Growing Up With SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK
A year ago, it was announced that visionary director Guillermo Del Toro was developing an adaptation of the children’s book trilogy, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. When I first heard this news I was both elated but also slightly terrified at the thought of bringing these stories to life. These short stories aren’t your average run-of-the-mill children’s tales. They are far more chilling, if not a bit traumatic, than most youth-oriented horror novels out there today. I adore these books and I credit them for not only scaring me as a child but as being one of the main reasons as to why I’m such a fan of the horror genre.
cary Stories to Tell in the Dark was written by author Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. In total, there were three books - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984) and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991). Alvin Shwartz also went on to write another children’s book that doesn’t get as much attention, but should because it’s amazing, titled In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. I would have loved to have had the chance to speak with Alvin, to pick his brain about why he wrote such beautiful but haunting stories for children, but unfortunately he passed away in 1992.
The content relies heavily on the creative storytelling of Schwartz, but what truly makes these books terrifying are the illustrations at the hands of Stephen Gammell. Seared into my brain are these simple sketch drawings of creatures and monsters that correspond to most stories. One of the reasons the books are so frightening to look at is due to the simplicity of the drawings and the fact that they don’t require a lot to be startling. There is something about these black and white sketches that leaves readers feeling unsettled and perplexed. Even as I sit here, paging through each story, I can feel a chill run down my spine. I’m 33 years old, I live and breathe horror, yet I can’t shake the insidious nature of these drawings.
I was curious to see if others felt the same. I reached out on social media to get feedback from people to see what it was about these stories that scared them the most. I had the opportunity to speak with Mary Dixon, writer of the newly released horror film The Possession Experiment, Tabitha Barron, Director of Operations at Haunted Hornet, and Jackie Kreterfield, producer of Delusion: Interactive Horror & Suspense Theatre, about the books.
For Mary, it wasn’t just the artwork that set her on edge, but also a specific story that has stayed with her all these years: “The art, I don’t know, there is something extremely haunting about all of the art in those books. And then I think that there was a story called “Black Aggie”, about an angel that came to life in a graveyard and nobody ever lived to tell the tale. Those stories were just extremely scary to a young kid, probably why I’m into most of the things that I’m into now.”
When speaking to Tabitha, she also mentioned how impactful the artwork was to her. She states, “I too was drawn in by the art, more than anything. Maybe because I’ve had a long love for animation and cartoons, in addition to fine and creative art, and my dad used to be an animator. The simplistic but alluring black and white illustrations helped pull me into the stories more. Now I need my mom to send me my copy from childhood. How I’ve gone all these years without it I don’t know.”
Lastly, when I spoke with Jackie about how the stories impacted her, she stated, “The artwork freaked me out but I always read and re-read them. The one with the fucking spider eggs in the girl's cheek? Ugh! I’ve always been super into all things scary so I’m not really sure what always drew me to them. I own them actually (new artwork, didn’t realize it at the time) but I did find one of the originals randomly in a bookstore so I have that one as well.”
Speaking with people throughout social media, it became quite obvious that the artwork was the key in terrifying children and leaving a lasting impression into adulthood. Jason McKittrick, owner of the site Cryptocurium, where he makes handmade horror items inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, stated that the books, and specifically the illustrations by Stephen Gammell, were responsible for him becoming an artist. Through my research, along with my own personal experiences with the stories, it became clear that these books were more than just children’s stories to many. They were a gateway into the horror genre, and though they may have scared us at a young age, for a lot of people it was what they looked back on and credited for having such a deep love for the genre. It was also a jumping off point that inspired people to create.