When I was in grade school Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and the subsequent books in the series, was one of my library favorites. My parents eventually caved in and just bought the first two at my school’s book fair one year. At the time they were a collection of scary stories and storytelling ideas that were fun for late night reading and the occasional Halloween party or sleepover.
I was surprised the see the series on the frequently challenged list. Sure, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are very creepy, but they certainly keep the faint of heart from picking it up (in case the title wasn’t enough). Since I was spending some time at my parents’ house this weekend anyway, I decided to get my old copies out and reread them for the challenge.
As soon as I took them out, I realized I had never paid close attention to the full title as a child, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Collected from Folklore and Retold. Schwartz has footnoted each story with citations of their roots in Americana folklore. In the opening of the first book, he discusses the importance of storytelling, especially of scary stories, from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale to American settlers and all manner of groups throughout history. The tales in his books are part of America’s rich oral tradition. They were tales of amusement and warning.
Many citations for challenges and bans are for occultism/Satanism. I find this interesting. Witches, ghosts, and all manner of ghouls have always been used to keep kids in line. Be good or the bogeyman will get you. Don’t wander off alone or you might meet a witch. Have you ever read the original legend of Santa Claus in the Netherlands? The point is, the generations that have learned their lessons from cautionary tales are now trying to protect their kids from the very same lessons. If kids are so protected they never know fear of fabled creatures, how are they supposed to know caution and suspicion when it comes to real-life monsters?
As a side note, it seems the books have been reissued with new, milder cover art by Brett Helquist. Though I think Helquist is extremely talented (who doesn’t like the Series of Unfortunate Events covers), it is another way kids today will be deprived of a chance to decide their comfort level and maybe get a little scared. I guess parents would rather have their kids watch CSI.