to capture one’s imagination. In fact it might be better for being under-verbose. Where the writing leaves off Stephen Gammell, scare artist extraordinaire, cakes on the languid, long flowing lines that end in eye sockets, creeps and the visual equivalent of bumps in the night. The stories are unforgettable and can get under your skin, but for as good as they are, Gammell’s imagery is what will send you screaming into the night like a man who’s stolen the toe of a corpse. We’ve got quite a few images posted throughout the blog and I urge you to take the time, shut off the lights and freak yourself out (the freak out is a technical term after all).
Originally packaged in three separate books, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3, More Tales to Chill Your Bones, you can now find the triumvirate in one, elegant hard bound edition. I’ll post some of my favorites below with brief synopsis and then give you a link to where you might purchase this “must have” tome. While you read them or as you purchase them remember that this book was challenged time and time again as it attempted to make its way into libraries. The nightmarish imagery wasn’t meant for children was quite often the argument used by the book and pencil crowd. As such it will make a fine edition to your banned book celebrations. I suppose the argument that horror movies, books, music is not appropriate for children was the same in the mid-90’s when it was in fact the most challenged of library entrants, but I turned out just fine… don’t you think. Tee hee hee. Age 9 and Up? How about Age whatever we want and up your ass! Scare your kids! They’ll thank you later. Don’t forget to read the notes after each book to get your fullest understand of how these stories fit into our culture.
Now enjoy the selections below as they are sure to make you laugh and… SCREAM! (jump at the person next to you and yell in their face).
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK:
ME TIE DOUGH-TY WALKER!
Ever want to challenge the haunted house to see who would win? You know, spend the night there to see if you could beat out the spooks? Well that’s where the protagonist in this tale made his first mistake. You’ll never hear a dog say “Lynchee Kinchy colly molly dingo dingo!” if you’re lucky. If you do… just look to the fireplace.
THE HEARSE SONG
A children’s song to be certain, but at least Schwartz saw the foresight to include the sheet music with this publication for each song. You’ve heard this before if you kid or if you were a kid once. It’s all about what happens when you’re dead and what happens to your body. It’s the song equivalent of a Grim Fairy tale prepping youth with the knowledge of an adult truth they may not be ready for yet. And just remember, “Your stomach turns a slimy green; and pus pours out like whipping cream; You spread it on a slice of bread, And that’s what you eat when you are dead”
Classic urban legend tale developed into a delightfully creepy narrative about a girl on her way home. She is followed by a truck that chases her down and continues to torment her with its high beams. Is this a revamp of The Car or Duel? Whatever you do… don’t stop!
MORE SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK:
ONE SUNDAY MORNING
As a kid, my family regularly attended church on Sunday and as the season turned from Summer to fall and the memories of vacation bible school were in the past we would get up at the same time every morning but the morning’s grew darker and darker as mornings in the fall often do. That’s why this tale truly struck home with me. It’s the tale of a woman who wakes to church bells and runs slap dash to her church expecting to be late. As she sits through the sermon she discovers one small difference between her normal congregation and the one that she has become a member of… THEY’RE ALL DEAD! When a dead friend whispers, “Leave right after the benediction if you care for your life,” you probably should leave sooner than the benediction.
What do you do when a vampire comes for you? Well we’re all familiar with Salem’s Lot and any number of vampire myths that allow the occupant of the home to be the gatekeeper for the undead. Not in this story. Beware the beady little eyes and drag the cemetery. When I was a youth, this story kept me up at night. There were times when I would refuse to finish it and others where I would close my big blue drapes around my window so that I had the remotest chance of find sleep. Hope it keeps you awake.
I can’t honestly say which makes me love this “story” more. The imagery that accompanies it or the perfect jump scare that ensues. It’s simple, to the point and focuses on the fear of the unknown. Give this one to a bunch of girls a t a slumber part in an old rickety house and get ready for the “I can’t sleep” speech. “I am on the first step”.
I’m 95% certain this is store and the artwork that accompanied it is the reason I enjoy the work of Salvador Dali. There’s something surreal about the artwork and the imagery in the short tale of two roommates in the a small apartment when the land equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle shows up. You’ll never feel the same way about that good ol’ folk song again.
SCARY STORIES 3
THE DEAD HAND
This story comes off as a cautionary tale not against anything supernatural, but against disrespect against the supernatural. Go into the woods to disapprove a tale of terror? Only if accompanied by a flash light, a GPS and a SWAT team. One thing is for certain; Do not end up like Tom Pattison.
THE RED SPOT
Few urban legends get me like this one. The story of the girl with the spot on her face that keeps getting worse and worse and worse until… well, you know. I’m afraid of arachnids. It makes watch any spider horror pretty much an effort in true terror. I don’t mind being scared and freaking out as the little fuckers run around torturing people (as if on purpose). The issue I take is my inability to take a dump afterward fearing a spider under the lid.. Chock that one up to neurosis number 17.
I want to say this one more time before I leave you along with Mr. Schwartz… SCARE YOUR KIDS!!! They’ll thank you for it later.
Go here to purchase now (it’s not to late to get it shipped before Halloween).
-Dr. Terror-ize Your Progeny
Note: In case you haven't read the two previous blogs in this series we need you to get yourself some 3D glasses. Red and Cyan. Here's How!
Dr. James P. Terror.
213 Seymour Rd.
Hackettstown, NJ 07840
Why would you do such a thing? Because I need to send you a free pair of 3-D glasses. Cardboard Anaglyph Glasses. Cyan and Red. You'll know why you need them when the time is right. If you have them at home. Get ready for something new... for me. If you own a pair they should work just fine (when the time is right... bwahahaha). If you own the blue and red one's or even the magenta and cyan they should work just fine. Get your requests in early because the holiday is coming quickly (like me... um... INAPPROPRIATE!).