FearTASTIC Vault O’FUN #66
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Author(s): Alvin Schwartz
Illustrator(s): Stephen Gammell
Mark my words, I’m getting to that damn library first.
This was the only thought I had racing through my head as a young FearTastic Vault owner in the third grade. Each second of the clock seemed to tick slower with each passing second as the anticipation was starting to form beads of sweat on my forehead with both hands clinging on the desk for dear life. Every week, it seemed like someone else got the pleasure of getting to the library first and held the prize book up high as if that person just won some sort of sporting event and his or her joy only made me more envious. I hope you choke on that book you weenie or something of equivalent vitriol was the only thing running through my head whenever someone else got the prized book that I knew EVERYONE wanted. It was all about the ticking of the clock; in my young deranged head, if I were somehow able to get a second or two ahead of the crowd, I would make my way into line first. Since all children at my grade walked in a single file line, there is no way someone else would get to the book if I were at least in the first five spots ahead in the line. Now if I factor in that only one or two children out of the first five in line would be interested in the prize book, then my chances would still be solid in coming out of this thing victorious! Now if I…wait a minute, where did everyone go!?!? HOLY HELL they left to the library already DAMMIT!
Yes, all the commotion and angst that haunted me for most of my youth were all for a series of books that became my shield, my blanket and for someone with a wicked imagination like mine, my truest friends.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a series of horror anthology books that were made for children (yes, we will get to the part where the art was bat-shit crazy and SO not for children). The stories ranged from creepy to funny and some entries even had some decent poetry and cultural folklore of the macabre. The stories were simple since the series of books were for children, although one can argue that the subject spiders spewing out of your face or stealing coins of a corpse cannot be for children no matter how much you water it down. The legacy that these books leave however, shall always be the art from Stephen Gammell which still shakes me to my core as an adult (arguably) FearTastic Vault keeper. Each piece of art that graced each story elevated the words coming out of the page and made you imagine the horror in the art was coming right at you while you read the stories; almost as if the stories themselves were some sort of spell to make the art come to life.
The first in the series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark already pulled me in with its cover, similarly to what attracts me to most horror flicks on the shelf. I remember seeing this skull with a pipe just staring at me from the cover, which was something the artist did often. The style of his art tend to have the creatures staring directly at you, just waiting to jump out. The cover for this first book did just that; with its cold blue dome to its bloody nose/mouth, I knew I was in for a treat in the same way many of my favorite horror flicks made me feel. Unlike the Goosebumps series of scary novels that most kids like myself were into, this book seemed to take itself MUCH more seriously. Although some of the stories were humorous, that notion disappeared in a nanosecond once you factor in the spook-tacular illustrations. Here are some of my favorite entries from the book that was based both on the quality of the story and of course, the appeal/horror/awesome-ness of the art!
The Ghost with the Bloody Fingers
Now let us start with one that actually makes little to no sense but the pure absurdity of the ending is what makes this humorous entry one of my favorites. You begin to laugh once the story is over then you look over at that mangled hand and realize that you’re now thinking about it crawling over right by where you’re sitting/laying and can grab you at any moment!
This is a tale of some friends who got a glimpse of a horrible creature that ended up being more than they think at the end. Those damn eyes, are you kidding me that this was for children!?!? I remember thinking that the THING from the story would stare at me from the mirror when I would get up in the middle of the night to go to the restroom!
The Big Toe
This story plays out more like a fairy tale with an idiot kid deciding a chunk of meat protruding from the ground was a great meal. That is the point though, look at that kid’s eyes; although the story was silly, I got creeped out looking at that kid, seeing his hunger for that toe poking out of the ground.
This story is an urban legend that has been told in many different ways involving a case of mistaken identity but wow, the art for this tale always creeped me out. Gammell had such a knack for making simple things creepy but even though the ending of this story made you relieved, the art did no such thing.
The art and stories this book provided made me feel at ease and so all the anxiety and competition that came with checking out the book from the library. Oh yeah, obvious question, why not just buy the series of books? My friend, it was all about the victory; holding the book up high like a trophy and having it sit by your desk knowing that the other kids wished they got there first was worth every second.With the upcoming movie based on the series of stories from the master of the fantasy macabre himself, Guillermo Del Toro, I shall be going through all three books in the series for your reading pleasure! Let’s get our READ on my fantastical GHOULS!
Life is FAR more interesting when we take interest in things that scare us.