Halloweek 2010: 4 More Classic Spooky Stories (Guest Post)

I hope you guys don’t mind a 5th guest post in one month! My dear friend Rosie is somewhat of an expert on the creepy genre, particularly for teens and young adults, and she always adds a wonderful dash of librarian knowledge to all of her reviews, so I asked if she’d do a little follow up on my post earlier this week on books of her choice (though I gave a few suggestions). Hope you like! ~CAN

At the behest of my former roommate and very talented, dear friend, the authoress Christina Nelson, I bring to you a few reviews of my favorite scary stories in time for Halloween. I hope you enjoy them.

~Rosanne North
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THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

This classic split-personality tale recounts the internal trial of good vs. evil, the id and the ego within the body of Dr. Henry Jekyll. The story centers around his struggles with accidentally creating and coming to terms with his misanthropic alter ego, Edward Hyde, as told from the investigations of a London lawyer, Gabriel John Utterson. When Dr. Jekyll begins experimenting upon himself, always a good idea, he unleashes his lewd, crass, and irresponsible alter ego, Mr. Hyde. To create Mr. Hyde, Jekyll’s inspiration came from seeking to separate his good side from his darker impulses. To achieve this he created a potion allowing him to transform, periodically, into a creature free from conscience. The fatal flaw in this experiment was that Dr. Jekyll did not become purely good as he hypothesized.  As the story progresses, Jekyll finds it difficult to reclaim his body and bring control over Mr. Hyde. The potion that once turned him into a man free of conscience is now his only salvation to turn himself back into Dr. Jekyll once again. With no memory of when Hyde occupies his body, Jekyll is left with the consequences of Hyde’s actions. Can Jekyll overcome his darker self without destroying his soul, sanity, or well being? I guess you have to read the book and find out.

[image courtesy of 1000misspenthours.com]

There are various film and stage adaptations of this story. The most unique adaptation, as least to me, is the film Mary Reilly (1996) starring Julia Roberts as the title character and John Malkovich as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. In a strange turn of narration, the story is told from the viewpoint of Mary Reilly, a housemaid, and how she witnesses the struggle between Jekyll & Hyde while trying to stay sane and avoid the rather creepy advances of Mr. Hyde whom she falls in love with.

What I enjoy most about this particular type of horror isn’t that there is the possibility of other monsters in the world that can destroy us, but rather the ones we create within ourselves. Dr. Jekyll’s inner turmoil seems all the more terrifying because not only does he not see the affects his alter ego has on everyone around him until after the fact, but also poses the question, how can you destroy a part of yourself you can’t see?

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK by Alvin Schwartz, 1986

Alvin Schwartz is the author of numerous children’s’ and young adult books. Born on April 25th, 1927, he is best remembered for his stories dedicated to wordplay and folklore. His series entitled, 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 comprise of collections of short American folktales meant to scare and entertain. Shwartz is an actual folklorist, who collected and retold these narratives. He passed away on March 14, 1992.

Schwartz’s more famous series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was #1 on the American Library Association’s list of “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000”. The ALA felt that the series is too violent, insensitive and inappropriate for its target age group (elementary aged children). Furthermore, the series is also challenged with the argument the occult. One story used as an example is “A Ghost in the Mirror”, which describes how to play the game Bloody Mary while looking into the mirror.

What’s haunting about these books is not so much the tales within, but Stephen Gammel’s illustrations, which frighten the reader without overwhelming them. For example, a ghostly figure on the cover is drawn with disappearing legs suspended above the ground, arms outstretched with specks of what looks like blood falling off of him, and a frozen expression of horror on his face. Gammel captures the reader’s fears by not only illustrating truly horrific specters, but also by tapping into the reader’s fear of the unknown. The unknown in this case being things under the bed, things that go bump in the night, and the thing scratching at your car door late at night when you’re parked and unsuspecting.

[image courtesy of googlebooks.com]

As previously mentioned, these stories are best read aloud and for entertainment purposes. Schwartz’s sense of humor comes through in not only the rhyming within the stories, but also in the humorous way in which he organize the chapters:

1. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

This chapter is filled with “jump stories” you can use to make your friends JUMP with fright.

Schwartz also provides educational notes and sources for each story, making this an excellent, albeit chilling, and contribution to a library’s collection of spooky stories for children about American folklore.

As there are those who dislike these stories, there are those of the opinion, such as myself, that these would be great to use in a story hour or in a classroom, since some stories provide audience direction and participation and can even be sung in unison. In fact I can recall an instance from my elementary school days when my music teacher would play, “O’Larry is dead and O’Riley don’t know it” from the second or third book, on the piano. Reprints of the books with new illustrations by Brett Helquist have been announced, which I am disappointed but slightly curious about.

THE SHINING by Stephen King, 1977

King’s The Shining (1977) holds a special place in his lexicon of stories (ever growing unto this decade), in that its success, at only his third published novel, firmly established him as an author of horror. Fun factoid: The title was inspired by the John Lennon song “Instant Karma!“, which contained the line “We all shine on…”

The horror within “The Shining” comes from various supernatural elements, such as past haunting and restless spirits within an isolated, daunting location. In this case, the Overlook Hotel.

[image courtesy of darrinzdanis.com]

However, the mythology and tangents that King is known to use in his novels can become distracting at times. At the story’s core is the Torrance family: Jack, Wendy and their son, Danny. Jack, an alcoholic and a struggling writer, accepts a job to be the off-season caretaker at an isolated hotel, in the hopes that the peace and quiet will help inspire him to write as well as mend relations with his son and wife, whom his past violent drunken outbursts have estranged him from. Soon after moving in and after a paralyzing winter storm that leaves the family snowbound, Jack becomes influenced by the supernatural presence in the haunted hotel; he descends into madness and attempts to kill his wife and son. Add to the supernatural horror the fact that Danny, who possesses psychic abilities, is able to see things in the future or past, such as the ghosts in the hotel. It’s up to Danny and the Chief Overlook of the Hotel, Dick Halloran, to save Danny and his mother with their combined psychic abilities, which Stephen King has dubbed, “shining”. Though Kubrick villainies Jack Torrance in his film adaptation, King leaves the ominous Overlook Hotel to become the villain of this story, possessed by various spirits, including a previous caretaker who succumbed to cabin fever and murdered his family. Slowly but surely, Jack succumbs to the madness of the Overlook but in the end, seems more a victim of circumstance than an actual villain. In the end he helps his wife and son escape before the Overlook is destroyed by a fire, claiming his life.

There are two well known adaptations of the Shining; the first version was directed by Kubrick in 1980 starring Shelly Duvall and Jack Nicholson. King and Kubrick disagreed so much on the interpretation of the work that King eventually renounced all attachments to Kubrick’s film and remade his own mini-series of the novel in the late 90s.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Gaston Leroux, 1909

Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, POTO has many film and stage adaptations ranging from a Hammer horror film to a romantic and lavish Broadway musical. The Phantom of the Opera is portrayed as multifaceted character, from deformed horror, to sensual mad genius. Do not come to crack open the spine of this tale looking for Andrew Lloyd Weber & Gerard Butler’s handsome, charismatic, and pitiful phantom (2004), nor the nitric acid deformity and horror of the Hammer adaptation (1962). The title character contained within Gaston Leroux novel (1909) has a name, a face, and a backstory and they are boring. Eerily, the novel opens with a prologue by Leroux claiming that the phantom of the opera was indeed a real person. This does not improve the quality of the story nor add to the horror.

The Phantom of the Opera tells the tale of a young girl, Christina Daae, whose mother died when she was very young, now under the care of her father, a famous violinist. Her youthful years are happy and carefree with her father and her childhood friend, Raul. Among her childhood memories that she would cherish upon her father’s death are the stories he would tell her of the Angel of Music. Her father promised that upon this death, he would send this same angel to guide her. Upon being given a chorus position at the Paris Opera House, Christine begins to hear a disembodied heavenly voice singing to her. She assumes that the voice is the Angel of Music her father mentioned and from that point he teaches Christine how to sing like the heavens as well and begins to fall in love with her. Christine too begins to fall in love with the phantom, until he kidnaps her one night, bringing her to his dungeon and she beholds the horror of his disfigurement by unmasking his face and witnessing his true form, a disfigured man who once worked for the construction crews of the opera house and who has now made a home within its catacombs. It is not until much later that Christine will discover the true horror of the phantom, his corrupted and manipulative actions which reflect a neglected and darkened soul. From there many mishaps and abusive relationships ensue as the phantom tries to possess Christine and to remove her from Raul, her true love. Throughout the story Christine struggles with her own sense of pity and admiration for the man “who once inspired her voice” and what she mistakes as love.

[image courtesy of theaterdogs.net]

Though the plot sounds like a page turner, Leroux’s writing makes it come off as extremely slow paced and dry. The phantom seems poorly constructed and lacking a personality that shines through in the many film and stage adaptations when filled by an actor. What’s lacking in horror and the seduction of the two aforementioned film adaptations is not only the sensuality, but also the horror. But I suppose, one could imagine the horror being centered around having a dream of one you love destroyed by their evil nature, as well as abusive, possessive relationships which attempt to nurture but only smother. One place, however, where The Phantom succeeds is not only in tapping into the reader’s fear of the unknown (a masked villain) but also in the unique way that Leroux romanticizes the phantom, making him desirable as well as pitiable and how, for a time, these qualities overshadow his true nature from Christine.

On a happier note, fans seem to love the phantom since Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1986 musical (of which Joel Shumaker created the 2004 adaptation) is the longest running Broadway show in history, right behind Cats and Les Miserables.

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Rosanne North is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park with a Masters in Library & Information Science. Follow her blog for more reviews and general awesomeness at http://bethsbookworld.blogspot.com/

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Christina {PuellaDocta}

Christina is an artist and graphic designer, fantasy writer, and a huge geek. She chronicles her creative process--as well as her love for storytelling, the arts, tea, and more--in blogs, portfolio posts, vlogs and on social media. Read more about her here >>

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