A look back at Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
It never ceases to amaze me how browsing the internet can spark instantaneous nostalgia. Most recently, it came when I was poking around Cracked.com, when I came across an article that sent me shuffling through boxes in my closet. What I was looking for, and eventually found was a triage of terrifying books that defined many an October of my childhood: the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthologies, by Alvin Schwartz.
Between saying the title and showing you the books, I’d wager I just sent a good portion of you searching for your own packed away copies. As for the rest of you, I’ll fill you in, fear not… not yet at least.
A series of three anthologies published 1981 and 1991, these books were collections of ghost stories and folktales that were a staple of any bookshelf or library, with subjects and scares ranging from axe murderers, poltergeists, monsters and every other manner of dark dream that can be conjured up by the human mind. The result is a mainstay of adolescent fiction, and a collection of tales that will leave you chilled and never leave your memories for years after.
Schwartz had a talent for taking each of these tales and keep you on the edge of your seat, with a prose that just begged to be read aloud to friends around a campfire or flashlight. Each one, whether the story in question was chilling, thrilling, tragic or even humorous, they were all equally unnerving. Of course, what made the collections must reads was, with all due respect to Schwartz’ writing, were the illustrations by Stephen Gammell, a few of which I’ve interspersed into the article. As you can tell, these were pure and utter nightmare fuel, like nightmarish Japanese ink paintings by ways of R’lyeh, enough to push an already scary story into one that will keep you awake all night and haunt your dreams for weeks after – if they ever do illustrated versions of Lovecraft, this is the look they need to go for.
Between the masterful prose and delightfully disturbing artwork, you can see why this was a childhood favorite of many for years, and like any book worth its salt, one constantly banned or challenged in school libraries, having been the most challenged book of the 90s, and remained in the top ten most challenged books in the 00s.
Perhaps for that reason, they changed the illustrations in a recent edition after fighting the censors for years, which I feel a grave folly, and not just because the new pictures don’t pack even an ounce of the wallop the originals did. This is an understated classic, having influenced many people from horror authors to comic artists. It certainly was a hit among kids – the reason I own copies of them is the fact the books were always checked out. What the censors don’t seem to understand is that it’s good for kids to be scared out of their wits now and then – it would be a shame to deprive the rising generation to have their skin crawl at these brutal spine-tinglers.
That said, if you ever get your hands on the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collections – trust me, you’ll know if it’s the original – read it or buy it at once, there is a reason they have copies going for more than $50 on Amazon. If given the chance, give it a read or share it with your kids – just leave the lights on.
Trust me on that one.