I’ve always loved Halloween. One year, my parents bought one of those ambient Halloween soundtracks to give our house a little mood when kids ran up our crooked stone stairs with their bulging bags. I took the tape and hid under the covers in my room, listening to the howling wolves, cackling witches and creaking doors lilting out of the stereo speakers.
Some of my favorite shows as a kid included Tales from the Crypt, Freddy’s Nightmares and tamer programming like reruns of the Twilight Zone. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Creepshow 2 when I was four years old (my parents weren’t restrictive about those things).
To this day, I find horror movies and the genre as a whole oddly comforting. Most Fridays, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch horror movies (bad and good) until I fall asleep. It stirs up a cozy nostalgia. Halloween is when that feeling is at its peak.
In celebration of the holiday, I present you with three of my most beloved scary childhood books (actually, they’re all series).
The Witch Saga Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
For a good year—smack-dab in the middle of my pre-teens—I only read books about witches. Perhaps I thought if I read enough of them, I’d become one. A girl can only hope. So when I stumbled upon Witch’s Sister at the South Pasadena Library when I was about 12, it was as if the book had been waiting for me. What can I say? It was magic.
The Witch Saga is a six-book series following Lynn Morley and her friend Mouse as they investigate, and are plotted against by, Lynn’s neighbor Mrs. Tuggle, a witch. Their families and lives are compromised by Mrs. Tuggle, but Lynn and Mouse are the only ones who see through her act. Naylor really knows how to employ that trope of adult disbelief in the tales of children and the frustration accompanied by it. I remember fuming about nobody believing Lynn.
I wanted to be Lynn Morley but I was much more like her meek friend, Mouse. And I still wonder how Mrs. Tuggle’s witchy brew tasted. I always wished I could try it, dangerous as it was. I drank a Chinese medicinal tea once and that’s probably as close to the flavor I imagined—licorice, ginseng, twigs and mushrooms—as I’ll ever get. Mrs. Tuggle wasn’t the kind of witch I wanted to be, but she was delightfully dark and wicked.
The books dealt with some issues even darker than witches, like divorce and suicide. I like a young adult book that isn’t afraid to broach serious topics.
Oh, and the main character’s mother is a writer. I remember a scene in the book wherein Mrs. Morley suffers from writer’s block induced ennui.
(P.S. I was also obsessed with Naylor’s Alice series.)
Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine
At the same time I was buying tons of Goosebumps books, I was an avid fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Remember that series? I know you do! Okay, maybe only if you grew up in America or Canada in the 90’s. Anyway, Goosebumps was a series of horror stories for young adults. They were short, easy to read, and just plain chilling.
Stine is still writing these books. I felt old when I looked at the list of books in the series and saw that the ones I read are now called “Classic” Goosebumps. I don’t want that word associated with anything produced during my lifetime. I guess I can allow that Welcome to Deadhouse is classic in that a good scare will never be outdated.
Say Cheese and Die…Welcome to Camp Nightmare…so good!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz
This is kind of bittersweet. The art in this book made it a thing to be prized among elementary school kids. Stephen Gammel’s art and Schwartz’s stories combined embodied our nightmares in an addictive way.
The publisher of this book recently decided to change the illustrations. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it makes me appreciate that I grew up with the originals.
Random story: I was one of a few kids chosen to read a tale from this book to the younger kids at my elementary school for Halloween and I did a terrible job. I was assigned to a story that relied on a blood-curdling scream for a climactic end. Me…quiet and anti-social, trying to force out a believable scream. It was the worst.
What were some of your favorite scary stories as a kid?