Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark: Alvin Schwartz
I don’t remember a time I didn’t love books. Sure, I refused to read some titles because I disliked following orders. But books discovered at the school library, or swiped from my mom’s bookshelf always brought me immense joy. At one of the book fairs put on by my elementary school, a lurid cover depicting a skull smoking a pipe drew my attention. I ran to the rack on which it sat and took down the three-pack containing Alvin Schwartz’s seminal book series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Horror was already my drug of choice by this point, but the morbid artwork by Stephen Gammell promised something else. Something, perhaps, forbidden.
I devoured the stories within each volume with rabid enthusiasm. Some of the tales bore a striking familiarity to urban legends whispered among friends or referenced in horror movies. Some were brand new to me. Even now, I remember the building tension of stories like “High Beams” and “No Thanks,” the truly shocking gross-out finale in “The Red Spot,” the bizarre humor of “The Viper,” and the cruel fate of the protagonist in “The Dream.” The story “The New Mother” spoke to my lingering fears of abandonment. In tales like “The Thing,” “The White Satin Evening Gown,” and “Room for One More,” I found safe spaces to explore my fixation on death. Alvin Schwartz had anthologized and retold stories that towered over the more gimmicky Goosebumps books (a series I read just as obsessively, but remember a lot less clearly).
In these stories, I found fodder to inspire my own dark works. From a craft standpoint, I learned how to evoke mood, build suspense, and deliver a satisfying conclusion. I learned that horror can be funny (and that humor can be dark). I learned the value of surprise when crafting a good punchline. After all, a good joke is a good story.
All that, and I’ve barely even touched on the artwork. I wanted to draw like Stephen Gammell for at least three years of my childhood. Talk about setting a mood. The images that filled the pages of these books are straight out of the ugliest corners of our subconscious. Reissuing the books with new artwork was a grave mistake on the part of the publisher. I know I wasn’t alone in rejoicing that the film version would be modeled after the original pieces, and not the much less effective drawings by Brett Helquist. With respect to Helquist, a good artist in his own right, Gammell’s illustrations were what elevated these stories above standard horror fare. They were part of those stories, as far as I’m concerned. It made the books a truly multimedia experience.
This series was a favorite of mine during my childhood. It’s a favorite of mine now. Should I ever endeavor to write horror stories for young people, you can bet I’ll use this series as a model. It’s that good, and I’m excited for the movie.
You can find out more about Lucas by visiting his official website www.lucasmangum.com
Follow Lucas on Twitter @RealLucasMangum
Pregnant with her father’s child, nineteen-year-old Courtney is a girl on the run, willing to do anything to make her way on the road. When a car accident leaves her wounded by the side of a desolate highway, she is taken in by an environmentalist doomsday cult led by the enigmatic Saint Ambrose, a charismatic preacher and ex-environmental scientist who gave up everything after claiming to see the face of God. When he meets the seemingly vulnerable Courtney, he is taken by her beauty and her wounded soul. Now, with the promise of salvation hanging in the balance, Courtney must undergo a series of trials, each more painful and humiliating than the last, her incestuously conceived baby growing in her womb, a strange presence visiting her at night and telling her Ambrose has lost his way and it is she who must overthrow him.