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Titled “Welcome to the Dead House”, the book was an instant bestseller and became the first in the highly successful “Goosebumps” series. “Welcome to the Dead House” tell the story of a town called Dark Falls, a place hiding a secret – all the residents are the living dead, and need fresh blood to sustain their “lives”. Whenever a new family arrives in the sound they move to The Dead House. The heroes, Josh and Amanda, learn this secret and proceed to save their parents, send the townspeople back to their graves and escape Dark Falls.
Author Robert Lawrence Stine wrote 62 books in the series, as well as a number of spinoffs. Stine, who’s been called “The Stephen King of Children’s Literature”, has said a lot of his books were inspired by classic science fiction and horror stories, with influences also drawn from classic fairy tales. “Night of the Living Dummy” is a variation on the “Pinocchio” theme – twin sisters Lindy and Kris find a discarded ventriloquist’s dummy, and Lindy decides to keep him. As she develops comedy routines with the dummy Kris obtains her own dummy. One night the girls go into their room, finding the dummies lying on the floor, the new dummy’s hands around the older dummy’s neck. Coincidence? No – the younger dummy is alive, and malicious. After a string of unpleasant events the girls manage to dispose of the dummy, but then discover the other one is also alive.
Christopher Pike is another successful children’s horror story writer. He includes references to Egyptian, Hindu and Greek mythology in his novels, and quotes authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Agatha Christie and Stephen King among his influences. His “Spooksville” series of 24 books includes one titled “The Wicked Cat”, in which Adam and his friends find a black cat during a walk in the local woods. Strange things begin to happen in the town; a house burns down and a tree suddenly falls down. At every strange occurrence the cat is in attendance, watching everything with its strange green eyes. Then it turns its supernatural powers on Adam and his friends…
Another noted children’s author is Lee Striker, the pseudonym of Australian Children’s author Margaret Clarke. She chose her name after hearing about Stine’s “Goosebumps” series, and decided she wanted her children’s horror fiction placed next to his books on the bookshops. She has 12 books in her “Hair-Raiser” series, which contains titles such as “The Revenge of the Vampire Librarian” (remember to get your library books back on time…) and “Curse of the Mummy”, where a man brings back a new wife after a business trip to Egypt. But what kind of MUMMY is she, because she smells odd and uses a lot of bandages and band aids, and cats behave strangely when she is near.
Children’s horror writing is not a new concept, and it didn’t start with fairytales. Originally fairytales were not originally intended to be read by children. The Brothers’ Grimm’s writing was aimed at adults, and met the then increasing demand for literature based around local folklore in the early 19th century. Anyone who has seen the film “The Brothers’ Grimm” will probably back me on this – that film is most definitely NOT for children! As the Horror genre evolved “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” made the average fairytale appear somewhat childish, so the different stories were reworked and rewritten by adults so they would be more suitable for children. By the Victorian era the average Grimm fairy tale was far less graphic and violent than the original, and Disney’s handling of the stories has “tamed” them still further.
While the Grimms were compiling their collection of adult fairytales other writers were already producing children’s stories, many of which contained elements of horror. Hans Christian Andersen’s “Tales Told For Children” was published in 1835, and some of the stories in that book are excellent references for children’s horror literature:
“The Red Shoes” are a pair of beautiful, cursed slippers which force their wearer to dance continually. A vain young girl slips them onto her feet, and finds herself unable to stop dancing. So bad is the problem she cannot go to church, and is unable to attend her adoptive mother’s funeral because she cannot stop dancing. Condemned by and angle to dance forever as a warning to all vain children, she begs an executioner to cut off her feet. For the rest of the story she is haunted by the animated shoes, which dance before her as she moves on wooden feet with the help of crutches.
“The Little Mermaid”, yearning to be with a handsome human prince with whom she has fallen in love, gives a witch her tongue in exchange for a potion that turns her tail into legs. She must get her prince to marry her to give her a soul, and she sets out to find her love, even though every step she takes is as painful as waking on sharpened knife blades. Even though she is mute the prince does fall in love with her, and is enchanted by the way she dances for him, never knowing the agony she suffers at every step. The course of true love never did run true, and the prince marries someone else. The heartbroken mermaid throws herself into the sea and turns into foam.
“The Little Match Girl” sells matches on the icy streets to keep warm. One New Year’s Eve, she lights her matches to keep warm. In their light she sees wonderful warm banquets with tables full of wonderful food and a sparkling Christmas tree. Looking up she sees a shooting star, and remembers it means someone is about to die. Lighting her last match she sees her grandmother, the only person who ever treated her kindly. Her grandmother has come to take her to Heaven, and the following morning her frozen little body is discovered, surrounded by burnt out matches.
Charles Kingsley’s “The Water Babies” features a chimney sweep named Tom, who meets a young girl called Ellie at her house. After he is chased away he falls into a river and drowns. He is turned into a water baby, and experiences several adventures while learning life’s lessons under the tutelage of the fairies. Once a week he is allowed to see Ellie, who had the misfortune to fall into the river just after Tom. Eventually he proves himself worthy to return to human form, and lives a full life. He is reunited with Ellie, but they never marry.
Children’s horror writing is a challenging genre, and although the stories may have changed slightly over the years there’s still a demand for these kind of books from a young, enthusiastic audience. It’s a genre that’s going to be with us for many years to come.
write by Rowan